Weekly Mailbag: Paxton's Run, The Playoff Infield, and Jonathan Loaisiga's Once and Future Role!

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Man, the hits just keep on coming. This team can’t catch a break when it comes to injuries.  I really thought that we’d get some of the team healthy prior to the playoffs, but right now, we’re playing two men down, one man up.  Between the bad news on Hicks and injuries to Tauchman, Happ, Kahnle, Sanchez, and Encarnacion, it’s getting tough to keep it all straight.  Luckily, the Yankee front office has assembled a ton of depth, probably even more than it realized.  Still, I’d love to talk about a much healthier Yankee roster as we get closer to the playoffs.

Without any further ado, in this week’s mailbag, we’ll talk about James Paxton’s run of excellence, sort through a potential playoff infield lineup, and look at a potential role for Jonathan Loaisiga.  Let’s get at it:

Brian asks: Should I buy Paxton’s recent performance?  I know the stats, and he’s been great, but can we expect him to continue to be good through the playoffs?

Obviously, the playoffs are a different animal – generally speaking, pitchers and hitters alike face tougher competition and pitchers often pitch on different rest cycles than their summer routine.  Obviously, I can’t definitively predict that Paxton will be good when the lights shine brightest in October, but I can tell you that I like what I see.

There are a few things that are important to note about Paxton’s recent run.  First, check out Paxton’s pitch usage chart for this season, per Brooks Baseball:

Paxton’s pitch mix has steadily changed since the beginning of Paxton’s recent stretch of dominance beginning in August.  Most notably, Paxton has increased his four-seam fastball and curveball percentage significantly.  Those are Paxton’s best pitches when he’s right, so I see it as a sign that Paxton feels comfortable that he’s throwing both pitches almost 90% of the time.  The curveball is also a feel pitch, and while it took until the second half, Paxton seems to have finally found the feel for the pitch.  Paxton’s cutter usage has also trended down, but interestingly, it has been more effective when used sparingly, generating an increasing number of whiffs as his usage of the pitch decreases.  Paxton’s current pitch mix allows all of his stuff to play up.

All of this is another way of saying that Paxton has found a pitch mix that is effective, he is comfortable on the mound, and no one can argue with the results: 49 innings pitched, 2.57 ERA, and 58 strikeouts while allowing just 29 hits and 18 walks since the calendar turned to August.

While it took longer than I would have liked, I think that this is a lot closer to the version of James Paxton that I expected to see this season.  I appreciate that he’s soaked up innings, even when it was clear that he was dealing with a knee injury early in the season, and now he’s tossing quality innings throughout his starts.  I think the Yankees will be quite happy with a playoff rotation that features James Paxton, and as long as his current pitch mix, velocity, and command remain stable, I expect the Yankees to lean on him in the playoffs.

Kevin asks: All of a sudden, the infield is very crowded now that both Voit, Urshela, and Encarnacion are back.  How would you configure the lineup if the playoffs started today?

Sadly, the playoffs don’t start today.  Kevin sent this question prior to yesterday’s games when all of a sudden, the infield looks significantly less crowded.  Let’s hold our collective breath that Encarnacion’s oblique injury and Gary’s groin pull aren’t serious.

In the spirit of Kevin’s question though, let’s be optimistic and hope that Encarnacion is back for the playoffs.  If the playoffs started Wednesday night, I would have said that Voit would have been the odd man out since he has not looked like his timing had returned since his long layoff.  That would also lead to a pretty good defensive lineup of: C – Sanchez, 1B – LeMahieu, 2B – Torres, 3B – Urshela, SS – Didi.  That would leave Encarnacion and Voit battling for at-bats at DH, particularly if the Yankees are really going to play Stanton in LF when he comes back from his knee injury.

Of course, Voit broke through a bit yesterday, so maybe he’s busting out of his slump.  Half of the infield also seemed to get hurt yesterday, so we also need to wait to see how that shakes out.

The injuries just keep piling up, so who knows who will be healthy and playing well in two weeks.  I’ll likely re-visit the playoff roster when the playoffs are just around the corner.  Maybe if we all stop talking about it, guys will stop getting hurt.

Jim asks: Do you see a role for Jonathan Loaisiga for this year and beyond?

Yes! I know that the Yankees have been grooming him as a starter since obtained his rights from the Giants, but Loaisiga’s durability has always been a giant question mark.  Loaisiga’s injuries during his time with the Giants have been well-documented, and sadly he hasn’t been able to avoid the IL since he reached the cusp of the Majors with the Yanks.

Loaisiga is a tantalizing prospect because his fastball has velocity and life, while his breaking stuff really moves.  Add in a solid change-up, and you can see why many people see a starter with enough development.  However, I think we may have reached the point where trying to further develop Loaisiga as a starter in the minors is wasting the value the Yankees could extract from Loaisiga now as a starter.

Loaisiga has proven that his arm struggles to hold up under the rigors of starting, but we really don’t know much about how his arm would react to a relief role.  In fact, the Yankees have been letting Loaisiga throw 1-2 inning stints in relief since his return from the IL.  His stuff is good enough that envisioning Loaisiga as a high-octane 7th or 8th inning arm isn’t hard.

Given the mounting injuries the Yankees have faced, I can see a scenario where Loaisiga is called upon to pitch out of the bullpen in the playoffs, and I think he is capable of doing so.  I’m not sure it is the Yankees’ ideal scenario, but I think that a team could do a lot worse than Loaisiga as its last arm out of the bullpen on a playoff roster.

Moving forward though, I think that Loaisiga remains firmly in the Yankees plans.  For instance, let’s say that Chapman decides to opt-out this Winter.  If that occurs, I have previously opined that I am not in favor of re-signing Chapman for a myriad of reasons.  The Yankees have other capable closers on the roster, which would allow space for a guy like Loaisiga to play a major role out of the bullpen.

We’ll see what happens, but I like Loaisiga, and hope he can carve out a role in pinstripes.

 

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That’s all for this week!  It was good to see some new names in the inbox – keep ‘em coming!  As always, send in your mailbag questions to sstnreadermail@gmail.com.  Have a great weekend everyone, and let’s pray that the weekend doesn’t add to the Yankees’ body count.