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Painting The Picture Of Huascar Ynoa’s Potential

Nick Pollack's Going Deep article pledge #2 featuring Huascar Ynoa.

With the MLB officially missing games in 2022, I have pledged to write a Going Deep article every day until the lockout is lifted. Please consider supporting Pitcher List with a PL+ subscription to help us survive through these difficult months.

It’s Day #2 of my pledge and already PL+ members have requested for Huascar YnoaIt shouldn’t come as a surprise to those who have followed my work this off-season as I’ve labeled Ynoa as one of the more overlooked pitchers for the 2022 season.

If you don’t care for what’s ahead, it’s incredibly simple: He throws 96+ with one of the best sliders in the game. Is that enough? Maybe?

Does he have flaws? Absolutely! We’re going to look at them and weigh in on what his possible outcomes are for the season ahead. In short, I believe Ynoa’s potential alone makes him an arm to watch early in the year, even if the pieces don’t come together perfectly.

 

His Slider Is Really Really Good

 

On paper, it doesn’t seem like there’s a whole lot to Ynoa. He’s a fastball/slider hurler and I’m tempted to list the breaker first as he tossed it nearly half the time in 2021 (including a start with 72% usage!). Voila, there’s your Going Deep.

The thing is, Ynoa’s slider is incredible. Here’s the pitch compared to the typical slider from a starting pitcher:

Huascar Ynoa’s Slider vs. League Average

When players increase their pitch usage, we typically see diminishing results either as a product of being more predictable or unable to replicate consistency over a larger sample. However, Ynoa’s slider bests league average marks across the board, while also being thrown at double the standard usage. It’s elite, to be brief.

I’ve seen a lot of sliders in my day and typically they fall under one of two categories: a whiff pitch to throw out of the zone or a strike-earning that falls for strikes. Ynoa’s does both.

Here’s the pitch getting a whiff inside the blindspot for lefties:

And here’s the slider stealing a fantastic first-pitch strike:

They appear similar, and that’s by design. Two-thirds of the sliders that Ynoa tossed were in the bottom third of the zone or lower, creating difficult decisions for batters on whether to keep the bat rested on their shoulders or take a chance at hitting the ridiculous spinner.

There was one metric I left off inside the table above: Vertical drop.

MLB Average Slider yMov: 1.3

Huascar Ynoa’s Slider yMov: -1.9

It doesn’t seem like much, but that’s over three inches extra vertical drop than the standard slider, ranking 8th most among all starting pitchers. No wonder he boasts a near 50% groundball rate.

With the amazing breaker, Ynoa is able to limit walks and earn strikeouts as he has a “#2” pitch he can throw in any count. All that’s left is a proper fastball to set up the pitch properly.

 

Ynoa’s Hard Fastball

 

I really want that answer to be a defiant YES. His 96.5 mph four-seamer ranked 11th in velocity among all starting pitchers and inherently, that seems great. Hard pitch = hard to hit … right?

Sadly, for Ynoa the equation is: Hard pitch = Hard Contact. Here are the results of Ynoa’s four-seamer from 2021:

Huascar Ynoa’s Four-Seamer vs. League Average

Ynoa is earning more grounders with fastballs than you’d expect, but when batters get under the ball, they are demolishing it. A three mph increase in flyball exit velocity is no joke, and the pitch’s HH/PA% induces noises. Bad noises.

However, when Ynoa executes his heater, it truly is a wonderful thing. Here’s a prime example of the type of groove Ynoa can get into:

That’s a stupid hard pitch to hit. And also a poor representation of a typical Ynoa heater. You have to forgive me, the sexiness of this 1-1 pitch has been ingrained in my head ever since I saw it in April and couldn’t allow this article to publish without displaying its beauty.

Anyway, here’s a standard Ynoa heater:

Okay, maybe that’s the other extreme, but you get the point. Typically with 97 mph heaters, you can get away with mistake fastballs like this one. But not with Ynoa, who allowed that home run to anti-flyball man himself, Eric HosmerEric. Hosmer.

No, I won’t show you an actually normal heater because that’s awfully boring and quite frankly, understanding Ynoa’s extremes is the whole point of this piece. He has amazing elements and incredibly detrimental ones with little in between.

That’s what we’re dealing with. If Ynoa can improve his fastball command a touch and maintain its 66% strike rate while falling anywhere close to a 30% HH/PA, things could be pretty for the year ahead. For those who need a little more excitement, I wouldn’t expect the fastball to perform worse this year—that 43% HH/PA is sure to improve, even if it’s only slightly.

 

He Has Other Pitches, Too

 

Why did I write that. No he doesn’t. But he throws a changeup 7% of the time and flirts with a sinker! Both pitches returned a sub 50% strike rate last year. Sub 50%! I don’t call a pitch serviceable unless it’s above 60%, with a small exception going to show-me curveballs that boast 25%+ called-strike rates. You can make a case that the slowball could be a tool to keep left-handers honest, but reserve your expectations for someone else.

 

Before And After The Hand Injury

 

This is the major talking point you’ve heard when Ynoa has been discussed this winter. How could it not? Ynoa was phenomenal before punching a bench on May 16th and produced far worse results in his return in the second half:

Huascar Ynoa Before & After Injury

Huh. I don’t think many of you expected this. Yes, his ERA ballooned when he returned, but he kept close to the same strikeout and walk rates and even lowered the damage done by contact. The largest shift was his LOB%, which explains the dramatic rise in ERA.

There’s a little more under the hood that suggested a worse nine-game stretch for Ynoa. He had to lean a bit more on his slider over his four-seamer as the fastball dropped a touch in whiffs and grounders. The shift isn’t enough to justify a near two point hike in ERA, but it’s not as if he was exactly the same pitcher.

My takeaway? Ynoa is more than capable of being the man we saw in his original eight-game stretch, albeit his LOB rate will come down a decent amount. Still, just look at the final stretch (including his acceptable 25.5% HH/PA) and give him some luck with baserunners. His ERA plummets while maintaining SP #2 worthy strikeout and WHIP rates. That’s well worth your attention.

One last note that needs mentioning: Ynoa was removed from the NLCS and World Series roster for Atlanta due to shoulder inflammation in October. We haven’t heard any updates on Ynoa since and while shoulder injuries are scary, inflammation occurs constantly through the year—often treated more like slight over-work in a period where a pitcher needs rest more than a legitimate long-term injury. It could even explain his 7 ER blowup in his penultimate outing of the year. I’m not worried about this for the season ahead.

 

Conclusion

 

I didn’t go too far into Ynoa’s home run problem—18.4% HR/FB rate & 1.38 HR/9 last year—and ultimately if that’s what holds you back from an endorsement of Ynoa, I understand. We have a small seventeen start sample from 2021, and it’s unclear if it will be a constant issue for Ynoa or if he can significantly limit the longball with more time on the hill.

Home run questions aside, Ynoa features a sparkling slider and does the right thing by leaning on it nearly 50% of the time. His heater has potential when commanded on the edges, though it allowed far too much hard contact and could continue to be an issue despite its high velocity (my guess is that it’s a VAA issue, which is a discussion for another time!).  It makes for a starter who should continue pumping a 25%+ strikeout rate with few walks, while having the ceiling for a sparkling ERA and WHIP if he’s able to reduce longballs and hold a 70%+ LOB rate. And who knows, maybe there’s a third pitch that will proper appear this season.

 

Photo by Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Doug Carlin (@Bdougals on Twitter)

Nick Pollack

Founder of Pitcher List. Creator of CSW, The List, and SP Roundup. Worked with MSG, FanGraphs, CBS Sports, and Washington Post. Former college pitcher, travel coach, pitching coach, and Brandeis alum. Wants every pitcher to be dope.

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