Jonathan Loaisiga made his Major League debut in 2018, pitching in nine games for the Yankees before again succumbing to injury. He flashed the raw skills that made him the Yankees’ second-best prospect as rated by MLB Pipeline. The now-25-year-old righty once again made limited appearances in 2019, throwing 31.2 IP in 15 games (4 starts), with a 4.55 ERA (4.95 FIP), an 11.5% walk rate — but a 26.6% strikeout rate.
Loaisiga’s best performance of the year came on September 21 against the Blue Jays, when he struck out five Jays in two innings of relief work. Overall, Loaisiga is an enticing yet frustrating arm, but his up-and-down 2019 season is an indication that he’ll be someone to watch for 2020.
Let’s get right into it.
Starter vs. Reliever
In 2018 and in his first appearances in 2019, Loaisiga took the mound as a starter, as he has throughout he five year MiLB career. After briefly shining in 2018, he labored in this role in 2019. He returned in September as a 40-man call-up out of the bullpen, where he shined — and flashed potential for the future. Check out the differences between Starter Loaisiga and Reliever Loaisiga:
Obviously, the sample sizes here are tiny. Nevertheless, though, Loaisiga was better in relief: he missed more bats and induced better contact. It’s also worth mentioning that throughout the slightly larger set of his entire career, opponents against Loaisiga log a .677 OPS the first time they face him and a .966 OPS the second time. There could be something here…and there’s reason to believe that he could thrive in the bullpen.
That’s because Loaisiga is a Statcast darling. He has the type of stuff on which it is easy to dream. His average fastball in 2019 clocked in at 96.8 mph (95th percentile) with a spin rate of 2,422 rpm (84th percentile). Buttressing that velocity is a curveball that sits at 84 mph with a spin rate north of 2,800. To put that in perspective for a moment: 148 pitchers threw at least 150 curves at the MLB level in 2019. Loaisiga’s average spin rate ranked 24th, comparable to Justin Verlander’s (2,821). Seems pretty good.
When it’s all working, it looks like this:
His is the very definition of a high-spin, high-velocity curveball. The sampled pitches above came in at 86 and 88 mph, respectively. It’s also worth noting that both his fastball and curveball played up in 2019 — and, while the sample is small, I’m willing to bet that him being in relief had something to do with this. Airing it out, etc.
Walks, Walks, Walks
The big drawback to his game, of course, is a frustrating lack of control. He obviously walked a ton of batters (north of 11%) and in only five of his fifteen games did he manage not to walk a single batter. That is not good! However, if there was a bright spot, it’s this: four of those instances came in his final seven appearances of the year.
It’s not to say that Loaisiga “figured it out” or anything — but it’s clear that, with some more repeated playing time out of the pen, he reigned in his control a bit. That, coupled with his stuff, is an encouraging sign. But, you know, sample sizes and all that. We need to see more. But you don’t need to squint that hard to see the upside here.
I am this blog’s official Jonathan Loaisiga Stan. I am absolutely in love with his stuff and his makeup, and I think he can be a really useful piece out of the bullpen over the course of a long year. In terms of what will happen next year, though, I’m not so sure. He probably doesn’t have the health to be a starter in the long term and the Yankees suddenly have pitching depth.
If it were me, I’d have Loaisiga prepare for 2020 as a reliever. Get used to throwing in short bursts every few days, etc. Let him air out his stuff and miss the hell out of big league bats. That’s probably the best way to maximize his value — and I hope we get to see if play out in 2020.