Tag: 2019 Season Review Page 1 of 7

State of the farm system [2019 Season Review]

Home of the RailRiders. (Michael Stokes, CC BY 2.0)

With 2019 coming to a close, so does our season review series. We’ve covered everything on the Major League side of things, but now, let’s get to what happened down on the farm in 2019.

The Risers

Not only did Deivi García climb the ladder from High-A to Triple-A this season, he also leaped up prospect lists. Though he ran into some trouble with the MLB ball at Triple-A, the righty was awfully impressive, especially for a 20 year-old. Overall, he threw 111 1/3 innings across three levels and had a 4.28 ERA and 3.28 FIP. He walked a few too many (11.1 percent), but had a ridiculous 34 percent strikeout rate. García was in major league bullpen consideration by the end of 2019, but ultimately didn’t get an opportunity. We may see him with the Yankees next season, especially now that he’s on the 40-man. For the time being, he should start 2020 at Triple-A Scranton.

Clarke Schmidt‘s first full season since undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2017 was impressive. The former first rounder topped out at Double-A and pitched to a 3.47 ERA and 2.68 FIP in 90 2/3 innings pitched. The soon-to-be 24 year-old righty will be back in Trenton to start 2020, but could move quickly. One more interesting note: Baseball America prefers Schmidt to García and has the former as the Yankees’ second-best prospect.

Once a little-known rookie baller in Minnesota’s organization, Luis Gil has developed into a top prospect and is now on the Yankees’ 40-man roster. He’s still a ways away from the bigs as the 21 year-old made just three starts at High-A in 2019. Nonetheless, he was overpowering: Gil allowed only one homer in 96 innings between Charleston and Tampa this season and posted a 2.72 ERA and 2.66 FIP in 96 innings. He walked too many (11.6 percent), but struck out plenty (30.2 percent). There’s still a few more years of development to go for the hard-throwing righty, but it’s safe to say he was a steal in exchange for Jake Cave.

2017’s fourth-rounder Canaan Smith had a big season with Charleston. After an ugly .191/.281/.316 (81 wRC+) in Staten Island a year prior, Smith broke out in Single-A and hit .307/.405/.465 (154 wRC+) in 528 plate appearances. The left fielder also launched 11 homers and swiped 16 bags. Expect the 20 year-old to jump to High-A Tampa next year, perhaps finishing up with Trenton in Double-A.

The Yankees acquired Josh Stowers from the Mariners in exchange for Shed Long, who the Yanks initially acquired for Sonny Gray. Stowers split time in center and right field in Charleston and put together a nice offesnive campaign. The former second round pick for Seattle in 2018 batted .273/.386/.400 (135 wRC+) for the RiverDogs and stole 35 bases. High-A Tampa is the logical next step for 2020.

Ezequiel Duran put on an impressive power display as a 20 year-old in the New York-Penn League. The second baseman swatted 13 dingers in just 277 plate appearances and had a .256/.329/.496 (143 wRC+) batting line. He’ll need to cut down on strikeouts (27.8 percent), but his raw power and solid glovework at the keystone make him someone to watch. He should get his first taste of full season ball in 2020.

Garrett Whitlock was terrific in Double-A Trenton before succumbing to the dreaded Tommy John surgery. The 6-foot-5 righty had a 3.07 ERA and 3.14 FIP in 70 1/3 innings for Double-A Trenton, putting him on the doorstep for a promotion to Triple-A and also not too far from the majors. Such a performance had already made Whitlock an unabashed success for an 18th rounder. Alas, we probably won’t see him again until 2021. He’s Rule 5 eligible after the 2020 season.

In a mildly surprising decision, the Yankees added Miguel Yajure to the 40-man roster last month. He had a fantastic 2019 mostly at High-A Tampa, but did make his final two starts at Double-A. Overall, the 21 year-old had a 2.14 ERA and 2.65 FIP in 138 2/3 innings. The righty isn’t overpowering, but is known for good control (5.4 percent walk rate). He should spend most of 2020 with the Thunder in Double-A.

The Disappointments

The clock is ticking on Estevan Florial. The tools are omnipresent, but he once again struggled to take a step forward. Part of the problem was injured again. Last year, Florial missed significant time after a broken hamate in his hand. This year, he fractured his wrist in Spring Training and didn’t start his season until June. Once healthy, the just-turned-22 center fielder hit .237/.297/.383 (101 wRC+) during his second stint with High-A Tampa. There’s still time for him to right the ship, but he’ll need to start producing and stay healthy. He’s on the 40-man roster now, so he’s going to burn his first option year in 2020. Odds are he starts off in Tampa once more.

Not much good happened for 2018 first-rounder Anthony Seigler. A quad strain delayed the start of the catcher’s season — he joined Charleston in June. Unfortunately, the backstop’s time there didn’t last long as a cross-up resulted in a patella fracture. In 120 plate appearances, Seigler hit a paltry .175/.328/.206 with just three extra base hits, all doubles. Also of note: Seigler had a Brian McCann-Carlos Gómez moment after taking exception to a batter’s reaction after hitting a homer. The 20 year-old switch-hitter should be back in Charleston next year with a clean slate.

After such an impressive stateside debut in 2018, Antonio Cabello floundered in 2019. The jump from the GCL to Pulaski wasn’t kind to the 19 year-old outfielder, who hit .211/.280/.330 (70 wRC+) in 56 games. A dislocated shoulder late in 2018 may be partially blameworthy for a rough 2019. Another look with Pulaski seems likely in 2020.

Everson Pereira had a tough time in Staten Island this summer. The 18 year-old outielder struck out 35.1 percent of the time and owned a .171/.216/.257 (46 wRC+) batting line in 74 plate appearances. He still has plenty of time to turn things around and show why the Yankees paid him a $1.5 million bonus to sign out of Venezuela in 2017. Perhaps another turn in Staten Island is in order next summer.

Brandon Wagner cratered after a huge offensive campaign in 2018 for Tampa. That year, the lefty-swinging first baseman slugged 20 homers in 87 games at the level and posted a 154 wRC+. He didn’t fare quite as well after a mid-season promotion to Trenton, but it wasn’t a big deal. But this year, in a full season with the Thunder, Wagner didn’t hit for power (8 homers in 456 plate appearances) and struck out 32.2 percent of the time. He hit just .177/.289/.279 (74 wRC+). As a result, the Yankees didn’t protect the 24 year-old from the Rule 5 draft, but it didn’t matter. 2015’s sixth-round pick will need to turn things around next season, likely once more in Double-A.

The jury is still out

Luis Medina turned his season around at a moment’s notice and is now on the 40-man roster because of it. We’ve been waiting for him to unlock his potential for a few years now, but nothing clicked until late this summer. In his first 14 starts, Medina had a 8.38 ERA and 6.33 FIP in 58 innings. His biggest issue was control — he walked 55 batters in that period. But after, the 20 year-old flamethrower dominated. He started eight more games — six for Tampa and two for Trenton — and had a 1.77 and 2.02 FIP ERA in 45 2/3 innings. He started throwing more strikes while mowing down opponents (35.2 percent strikeout rate and 8.4 percent walk rate). It’s hard to rush to judgement after such a short period of success, but it’s also difficult to temper enthusiasm for Medina. He’ll be in Trenton come springtime.

The Yankees took Matt Sauer with the team’s second round selection in 2017, but he’s yet to eclipse 90 total innings since then. He had a solid year with Staten Island in 2018 and had hoped to build on it with Charleston this year. Alas, the 20 year-old righty made just two starts before his season ended. Tommy John surgery will likely keep him out of action for most, if not all, of 2020.

It’s not clear what Trevor Stephan‘s long-term role will be. The Yankees have kept him as a starter, but he may be better off as a multi-inning reliever out of the Chad Green mold. Stephan stalled a bit this season: he spent most of 2018 in Double-A Trenton and began there once more in 2019, but was demoted midway through the year. He regained success in High-A Tampa and returned to Trenton for his last two outings of the season. And those last two starts for the Thunder were good: nine innings, three walks, fourteen strikeouts, and one run allowed. As a 24 year-old who’s eligible for the Rule 5 draft next offseason, Stephan will need to force the issue in 2020. As such, a move to the bullpen could be in the cards.

Albert Abreu will burn his final minor league option in 2020, making this upcoming campaign a pivotal one. His stuff is ridiculous — he can hit 101 on the gun and a nasty curveball — but he often doesn’t know where it’s going. This year, he threw 96 2/3 innings for Trenton to a 4.28 ERA and 4.36 FIP. Somehow, in spite of his arsenal, he only struck out 20.7 percent of opponents. The Yankees may be a little more aggressive with him next year since it’ll be the team’s last chance to freely option him to the minors. Maybe he gets one more go of it as a starter, at least to begin the year, but he probably winds up in the bullpen for Scranton (or the Yankees?) before season’s end. Surely other teams have called about him as a bullpen acquisition target, too.

Notable Draftees:

I’m not going to get to everyone here, obviously, but the Yankees’ first four selections in the 2019 draft are worth commenting on.

This year’s first round pick, Anthony Volpe, made his professional debut with the rookie-level Pulaski Yankees. There’s no reason to make much of his .215/.349/.355 (102 wRC+) performance in just 150 plate appearances. The 18 year-old will probably begin next season in extended spring training before perhaps returning to Pulaski, or more aggressively, Staten Island.

TJ Sikkema was terrific in his brief professional debut with Staten Island. In 10 2/3 innings, the southpaw allowed just one run and struck out 13 batters. As a college draftee, Sikkema could move quickly next summer. We may see the 38th overall selection in High-A, or even Double-A, before the end of 2020.

Second rounder Josh Smith absolutely destroyed New York-Penn League pitching after signing. In 141 plate appearances with Staten Island, the middle infielder hit .324/.450/.477 (177 wRC+). Charleston or Tampa seem to be logical landing spots for him in 2020.

Power-hitting third rounder Jacob Sanford struck out a bunch (32.5 percent) in 249 plate appearances for Staten Island, but also blasted 7 homers en route to a .238/.289/.411 (109 wRC+). He’s a major project for player development, but his left-handed raw power is tantalizing. The 22 year-old outfielder may need another look in Staten Island before moving up to full season ball.

Others of Note

Alcantara. (Fangraphs)

Rapid-fire time. First, position players:

Kevin Alcantara made his stateside debut and “oozes projection”, per Baseball ProspectusDermis García continued to hit for power but still struck out too much, and prospect fatigue has assuredly set in…Catcher Josh Breaux, the team’s second rounder in 2018, posted an impressive 141 wRC+ in Charleston…Last year’s third-rounder Ryder Green held his own in Pulaski (117 wRC+)…19 year-old shortstop Oswald Peraza split time between Staten Island and Charleston and held his own (103 wRC+) while making plenty of contact (12.6 percent strikeout rate)…Kyle Holder, a defensive wizard at shortstop, hit well at Double-A (119 wRC+) and was Rule 5 eligible this winter, but was not protected nor selected…Hoy-Jun Park had a nice season with Trenton as well (120 wRC+), though more power would help (.099 ISO)…25 year-old first baseman Chris Gittens won the Eastern League MVP award after he posted a .281/.393/.500 (164 wRC+) for Trenton…All of us eagerly await the debut of Jasson Dominguez.

And now, the pitchers:

Michael King made his major league debut in September after missing most of the season, but figures to get some big league starts in 2020…Roansy Contreras posted an impressive 3.33 ERA and 3.67 FIP in over 130 innings for Charleston as a 19 year-old…Yoendrys Gomez made six starts apiece for Pulaski and Charleston and had a nearly identical ERA (3.99) and FIP (4.00)…Nick Nelson, a recent 40-man addition, was stellar in just under 90 innings between Trenton and Scranton (2.81 ERA/3.22 FIP)…Last year’s fourth-rounder Frank German missed time with arm issues, but still pumped out 76 innings for High-A Tampa with an impressive 25.3 percent strikeout rate…Six-foot-eight Freicer Perez didn’t pitch this season due to an undisclosed shoulder injury…Reliever Brooks Kriske got a spot on the 40-man after dominating in relief for Tampa and Trenton…Alexander Vizcaino made prospect list waves after impressive 26.1 percent and 7.8 percent strikeout and walk rates, respectively, combined between Charleston and Tampa.

Invaluable references:

Chad Green’s Two Seasons [2019 Season Review]

After a few days of quiet activity here at Views, we’re (almost) back to our normal posting schedule. Thanks to everyone for your patience and we hope that everyone is enjoying their holiday season.

It was a strange season for ALCS Game 6 starter Chad Green. Coming into the 2019 season, Green was one of the most reliable and sturdiest members of the Yankees’ dominant bullpen since he stormed onto the scene in 2017. This year, though, Green really had two seasons. The first, which lasted until a Triple-A demotion at the end of April, was abysmal. The second, which began after his mid-May return to the Bronx, lasted through the end of the season.

Still, while the second stretch couldn’t quite recover his ERA, Green’s final season line was very impressive. He logged a 4.17 ERA with much better peripherals (3.34 FIP 91 ERA-) and strikeout (33.2%) and walk rates (6.4%). It was an impressive recovery for a pitcher who looked lost at the beginning of the year, and it serves as a reminder not to overreact to the start of a season. (Or the end of one, when Green looked to be at the end of his rope at the end of the ALCS.)

There were several interesting developments underpinning his bizarre-but-encouraging year, though. Let’s get right into those.

Fastball, Fastball, Fastball

Green’s success is essentially derived from one pitch: his overpowering fastball. The pitch, which averages about 96 mph, looks faster than it is thanks to a 2,400+ rpm spin rate. The pitch, which he utilizes about 75% of the time throughout his career, generates a lot of swings and misses. Check out its whiff-per-swing rate in each of the last three seasons:

  • 2017: 37.86%
  • 2018: 27.33%
  • 2019: 28.79%

The ability to miss bats is a necessary skill for Green, who gives up a ton of hard contact when batters do square up. Look at his hard-hit percentages compared to league average:

And here are his exit velocity numbers:

  • 2017: 89.3 mph (bottom 2% of the league)
  • 2018: 91.0 mph (bottom 0% of the league)
  • 2019: 91.5 mph (bottom 1% of the league)

So, with that in mind, it’s not surprising to note that Green’s signature pitch really betrayed him at the beginning of the year, during an April in which he posted a 16.43 ERA. As I noted back in June, though, the pitch made a real recovery when he returned. That resurgence would continue throughout the year. I made a table that highlights some of the key metrics broken down into three categories: his struggling April, recovering May, and dominant June through the end of the year. The results are stark:


UsageAvg. VelocitySpin RateWhiffs-Per-SwingBAA
April80%95.32 mph2433 rpm18.97%.435
May78%96.87 mph2469 rpm29.03%.333
June-78%96.75 mph2468 rpm30.23%.211

His usage and spin rates stayed constant, but he added over a full mile-per-hour on the fastball — and that seems to have led to a huge increase in swings and misses. As expected, that resulted in a climbing strikeout rate and a declining ERA. It was very good news for the Yankees, and also for Green, who desperately needs the pitch to be effective in order for him to have success at the big league level.

Mechanical Adjustment

There seems to have been a real mechanical adjustment behind the resurgence, too. Derek covered this in detail back in May, but it’s worth highlighting here again because he was a completely different pitcher after making the switch in Triple-A. Check out where he was setting up for his delivery:

Before/After

Derek noted that the change was also consistent through the delivery, so it seems to have been a real mechanical change. It also lasted the entire season. Check out this screengrab from his final pitch of the 2019 regular season:

Yup, the set is still high. The change stayed with Green from his first Triple-A start to his final pitch of the season. I’m not an expert enough to know how or why this would impact his effectiveness, but it is an interesting development nonetheless. It’s something to keep an eye on moving forward, I’d wager. Anyway, it really worked for Green in 2019, who was quite effective after making the change.

Opener Extraordinaire

Finally, Green had a new role as an opener for the Yankees in 2019. He started 15 games for New York and was effective in those games, pitching to a 3.72 ERA (4.15 FIP) in 19.1 IP with a 38.1% strikeout rate against a 9.5% walk rate. It’s interesting to note that both his strikeout and walk rates increased as a starter, but I’m not sure the sample is big enough to really mean anything other than to say “hey, this exists.”

His best start of the year came on June 15 in Chicago, when he struck out six of the seven batters he faced in two innings of work. Here are a few of the fun highlights:

Yup, that is Green at his best: overpowering batters with his blazing fastball all across the zone. You love to see it.

Anyway, the Yankees won 11 of the 15 games Green started — he, obviously, did not win any of those himself — which means that this experiment worked. Hopefully, though, the Yankees can keep him in the bullpen next year now that their rotation is sturdier following the Gerrit Cole signing.

What’s Next?

I think it’s a safe bet to assume that Green will again be a bullpen force for the Yankees in 2020. Aside from one bad month, Green has been dominant for the better part of three consecutive seasons. He’s shown an ability to be flexible — he’s been used in multi-inning appearances, one-inning “let it fly” roles, and as an opener — and he’s made mechanical tweaks to recover past dominance. This is all encouraging.

This is not to say that there aren’t concerns, though. He’s still a one-pitch pitcher. Even though his fastball has been dominant for years, he doesn’t have a lot of room for error — but he’s also shown that he doesn’t need much. If anything, 2019 should be viewed as the most encouraging of Green’s seasons. He recovered from a brutal start to prove that, a tough few weeks aside, he is exactly the pitcher we all thought he was. That is very good news for the Yankees.

Chad Green’s Two Seasons [2019 Season Review]

After a few days of quiet activity here at Views, we’re (almost) back to our normal posting schedule. Thanks to everyone for your patience and we hope that everyone is enjoying their holiday season.

It was a strange season for ALCS Game 6 starter Chad Green. Coming into the 2019 season, Green was one of the most reliable and sturdiest members of the Yankees’ dominant bullpen since he stormed onto the scene in 2017. This year, though, Green really had two seasons. The first, which lasted until a Triple-A demotion at the end of April, was abysmal. The second, which began after his mid-May return to the Bronx, lasted through the end of the season.

Still, while the second stretch couldn’t quite recover his ERA, Green’s final season line was very impressive. He logged a 4.17 ERA with much better peripherals (3.34 FIP 91 ERA-) and strikeout (33.2%) and walk rates (6.4%). It was an impressive recovery for a pitcher who looked lost at the beginning of the year, and it serves as a reminder not to overreact to the start of a season. (Or the end of one, when Green looked to be at the end of his rope at the end of the ALCS.)

There were several interesting developments underpinning his bizarre-but-encouraging year, though. Let’s get right into those.

Fastball, Fastball, Fastball

Green’s success is essentially derived from one pitch: his overpowering fastball. The pitch, which averages about 96 mph, looks faster than it is thanks to a 2,400+ rpm spin rate. The pitch, which he utilizes about 75% of the time throughout his career, generates a lot of swings and misses. Check out its whiff-per-swing rate in each of the last three seasons:

  • 2017: 37.86%
  • 2018: 27.33%
  • 2019: 28.79%

The ability to miss bats is a necessary skill for Green, who gives up a ton of hard contact when batters do square up. Look at his hard-hit percentages compared to league average:

And here are his exit velocity numbers:

  • 2017: 89.3 mph (bottom 2% of the league)
  • 2018: 91.0 mph (bottom 0% of the league)
  • 2019: 91.5 mph (bottom 1% of the league)

So, with that in mind, it’s not surprising to note that Green’s signature pitch really betrayed him at the beginning of the year, during an April in which he posted a 16.43 ERA. As I noted back in June, though, the pitch made a real recovery when he returned. That resurgence would continue throughout the year. I made a table that highlights some of the key metrics broken down into three categories: his struggling April, recovering May, and dominant June through the end of the year. The results are stark:


UsageAvg. VelocitySpin RateWhiffs-Per-SwingBAA
April80%95.32 mph2433 rpm18.97%.435
May78%96.87 mph2469 rpm29.03%.333
June-78%96.75 mph2468 rpm30.23%.211

His usage and spin rates stayed constant, but he added over a full mile-per-hour on the fastball — and that seems to have led to a huge increase in swings and misses. As expected, that resulted in a climbing strikeout rate and a declining ERA. It was very good news for the Yankees, and also for Green, who desperately needs the pitch to be effective in order for him to have success at the big league level.

Mechanical Adjustment

There seems to have been a real mechanical adjustment behind the resurgence, too. Derek covered this in detail back in May, but it’s worth highlighting here again because he was a completely different pitcher after making the switch in Triple-A. Check out where he was setting up for his delivery:

Before/After

Derek noted that the change was also consistent through the delivery, so it seems to have been a real mechanical change. It also lasted the entire season. Check out this screengrab from his final pitch of the 2019 regular season:

Yup, the set is still high. The change stayed with Green from his first Triple-A start to his final pitch of the season. I’m not an expert enough to know how or why this would impact his effectiveness, but it is an interesting development nonetheless. It’s something to keep an eye on moving forward, I’d wager. Anyway, it really worked for Green in 2019, who was quite effective after making the change.

Opener Extraordinaire

Finally, Green had a new role as an opener for the Yankees in 2019. He started 15 games for New York and was effective in those games, pitching to a 3.72 ERA (4.15 FIP) in 19.1 IP with a 38.1% strikeout rate against a 9.5% walk rate. It’s interesting to note that both his strikeout and walk rates increased as a starter, but I’m not sure the sample is big enough to really mean anything other than to say “hey, this exists.”

His best start of the year came on June 15 in Chicago, when he struck out six of the seven batters he faced in two innings of work. Here are a few of the fun highlights:

Yup, that is Green at his best: overpowering batters with his blazing fastball all across the zone. You love to see it.

Anyway, the Yankees won 11 of the 15 games Green started — he, obviously, did not win any of those himself — which means that this experiment worked. Hopefully, though, the Yankees can keep him in the bullpen next year now that their rotation is sturdier following the Gerrit Cole signing.

What’s Next?

I think it’s a safe bet to assume that Green will again be a bullpen force for the Yankees in 2020. Aside from one bad month, Green has been dominant for the better part of three consecutive seasons. He’s shown an ability to be flexible — he’s been used in multi-inning appearances, one-inning “let it fly” roles, and as an opener — and he’s made mechanical tweaks to recover past dominance. This is all encouraging.

This is not to say that there aren’t concerns, though. He’s still a one-pitch pitcher. Even though his fastball has been dominant for years, he doesn’t have a lot of room for error — but he’s also shown that he doesn’t need much. If anything, 2019 should be viewed as the most encouraging of Green’s seasons. He recovered from a brutal start to prove that, a tough few weeks aside, he is exactly the pitcher we all thought he was. That is very good news for the Yankees.

Jonathan Loaisiga’s Up-and-Down 2019 was a Showcase for His Future [2019 Season Review]

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:

IPERAFIPwOBABB%K%
As Starter12.06.755.88.39312.1%24.1%
As Reliever19.23.204.38.30611.1%28.4%

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.

Statcast Darling

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:

And 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.

Up Next

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.

The juiced ball did JA Happ no favors [2019 Season Review]

Here’s the pitcher we’re all interested in discussing today, right? The Yankees announced and introduced Gerrit Cole in a press conference at Yankee Stadium yesterday, so naturally, I have a review of JA Happ’s 2019 season ready to go the day after.

After a strong post-acquisition run with the Yankees in 2018, Happ re-signed with the team. He was supposed to be a reliable middle of the rotation starter, but instead, he struggled mightily this season. In 31 games (30 starts), Happ threw 161 1/3 innings of 4.91 ERA ball. After having an ERA between 14 percent and 24 percent better than league average in each of the last three seasons (all in the AL East!), Happ’s ERA- jumped to 107 this season. It was a frustrating start to a two-year (potentially three) deal.

A victim of the juiced ball?

Unfortunately, Happ was the type of pitcher who could least afford 2019’s rocket ball. Already fly ball dominant, Happ gave up his fair share of homers in years prior. In 2018, the veteran southpaw surrendered 27 dingers in 177 2/3 innings and had a 40.1 percent fly ball rate. This year, his home run total ballooned to 34 in 161 1/3 innings.

Remarkably, Happ’s home run increase came in spite of a number of other metrics remaining steady. His 39.8 percent fly ball rate was right in line with his career norm, opposing hitters’ average launch angle was lower, and average exit velocity against wasn’t remarkably higher than the past. But because of the juiced ball, Happ gave up more homers than ever on a career-worst 18.3 percent home run to fly ball rate.

An adjustment that didn’t take

Although Happ isn’t a hard thrower, his fastball velocity was down at the beginning of the season. Per Statcast, he was down from roughly 92 miles per hour to 91 in April. Perhaps this dip in conjunction with the juiced ball led to a rough first month of the year during which Happ had a 4.68 ERA and 5.33 FIP in 32 2/3 frames.

Happ’s always been a fastball-reliant pitcher, but early this year, the lefty started tinkering with a sinker. He increased his ground ball rate by roughly ten percent from April to May through June, but it didn’t benefit Happ’s overall results. In those two months, Happ recorded a 5.57 ERA and 5.65 FIP and coughed up 13 dingers in 51 2/3 innings.

Happ didn’t scrap the sinker going forward, but he relied on it less often as the season went on. Its usage maxed out at a quarter of the time in May but fell under ten percent in September.

Trying something new was worth a shot for the struggling then-36 now-37 year-old, particularly with the fastball velocity dip. Sinking and cutting a fastball had worked for teammate CC Sabathia, too. Fortunately for Happ, he regained his fastball velocity as the season went on, getting back to the 92 to 93 MPH range over the summer. Granted, the heater uptick didn’t lead to better results immediately. He was awful in July and August: Happ had a 6.16 ERA and 5.89 FIP in just under 50 innings pitched. However, Happ did have one last gasp in him…

A strong finish

I have a feeling most of us don’t remember that Happ pitched well in September. In five games, including a relief appearance as the bulk guy for opener Jonathan Loaisiga, Happ allowed just five runs in 27 1/3 innings (1.65 ERA and 3.10 FIP). He also allowed just two homers, a far cry from the issues that plagued him all season.

It’s not like Happ faced a bunch of bad teams, either. Oddly enough, his worst performance came against a putrid Tigers team. The other outings were against Oakland, Boston, Toronto, and Tampa Bay. Those aren’t slouches.

So what changed? The lefty went back to his bread and butter: his four-seamer. With a fastball that sat at 93.5 miles per hour per Brooks Baseball, he ramped up its usage to 56 percent. He hadn’t thrown it more than 48 percent of the time in any other month in 2019 (March was just one start and doesn’t count here).

Perhaps Happ should have stuck to his guns all along. When the Yankees acquired him last year, he pitched to a 2.69 ERA and 4.21 FIP down the stretch while throwing his heater more than 70 percent of the time. Granted, his fastball velocity wasn’t down in the same way it was early in 2019, but still. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Happ backed off his fastball just four starts just four starts into this season.

A minor postseason role

We all unfortunately remember Happ’s dud in the 2018 postseason against Boston. This time around, he’d already pitched his way out of the playoff rotation even with a good September. Happ was used exclusively in relief this October.

In the ALDS, Happ entered pitched the 8th inning of a Yankees’ Game 1 laugher against the Twins. He walked one, gave up a hit, and struck out two in a scoreless inning.

If there’s anything stuck in our collective memories about Happ and this year’s playoffs, sadly it’s Game 2. After the Yankees had already used eight pitchers and the game tied at two, Aaron Boone summoned Happ in relief for the 11th inning. He retired the first two he faced, but Carlos Correa hit a walkoff homer immediately after to end the game and even the series. Nope, not sharing that video again.

Happ resurfaced in Game 6 in relief of opener Chad Green. Green put the Yankees in a 3-0 hole in the first, though the Yankees struck for one in the top half of the second. Enter Happ, who was tasked with keeping the Yankees close. Certainly seemed like a tenuous position with the season on the line. Nonetheless, Happ didn’t allow a run in two innings.

What’s next?

Happ’s immediate future is unclear. Though he’s under contract for at least one more season (more on that in a moment), the Yankees are reportedly trying to offload him. Part of the reason the Yankees are shopping Happ is because of his poor 2019, but that’s not everything. The Yankees are up against the highest luxury tax tier, if not already over, so moving Happ and his $17 million salary would save ownership some coin.

$17 million is a lot to dump on another team, so the Yankees will need to sweeten the pot in order to get a deal done. Think prospect(s) to get a deal done. But to further complicate things, Happ has a 2021 vesting option with 27 starts or 165 innings pitched in 2020. That also factors into any trade equation.

If the Yankees can’t find a taker, Happ slots in as the Yankees’ fifth starter next season. As bad as Happ was this year, the Bombers could do a lot worse every fifth day. Especially if September or a de-juiced ball portend better things to come.

Page 1 of 7

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén