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What Jonathan Loaisiga could mean for the Yankees

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The rookie starter looks impressive despite his unconventional path to the majors.

Tampa Bay Rays v New York Yankees Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Some prospects are so heralded that they’re practically stars before they arrive. All winter and spring, the Yankees universe expected Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar to fulfill their destiny as slugging infielders and Rookie of the Year candidates. They’ve both met expectations, but those expectations show just how highly regarded they were as prospects.

Then there’s the other kind of prospect—the one who comes out of nowhere to force his way onto a major league roster. It doesn’t get more “out of nowhere” than Jonathan Loaisiga. The Nicaraguan right-hander signed with the San Francisco Giants as a teenager and pitched well in the Dominican Summer League in 2013. Injuries (including Tommy John surgery) limited him to just one appearance over the next three years, getting released and signed by the Yankees along the way.

Loaisiga impressed the Yankees enough during his 2017 tour of the low minors that they surprisingly added him to the 40-man roster, protecting him from the Rule 5 Draft. In tne starts this year across High-A and Double-A, he compiled a 58:4 K:BB ratio in 45 innings. The Yankees called him directly to the majors for a start on Friday, skipping Triple-A entirely. He did not disappoint, throwing five scoreless innings against the Rays.

Loaisiga averaged 96.3 mph on his fastball in his first start and mixed in lots of curveballs and changeups. He generated 11 swinging strikes in 91 pitches. Because he didn’t appear on any preseason prospect lists, there weren’t too many scouting reports on his stuff. Now that we’ve seen him in the big leagues, we can find some comparisons for what he throws.

Here are some pitchers with similar pitch arsenals:

Loaisiga Pitch Comps

Pitcher Fastball MPH Fastball % Curveball MPH Curveball % Changeup MPH Changeup % Other MPH Other %
Pitcher Fastball MPH Fastball % Curveball MPH Curveball % Changeup MPH Changeup % Other MPH Other %
Jonathan Loaisiga 96.3 51.7% 83.4 34.1% 87.9 14.3%
Gerrit Cole 96.3 54.5% 82.2 20.2% 88.0 4.5% 88.6 (Slider) 20.9%
Keone Kela 96.6 62.1% 83.4 37.4% 90.5 0.5%
Carlos Carrasco 93.3 45.7% 82.0 14.7% 87.9 14.1% 84.4 (Slider) 25.6%
Domingo German 95.0 43.6% 82.1 37.6% 87.6 18.8%

Fastball

Given how hard he throws, Loaisiga uses the fastball surprisingly little. Only five pitchers in baseball throw their fastball harder than 96.3 mph and less than 51.7% of the time: Justin Anderson, Nathan Eovaldi, Shohei Ohtani, Luis Severino, and Dovydas Neverauskas. He topped out at 97.7 and earned three swinging strikes with the heater.

The best fastball comparison is a really good one: Gerrit Cole. The Astros star has an identical 96.3 average velocity on the cheese. He also has a relatively low usage rate of 54.5%. In fact, Cole is a pretty good velocity comp for all three of Loaisiga’s pitches. The biggest difference is that Cole rarely uses his changeup, instead featuring a slider that Loaisiga does not.

Curveball

The curve is Loaisiga’s money pitch. He generates four swings-and-misses with the pitch, averaging 83.4 mph. Only 20 pitchers in all of baseball throw a curve more often than 34.1%, making him one of the heaviest curve users in the majors.

Texas Rangers reliever Keone Kela has the most similar curveball. He has an exact average velocity match and relies on the pitch 37.4% of the time, 11th most in baseball. Kela’s fastball velocity is 96.6, which is also very close to Loaisiga, but he’s essentially a two-pitch reliever, so that’s where the similarities end.

Changeup

Loaisiga collected four swinging strikes with his 87.9 mph changeup. He threw 28 total pitches against the Rays’ three left-handed hitters (Mallex Smith, Jake Bauers, and Joey Wendle), and 14 of them of them were changeups.

The most similar changeup belongs to Carlos Carrasco of the Indians. They use their changeups almost identically, with both averaging 87.9 mph and roughly 14% usage. Loaisiga has Carrasco beat with fastball velocity by a healthy 3 mph, and Carrasco has a slider that Loaisiga lacks. However, if Carrasco’s two breaking balls are combined, they average 83.3 mph, which is very close to Loaisiga.

Overall

The Yankees don’t have to look far to find the best comparison for Loaisiga. His teammate and fellow rookie Domingo German features a three pitch mix a lot like our protagonist's. German’s velocity on all three pitches is a little lower. He also uses the fastball quite a bit less and the off-speed pitches more.

Clearly, these are some pretty good pitchers. Here’s the DRA for each of them:

DRA Comparisons

Pitcher DRA
Pitcher DRA
Gerrit Cole 1.85
Keone Kela 3.00
Carlos Carrasco 3.40
Domingo German 2.88

Yes, even Domingo German has pitched very well this year by DRA. The average DRA of this group is 2.78. It’s only been one start for Loaisiga, but if he continues to pitch this well the Yankees may have solved their starting pitching problems. That’s pretty incredible considering where Loaisiga was a year ago; his path to the majors has no comparison at all.