Image Copyright: Alex Brandon, AP Photo
Both the pitching and the hitting for the Braves have been inconsistent at best this year. With last year’s stars Marcel Ozuna and Dansby Swanson off to early-season slumps, and top free-agent pitching signings Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly pitching inconsistently, Braves country has been left wondering when this immense load of talent will inevitably turn it around. However, through this rough start of the season, there has been one player who has both pitched and hit consistently well: Huascar Ynoa. While Ynoa’s hitting has certainly been an asset in this extremely small sample size, it is not dependable, but his stellar pitching performances may prove to be enough to earn him a permanent spot in the rotation. This leaves Braves country wondering: Will Huascar Ynoa’s pitching performances be sustainable?
Ynoa has had a terrific start to the season, posting an ERA of 2.36 and a WHIP of 0.90 while striking out batters at a terrific rate of 10 batters per 9 innings through 6 starts. Additionally, he has been adequate at limiting the long ball, allowing just 1.3 home runs per 9 innings, and posting a FIP at 3.46. On the surface, these statistics are remarkable, albeit through a small sample size. However, through observing, one easily notices the amount of quality contact opposing pitchers make against him and wonders about how lucky he is getting; thus, one must look at batted ball data to help reinforce conclusions about how well he is truly performing.
The Statcast data via Baseball Savant depicts an entirely different picture of Ynoa’s performances, as he only ranks in the 7th percentile in opposing hard-hit percentage, the 33 percentiles in xwOBA and xERA, and the 19th percentile in limiting barreled baseballs. This is likely due to the lack of spin that ranks in the 26th percentile; this lackluster spin fails to befuddle batters and results in more quality contact. Statcast batted ball data predicts that Ynoa’s ERA should be 4.56, almost double his current mark 2.36, and his wOBA allowed should be .346 instead of his current .262 mark.
While Baseball Savant’s batted ball data dishearteningly displays the idea that Ynoa will not continue to pitch well, all hope is not lost. His fastball velocity ranks in the 94th percentile and he ranks in the 77th percentile in strikeout percentage, as he has posted a whiff rate in the 71st percentile and a chase rate in the 74th percentile. Hence, Ynoa certainly possesses swing and miss stuff, and his performance could be improved with an increase in the spin rate of his fastball. Trevor Bauer is a notable player who drastically increased the spin rate on his fastball in the 2020 offseason, culminating in a terrific season that earned a Cy Young award. While Bauer’s example may be the extreme case, it exhibits the fact that spin rate can be improved and results on the field can come alongside these improvements. Hence, if Ynoa can adjust the spin rate on his fastball, he can be a mainstay in the rotation for years.