Initially, I was planning on writing an optimistic column about Huascar Ynoa pitching and his performance thus far in 2021, even after his rough outing Sunday afternoon. Well, in light of the news the next day that Ynoa, infuriated with his results, decided to punch the dugout bench and ultimately broke his pitching hand, the framing had to change a bit. What initially was to be about the spark his pitching would ignite within the rotation, and even the team, has now resulted in Ynoa’s pitching spark doused by his emotional unraveling.
Ynoa’s Sunday afternoon start against the Brewers was turbulent, to say the least. The issues that have occasionally come into play this season were manifested again when the hard-throwing 22-year-old surrendered even harder hits that proved to be too costly. Seven hard hits (hits of 95 mph of exit velocity or higher), to be exact, proved to be too much for the Braves defense, and Ynoa was taken out with five runs allowed in just 4.1 innings pitched. But the emotional frustration was even costlier, one he will need to learn from and grow from in the future. As of now, Ynoa has been placed on the 10-day injured list and is expected to be out for a “couple of months”.
Huascar Ynoa Pitching Spark: Team’s Rotational Issues
The thing is, there was legitimate excitement about Ynoa’s projection. Outside of Ian Anderson, Ynoa was potentially their biggest silver lining that’s healthy that could keep their pitching afloat. With all-star Mike Soroka still in recovery from a torn ACL and Max Fried affected by another injury after already having been out for three weeks, the Braves’ rotation is left with serious questions unanswered.
As a whole, the team has had a multitude of issues this year, but most prominently, they linger on the mound, coughing up the seventh-highest batting average and tying for the third-most home runs in the league. Drew Smyly and Charlie Morton have contributed to these pitching issues with the former allowing nine home runs in just six starts and the latter posting an above five earned-run-average. Suffice it to say, they need all the help they can get.
Ynoa’s Pitching Spark Doused: A Look at his Value
Ynoa, who’s only 22 years old, had already made his presence felt within the Braves rotation, averaging over 10 strikeouts per nine innings pitched and a respectable 3.02 ERA. His staggeringly, rapid development from last year to now in nearly cutting his ERA in half and his opposing OBP by 112 points suggests his future is bright. With a pitching arsenal that features a four-seam fastball, a slider, a sinker, and a change-up, Ynoa has formed a deadly combo with his former two pitches that comprises 88% of his usage rate. When you watch him deliver those two, you can see why.
Starting with the fastball, Ynoa’s been able to climb into triple-digit territory on occasion but averages out to a still impressive 96.7 mph. There are some occasional command issues to rectify with leaving a few pitches out on the upper middle part of the plate, but the sheer speed alone is intimidating to opposing batters. Opposing hitters can only muster a .237 average against it.
His slider has some kick to it too, clocking 85 mph on average. This is unequivocally his best pitch. Batters hadn’t fared well this year against the breaking ball, scantly posting a .200 batting average against it. In addition to the deceptive vertical movement that he has increased on the pitch, Ynoa was very efficient in foiling left-handed batters when targeting the lower, inside corner of the zone. It even seemed as if he was just starting to find his rhythm with his changeup as a third pitch he could include more often than five percent of the time he does use it.
Where to Look Now
Now, questions on the level Ynoa could reach won’t be answered for at least two more months. In the meantime, the Braves are four games below .500 at the 41 game mark this year and will soon have to fill in the voids of their pressing issues on the mound with something serviceable.
Tucker Davidson received the call back up to step in for Ynoa Tuesday Evening. His outing was somewhat serviceable, allowing only three runs and striking out five in six innings pitched against the Mets, but it’s only one start for the southpaw who is still very green and in need of command improvement.
Maybe inquiring about a trade for a relatively cheap, yet proven and formidable arm like a Sonny Gray could be the Braves’ best bet if the payroll budges. His resume as a multi-time all-star speaks volumes to what he can bring, he’s averaging over 11.5 strikeouts per nine innings pitched with a sub-four ERA in 2021, and he’s currently riding out the final year of his contract. Not to mention, his extensive inventory of pitches he could bring to help the rotation brings a ton of value.
The point remains though that the reliance on starting pitching can’t solely be upon the arms of Fried and Anderson. A third legitimate threat is imperative. After all, it won’t be the lineup that costs them an opportunity to steer their ship back on course to post-season contention. They lead the league in home runs and features four young, MVP-caliber players, one of which the reigning MVP, that almost guarantees things will fall into place offensively. It’s the pitching if anything that is in danger of compromising this team’s build on last year’s finish that had them just two meager runs away from a National League pennant.
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