Jonathan Loaisiga was due for a poor performance like the one he had on Tuesday night. The right-hander allowed four runs on five hits in just two-thirds of an inning, the catalyst behind a tough Yankees loss to an underwhelming Royals team.
It was the first blemish on an otherwise otherworldly first half from the latest Yankees hurler to find success after moving from the rotation to the bullpen.
Loaisiga began his career in pinstripes as a starter, finding success along the way. The Nicaraguan native posted a 2.89 ERA, a .229 opposing batting average and a 164:33 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 44 starts ranging from rookie ball through Triple-A. But a lack of longevity (he averaged around four innings per start) and injury concerns, combined with an impressive arsenal, made him a logical fit to switch roles.
It’s not the first time the Yankees found success in this way.
Once upon a time, Dellin Betances—along with Andrew Brackman and Manny Banuelos—made up the Killer B’s, a nickname for the prospect trio that was set to take the Yankees’ starting rotation by storm. Like Loaisiga, inconsistencies and injuries put an end to Betances’ career as a starter. But because of his lethal combination of a high velocity fastball and knee-buckling slurve, the New York native found a home in the ‘pen with great success.
Betances became a four-time All-Star with the Yankees, turning into one of the most dominant relievers in baseball from 2014 through 2018. He finished his career in the Bronx averaging 14.6 strikeouts per nine innings while finishing in the top five in team history in FIP, strikeout percentage, ERA, ERA+ and strikeouts.
Chad Green followed the foundation that was laid for Betances.
Green was acquired by Brian Cashman along with Luis Cessa for Justin Wilson in the winter of 2015. The story remains the same; Green was adequate but not great in a starting role and has flourished as a reliever. Green has been as versatile as they come, spending time as an opener, set-up man, temporary closer and overall fire extinguisher, no matter the inning. The 30-year-old has appeared in nearly 200 games in relief, collecting a 0.93 WHIP, 337 strikeouts and .578 opposing OPS in 265 innings.
There are differences, of course. Betances was the most electric, but also the most nerve-raking. No one has matched the versatility of Green. Loaisiga isn’t going to wow anyone with his strikeouts totals like the others.
The dominance, however, is common. Both on and off the stat sheet.
Loaisiga has pitched in a team-high 32 games thus far, posting a 2.43 ERA and .224 opposing batting average. In 40.2 innings, he’s allowed just 33 hits and nine walks while striking out 37. 67% of Loaisiga’s pitches have gone for strikes and he’s averaging 3.8 pitches per plate appearance, proving he’s been making quick work of his opposition.
Statcast has shown Loaisiga’s dominance on another level. He’s ranked in the 98th percentile or higher among all MLB pitchers in average exit velocity, hard hit percentage, fastball velocity, chase rate, barrel percentage and xwOBA.
The comparisons are there, too. Betances’ rookie campaign saw opposing batters hit nearly 47% of his pitches on the ground while generating soft contact 27% of the time. Loaisiga is currently allowing nearly 64% of the balls in play in the dirt while allowing soft contact 23% of the time. Like Green, Yankees manager Aaron Boone has utilized Loaisiga in big moments whenever they come about. Loaisiga has pitched in 25 high leverage situations already in 2021. Green pitched in 19 throughout the duration of his first full year in relief.
In this current era of Yankees, both Betances and Green rank among the most important, whether judging relievers or the roster as a whole.
Loaisiga has a long way to go before joining that group. The sample size may be small, but that’s how every successful formula starts. Just ask the other two.
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