Need more evidence that extending your commitment to a reliever on a multi-year contract is a difficult-to-project investment? Not sure why you would; just pop a peek at every reliever deal and you should find what you’re looking for. But right in the Yankees‘ backyard, Jonathan Loaisiga serves as the perfect example of bullpen stardom being enigmatic, considering he went from the “closer of the future” to “loser of the present” in just a few months off.
In 2021, after several years of circling around a permanent role, first as an oft-injured starter, then as a low-leverage reliever with high-leverage stuff, Jonathan Loaisiga finally busted out and became the flavor of the week in the race to replace Aroldis Chapman.
Objectively, he was a weapon, harnessing his biting high-90s cutter to excel nearly all season long (except, pointedly, at Fenway Park during his recovery from COVID). Loaisiga didn’t overwhelm in the strikeout department, whiffing just 69 men in 70.2 innings. He was like Prime Mariano in that way (and ONLY that way), relying on soft contact thanks to hit sharp movement at high velocity.
197 ERA+. Sterling control. 1.019 WHIP. Just 16 walks in those 70.2 innings. Sadly, in 2022, that command magnate hasn’t shown up, as he’s walked nearly the same number of men (14) in just 24.2 innings, sandwiched around a months-long shoulder issue.
Getting Loaisiga right would be massive down the stretch for a Yankees team missing both Chad Green and Michael King from the ideal bridge to Clay Holmes (?) for the remainder of the season. Any moment spent with pitching coach Matt Blake is invaluable, in that regard. But … are those moments spent with Blake worth demoting superior talent for?
Because Loaisiga has a minor-league option remaining. That was the main reason the team sent surging reliever Ron Marinaccio to Triple-A this past week to make room on the roster for Frankie Montas. That, in turn, was the reason Loaisiga ended up as the First Unsuccessful Pitcher in Tuesday’s 13-inning duel, walking off the mound with a celebration behind him. Can’t Loaisiga be getting this important homework done in Scranton, instead? Because the Yanks still have some things to secure.
Yankees could’ve kept red-hot Ron Marinaccio, demoted lost-in-the-woods Jonathan Loaisiga
Though Loaisiga’s been a known quantity for years and Marinaccio’s the new kid, both relievers are 27 years old. If one has some tinkering left to do, so does the other. And, in fairness, Marinaccio’s red-hot streak will end at some point, just as Loaisiga’s did between 2021 and 2022.
But, right now, there’s something much deeper wrong with Loaisiga’s command. His past two ineffective outings — Sunday in St. Louis and Tuesday in Seattle — have featured 0-2 fastballs down the middle, which were punished for either game-enders or game-changers. Those appearances have undone any optimism the righty had built up over the previous week or so in mostly late-inning work.
Loaisiga’s season might be a lost cause, as mid-August approaches and he still appears to be a shadow of his former self (well, “former” meaning 2021 — 2020 looked very similar to this). Meanwhile, Marinaccio — since his mid-May recall to the bigs — has allowed just four hits and a single earned run in 22.2 innings, striking out 26.
Bullpen management is all about riding the hot hand. On Tuesday night, in a game where the Yankees needed every decision to work out perfectly, they left two hot hands (Marinaccio and Clarke Schmidt) in the minors, and imported a cold hand who could use some seasoning to walk the tight rope. Bad call, and it looks worse with every self-inflicted jam — including Albert Abreu’s horrific job Tuesday, another reminder of what the Yankees are actively choosing to do.