The nightmare is over. The Yankees earned their first win of the season. They rebound from a disappointing Opening Day to beat the Toronto Blue Jays 5-3. They are now 1-1 on the season. Let’s get to the takeaways.
1.A Solid Start from Kluber: We were reminded almost every day that Corey Kluber is a part of the starting rotation trio that pitched one inning last year. This is Kluber’s first “full start” since May 2019. The first victory is coming out of the start, presumably healthy. The quality of Kluber’s stuff is the second victory. He flashed some of his elite vintage movement. The command was inconsistent at times, but it wasn’t alarming by any means. If you’re a Yankees fan, you should be pretty encouraged by Kluber’s performance.
Pitch movement is the foundation of Kluber’s approach. He’s never been a power pitcher that relied upon velocity to dominate hitters. He has a five-pitch mix that attacks both sides of the plate and largely lives at the bottom quadrants of the zone. If his ball is darting all over the place, you know his stuff is on point. That was certainly the case today. His most impressive at-bat may have come against Rowdy Tellez in the second inning. Here is a video courtesy of friend (and brother) of the blog, Lucas Apostoleris:
This is ridiculous. He’s throwing frisbee-like curves to his arm side against a lefty perfectly. Kluber could tell Tellez what he was throwing and where he was throwing it, and it wouldn’t matter. The movement alone freezes Tellez, but the command elevates every pitch. This is pinpoint. Take a look at this pitch chart:
You’re not hitting these pitches. Sometimes, you tip your cap and get him next time. To bring home the point about Kluber’s stuff, here is a chart of his pitch movement. This is pretty impressive:
It isn’t easy to square the ball up consistently when the ball is flying around like this. A batter has to contend with potential offerings, and then they have no idea what direction those pitches are going. Kluber was able to minimize contact all game as a result. The Blue Jays lineup, one we expect to do quite well this year, averaged a 93MPH exit velocity. He led the game with 10 swing and misses. Kluber has the ability to throw five pitches at any time with effectiveness.
Kluber lost his command later in his start. It felt like he fell in love with his curve a little too much. He threw the pitch 30% of the time, which topped his usage rates. A few got away from him as the game progressed. It felt eerily similar to his spring training starts, where he started strong command-wise, and he started to lose it as the game moved on. I wonder if this is where the long layoff plays in. A pitcher can lose command as he tires. As he builds up, Kluber will most likely iron the inconsistent command out. His final line is 4IP, 5H, 1ER, 3BB, and 5Ks. It was a nice debut from the Yankees’ #2 pitcher.
2. Jonathan Loaisiga’s New Toy: So, it looks like Bobby’s boy, Jonathan Loaisiga, has a nice change-up in the repertoire. And it is pretty filthy. In seasons past, Johnny would come into a game pumping fastballs and curveballs. I would do the same if there were a 98MPH fastball in my pocket. It appears the Yankees felt like he needed a pitch to get hitters off his four-seamer. The plan worked today.
Out of his 26 pitches over two innings, Loaisiga threw nine changeups. That was about 35% of his offerings on the day. His called strike/whiff percentage on the pitch was 56%. He is going to be a key piece for the pen all year, but especially in the early going. Justin Wilson and Zack Britton are both on the IL and Loaisiga has a chance to fill the former Chad Green role. He can be a multi-inning weapon that bridges the starter to the back end of the pen. This is especially important as guys like Kluber, Taillon, and Germán build up innings.
The change-up could be the pitch that unlocks things for the reliever. We know his four-seamer is electric, but if he can find a consistent offspeed compliment, we’re talking about a potentially dominant arm. This is an example of what he can do for the season:
3. A Way Too Early Thought On The Offense: The Yankees offense has put a lot of runners on base. They’ve been displaying patience and getting plenty of hits so far. Their lineup racked up eleven hits and earned six walks. The quality of at-bats for most of the hitters in the lineup has been strong. None of that is an issue. Their at-bats with runners in scoring position have not been as strong.
They’re being a little too aggressive in these situations and expanding their zones a bit over the first two games. DJLM, Stanton, Judge, Gleyber, Bruce, and Hicks have all fallen victim to this. I have very little concern, though. It’s the first series of the season. There is more energy with fans in the stands. The team wants to get off to a great start. It’s natural to expand a bit when there are so many opportunities.
The most important thing is the Yankees are doing a great job of creating traffic. They’ve given themselves multiple opportunities to blow the first two games open. This feels like a great sign. The pitching has been the star of the show so far, but the offense is quietly doing the right things. This is all happening with Hicks and Stanton struggling a bit.
It is also important to point out that Gary Sánchez looks like a different hitter right now. He has his second home run of the year. He sees the ball out of the pitcher’s hand really well. His timing is also solid, which is the bedrock of his at-bats. He’s dictating the at-bat every time he steps in the box. Out of all the hitters on the team, Gary appears to need positive reinforcement from his hitting the most. He’s in a really strong place right now and could lead to a very nice season.