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ALDS Game 2: So you centered a gameplan around JA Happ

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There’s a lot to complain about in this one, folks. The Yankees fell 7-5 in spite of Giancarlo Stanton’s heroics. The decision to use Deivi García as an opener for JA Happ backfired, CB Bucknor had himself a night, and the Yankees offense just fell short against Tampa Bay’s bullpen. This best-of-five series is now level at one a piece. Let’s get to the takeaways.

If I were the Yankees, I’d simply would have waited as long as possible to use JA Happ in this series. I know, I know. Happ had a resurgence during the regular season. But there’s no way I want to see him get the ball before Masahiro Tanaka in a playoff series with both guys fully rested. It’s overthinking things. Yes, hindsight is 20/20 and all, but give me Tanaka over Happ as the bulk guy every time.

Game 54: The other side of a blowout

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Oof. That was ugly. The Yankees blew out Toronto a couple of times last week, and tonight, the Blue Jays returned the favor. The final in this one: 11-5.

This one was over early as Michael King and Jonathan Loaisiga got knocked around in the third and fourth innings. Meanwhile, the offense couldn’t muster much against Matt Shoemaker and the Jays’ bullpen. Here are the takeaways:

Michael King isn’t a big league starter. At least, not yet. There are reasons to like King, but his start tonight was emblematic of his entire season. He got off to a good start but wore down once the opposing lineup got a second look at him. Now, the times-through-the-order penalty applies to just about every pitcher. But for King, it’s particularly bad. Take a look:

Times Facing Opponent in Game
1st PA in G, as SP27156.182.333.409.74281108
2nd PA in G, as SP26134.318.423.455.878116134
3rd PA in G, as SP1000.
1st PA in G, as RP38218.278.316.528.844100127
2nd PA in G, as RP15112.286.333.571.905114115
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/21/2020.

Opposing hitters’ OPS go way up in a second plate appearance against King, though the jump is particularly noticeable as a starting pitcher. He’s kind of consistently bad as a reliever, whereas when starting, his first time through is actually pretty decent.

Tonight, King looked great his first time through the order. He allowed two hits and struck out five. One of those hits absolutely shouldn’t have been a hit, by the way. Aaron Hicks and Aaron Judge let a ball drop in the outfield that turned into a triple. Anyway, point is: King shut down the Blue Jays in their first look tonight. He capped off that first time through with a beauty, too:

After that is when things unraveled. With one on, one out, and the top of the order due up, here’s what happened. King walked Cavan Biggio and then gave up back-to-back singles to Bo Bichette and Teoscar Hernández, which put Toronto ahead 2-1. Next, King fanned Lourdes Gurriel Jr. for the second out, but Randal Grichuk delivered the final blow right after: an RBI single to make it 3-1. In short, Toronto hitters reached in four of the first five plate appearances in the second turn through the batting order. Not good. Jonathan Loaisiga relieved King, but allowed two of his inherited runners to score, putting the Yankees down 5-1 through 3 innings.

In fairness to King, some of the hits in that third inning weren’t scalded. Still, hits are hits and King has shown us time and time again that he doesn’t fare well against opposing hitters twice. As long as this issue remains, he’s not a viable starting pitcher.

King now has a 7.76 ERA and 5.13 FIP in 26 2/3 innings this season. If this is it for King this year, yikes. He had a chance to grab a rotation spot this year, but his poor performance, Deivi García’s success, and JA Happ’s resurgence never allowed it to be a possibility. My one big takeaway from King’s season, aside from the times through the order stuff: he’s gotta find a way to get his sinker down. Here’s his heat map on the pitch this season:

He flashes an excellent sinker (that Pitching Ninja gif, for example), but far more often than not it’s up and over the plate. If he can get that down, maybe he can get himself back on track as a back-end starter type.

Jonathan Loaisiga hasn’t looked great since returning from his unknown illness. In his third outing off the injured list, Loaisiga let this one get out of hand. He entered when it was 3-1 and allowed a couple of inherited runs to score, as mentioned earlier. Then, the next inning, he proceeded to give up four more runs. Loaisiga allowed five hits and walked two before Nick Nelson relieved him in the middle of the fourth inning.

Loaisiga’s pitch usage really stood out to me tonight. Of his 39 pitches in this one, 32 were fastballs. He’s got a great heater, but he also possesses a high spin curve and a sharp changeup, both with whiff rates north of forty percent this year. So, it’s a bit odd to see him spin off five breakers and two changeups tonight. He did something similar in his last outing too.

Granted, Loaisiga’s had some other high fastball usage outings this season. But considering how poorly things went tonight, it’s strange how he and Gary Sánchez kept going to the well. Maybe he just didn’t have a feel for the breaker or change, I don’t know. In any case, he also didn’t elevate his fastball at all, something he’s had success with before.

Hopefully this is just a case of Loaisiga trying to get back into a groove after missing a couple weeks of action. He showed some flashes of excellence in short relief last month and looked like a great option to graduate into late relief, particularly with Tommy Kahnle out for the year. It’d be nice to see him sort things out before the postseason.

  • Gio Urshela drove in two of the three of the Yankees’ runs tonight. One was an RBI single that gave the Yankees’ a short-lived 1-zip lead in the second. The other was an RBI groundout in garbage time.
  • Giancarlo Stanton plated the Yankees’ third run with his RBI double in the eighth.
  • More from the too little, too late department: Mike Tauchman delivered a three-run double in the ninth inning against Wilmer Font.
  • Nick Nelson threw two innings in relief. The only run he allowed came on Randal Grichuk’s solo shot.
  • Chad Green and Adam Ottavino got some work in relief as well. Green gave up one run, a solo homer to Alejandro Kirk. Adam Ottavino pitched a clean eighth inning.
  • The Rays’ magic number for the division title is now 1. Additionally, the Yankees now trail the Twins by 1.5 games for the 4th seed.

Welp, on to the next one. The Yankees have now lost two straight, but it’s nice to have Gerrit Cole on the bump tomorrow. Have a good night, everyone.

Game 48: Here comes the cavalry (sort of)

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Good news! Giancarlo Stanton, Gio Urshela, and Jonathan Loaisiga are healthy players once again. We expected the latter two to return today, but Stanton’s return is a little earlier than expected. Of course, no good news can come to the Yankees this year without something awry mixed in. As you’ll see in the forthcoming lineups, Gleyber Torres is nowhere to be found. He was off Sunday (though he pinch hit) and the team was off yesterday. What gives? His quad again, apparently. Though Aaron Boone did say he’d play if this was a playoff game. Take solace in that, I suppose, but forgive me for being doubtful about the Yankees and injuries.

The Yankees optioned Mike Ford and Miguel Andújar to make room for today’s moves. Clarke Schmidt was the other demotion from a day ago. Miggy was somewhat surprising at first considering that Tyler Wade and Thairo Estrada are redundant with a healthy Gleyber, though it now makes more sense why the Yankees kept the additional middle infielder.

Roster shuffle aside, let’s get to today’s game, the first of a pretty big series. The Yankees trail the Jays by a half game in the standings for second place in the division, so winning this series would put the Bombers ahead of Toronto in the standings. The Yanks hand the ball to wunderkind Deivi García, who pitched a gem against Toronto last week. Here is the lineup behind him and the lineup he’ll face:

Toronto Blue Jays (26-20)

  1. Cavan Biggio, 3B
  2. Bo Bichette, SS
  3. Travis Shaw, 1B
  4. Randal Grichuk, CF
  5. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., DH
  6. Lourdes Gurriel Jr., LF
  7. Joe Panik, 2B
  8. Alejandro Kirk, C
  9. Derek Fisher, RF

RHP Taijuan Walker

New York Yankees (26-21)

  1. DJ LeMahieu, 2B
  2. Luke Voit, 1B
  3. Aaron Hicks, CF
  4. Giancarlo Stanton, DH
  5. Gio Urshela, 3B
  6. Clint Frazier, RF
  7. Brett Gardner, LF
  8. Gary Sánchez, C
  9. Tyler Wade, SS

RHP Deivi García

News & Notes

It’s a crisp evening here in New York, a real taste of Fall is in the air, so it’s a nice night for baseball. This one is on YES, WFAN, and WADO and the first pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. EDT. Enjoy the ballgame.

Yankees place Gio Urshela and Jonathan Loaisiga on the IL

Good grief, the hits just keep on coming. We knew about Gio Urshela’s bone spur before, but I guess it’s become troublesome enough that he needs some time on the shelf. As for Jonathan Loaisiga: this came out of the blue and sounds scary. Hoping for the best for him.

In their place, the Yankees brought up Miguel Andújar and Miguel Yajure. Andújar figures to be the everyday third baseman for the time being while Yajure is depth.

This season just really stinks overall. It’s hard for the Yankees to contend with basically everyone who was supposed to be a regular on the injured list. It’s been said ad nauseam, but if it weren’t for the expanded postseason, I’d write the Yankees off at this point. Have to hope for better health in the coming weeks and that they get hot at the right time.

Short Outings & High Fastballs May Unlock Jonathan Loaisiga’s Relief Potential

Jonathan Loaisiga belongs in the bullpen. This is something I’ve believed for quite some time and seems to be a pretty common thought among the fandom at this point. Loaisiga has a nasty repertoire of pitches – which now includes a sinker in the arsenal – with consistently high spin rates and flamethrowing velocity. He seems poised to be the next 2017 Chad Green: This Time With a Curveball.

While Loaisiga has been fairly useful so far, there are two elements limiting his effectiveness: long appearances and poor fastball utilization. Correcting those two interrelated issues may help unlock Loaisiga’s potential and provide the Yankees with another high-leverage relief option. Let’s get into it.

Shorter Appearances

At the beginning of the year, I wanted to see what Loaisiga could do in short relief appearances. Unfortunately, that is not how the Yankees have utilized him so far. Loaisiga has started 50% of his appearances and appeared for a third inning of work in every outing. The data show that this is a far cry from the best deployment of his skills.

To be fair, his usage has certainly been hampered by a few external factors worth considering:

  • A lack of off-days in the short-season sprint makes managing the bullpen more precarious;
  • The lack of length from the team’s starters, plus Masahiro Tanaka’s recovery from injury, has taxed the bullpen;
  • Tanaka’s early absence, plus the team’s willingness to skip J.A. Happ’s starts, required the use of an opener; and,
  • Tommy Kahnle’s season-ending injury coupled with Aroldis Chapman’s absence has further taxed the bullpen.

This has prevented Loaisiga’s ability to come into games in short bursts and let his nasty stuff fly. There is already some evidence he will succeed in the bullpen. Batters hammered Loaisiga as a reliever in 2018 (11 runs in 6.2 innings), but he shined in that role in 2019: a .707 OPS against in relief compared to a .983 OPS against as a starter.

This observation tracks with the obvious fact that the longer Loaisiga is in the game, the more he struggles. As a starter, batters have hit just .234/.307/.364 against Loaisaga the first time they face him. The second time, by contrast, batters hit .308/.403/.596 against him for a .999 OPS – meaning batters turn into 2019 Anthony Rendon the second time through. The sample is small, but the split is stark. It sure feels representative of his skills, and the eye test bears this out.

Not to mention, we’ve seen this play out in literally every single 2020 Loaisiga appearance. In all four of his appearances, Loaisiga has lasted into a third inning of work. Check out how he’s done in that final inning:

  • July 26 (@ WAS): surrendered a solo shot to Trea Turner (who was also the first batter faced twice in this game)
  • July 30 (@ BAL): hit Anthony Santander with a pitch and surrendered a 2-run homer to Pedro Severino (he previously had not allowed a hit in this outing)
  • August 5 (vs PHI): hit Bryce Harper with a pitch
  • August 12 (vs ATL): allowed two hits to lead off the inning (he was then pulled for Chad Green)

The third inning of work is clearly Loaisiga’s foil. In fact, just 1 of the 4 runs against Loaisiga has scored before that third inning of work. He hasn’t allowed a home run, nor hit a batter, before that inning. And batters have nearly as many hits (4) in that inning than they do in every other (5). It’s stark and it tracks with his career splits to date.

All of this is to say that Loaisiga has been better than his line so far this season but his usage has been suboptimal. A correction here will better harness that potential.

More High Fastballs, Please

Relatedly, shorter appearances may also encourage Loaisiga to let it really fly with his fastball. This is a big flaw in his approach to date. Look at his 2020 four-seam location plot and heatmap:

He is pumping his fastball low in the zone. This is honestly a waste of an elite fastball: the pitch has both elite velocity (94th percentile) and spin (83rd percentile). It’s cliche at this point, but pitchers should throw a fastball like that high in the zone. It is enticing to the batter, generates a ton of whiffs, and maximizes the pitch’s potential. That he hasn’t done so thus far could be why the pitch hasn’t yet live up to its potential (.406 wOBA against) in 2020.

Being more aggressive with the pitch would result in more of this:

And this:

And this:

Instead, it feels like Loaisiga tries to get too cute with his stuff and tries to play it off his curve/changeup lower in the zone. It’s possible this is because he feels like he needs to conserve energy or emphasize deception, knowing he will be used for multiple innings in a given appearance. This could just also be a function of general command and control issues that have always plagued him, too.

In any case, I think tweaking this approach goes hand-in-hand with shortening his appearances. Encouraging Loaisiga to air it out for one inning may make him more likely to be aggressive. After all, when you’ve got just one inning to work, you might as well give it all you’ve got, right?

I really want to see the Yankees use Loaisiga in this role. It is pretty clear that this is how he is most effective and I think it will encourage him to be more aggressive. It just makes sense and it seems like a clear win-win opportunity.

Besides, the Yankee bullpen is now missing Tommy Kahnle’s elite arm. In other words, there is no better time than right now to see if his replacement is already sitting right there, just waiting to be unlocked.

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