Braves 2020 Player Review: Huascar Ynoa

We knew there would be some unexpected faces pitching in prominent roles for the 2020 Braves. Some of that was the nature of the season itself, with COVID-19 ravaging the schedule and creating a slew of doubleheaders to the point where pitching staffs across the league simply had to get deeper. But the Braves in particular had major challenges in the rotation with injuries, most notably with Mike Soroka and Cole Hamels failing to even break 20 combined innings on the season. The Braves needed bodies on the mound to eat some innings and at least give the offense a fighting chance

Huascar Ynoa did that and then some.

He only pitched 21 ⅔ IP in the regular season, but every inning this season was so valuable for a staff that was decimated. He flashed enough in those outings to earn his way onto the postseason roster, and probably will have a spot on the 2021 Braves, even if the exact parameters of that spot are still unclear.

Versatility:
The biggest reason to think Ynoa will be playing with the big league club in 2021 was his versatility. He probably gave Brian Snitker more flexibility than any other pitcher on the roster, an invaluable resource during this especially weird COVID-19 season.

Ynoa made five starts for the Braves, including his first career start on Aug. 9 in the first game of a doubleheader at Citizens Bank Park. The results were a very mixed bag, ranging from a brutal start on Sep. 4 against the Washington Nationals where he surrendered six runs in 2 ⅓ IP, to a brilliant four innings of shutout baseball at Camden Yards against the Orioles on Sep. 15. Ynoa ranged from 39-55 pitches in these five starts, proving to be a starter capable of getting through the lineup one time.

Then there’s the relief work. Nine innings of relief work in the regular season, and only two runs allowed. Once again, these outings varied in length. His shortest was a standard one inning appearance at Fenway Park on Sep. 1. And twice (Aug. 17 and Sep. 10) he came into a game the Braves were trailing against the Washington Nationals, held the fort with three brilliant innings, and set the table for the offense to come back and win the game.

Short starts, longer starts, standard relief appearances and long relief bursts. Ynoa did a little bit of everything, and that alone should make him a valuable part of Snitker’s 2021 puzzle as he guides the pitching staff through what should be a full 162 game grind.

Postseason Experience:
Ynoa picked up a little bit of postseason experience, and he may have been the unsung hero for the Braves in the NLCS. He entered game three of the series with the Braves trailing 15-0 in the third inning, and ate four innings for the bullpen.

Of course the series ended up getting away from the Braves, but Ynoa’s mop-up duty work in game three preserved the bullpen and gave the Braves a fighting chance for the rest of the series. That led directly to Bryse Wilson’s brilliance in game four, and Ynoa himself can take away four innings of positive October work into next season.

2021 Outlook:
Projecting where Ynoa is going to fit into the 2021 pitching staff is something of a fool’s errand right now without knowing which expiring free agents Alex Anthopolous and his staff will choose to bring back. But let’s take a stab at it anyway.

Max Fried, Ian Anderson and MIke Soroka should have the top three spots in the rotation locked down. Kyle Wright and Bryse Wilson would be the early favorites to claim the final two spots, but the Braves could still add another starting pitcher through free agency and shrink the available spots down to one. Could Ynoa get into this mix and maybe have a chance to win a spot in spring training? It’s possible, but not likely. In terms of starting pitching, Ynoa seems like a candidate to be a spot starter on doubleheader days or if the injured list gets especially crowded at some point during the season.

In terms of the bullpen, Ynoa still seems best suited as a guy to provide a burst going through a lineup one time. Some of that might come as a life raft for the bullpen at points where the main high leverage relievers on the roster need a break, and some of that might come in the form of mop-up duty like game three of the NLCS. It’s also worth noting that if the “runner on second in extra innings” rule does not continue into 2021, the Braves are almost certainly going to have a few games that go into the deep recesses of extra innings over the course of the season. Ynoa feels like a perfect candidate to be a guy who can in during the 13th or 14th inning of a game and throw a different look at the opposing lineup for two or three innings.

Or maybe that ability to provide a different look for two or three innings makes him a perfect candidate to be an opener. If the Braves get to a point where they feel comfortable with four but not five starters—say for instance if one of Wilson or Wright clearly surpasses the other—Ynoa could be an opener every fifth day.

There are a ton of options for what Ynoa’s 2021 could look like. As long as he continues to provide value and flexibility to the pitching staff, it’s really just a matter of “how” and not “if” he will be deployed come next April.

31 thoughts on “Braves 2020 Player Review: Huascar Ynoa”

  1. Mostly off-topic, but does anyone know how many 2020 extra innings started off with an intentional walk? Seems to me that if the visiting team doesn’t score in the top half of the inning, an intentional walk at the start of the bottom half might be a good move, depending on who’s batting and who’s on deck, platoon advantage, etc. Puts the double play in order so you may only need to get two batters out instead of three. In other situations, you wouldn’t do it because it would increase the chance of a multiple-run inning, but in this case, if the leading runner scores, you’ve lost anyway. I suppose it slightly increases the danger of walking in the winning run, but if you can’t avoid two walks in that situation, you’re probably not very good anyway.

  2. @3

    That situation should automatically be either an intentional walk or a sacrifice bunt. The fact that it didn’t seem to be most of the time speaks to a couple things, I think. First, managers hadn’t really settled into a groove of what the new extra-innings rule meant. Second, managers really aren’t thinking particularly strategically most of the time anymore.

  3. The argument against the intentional walk would be if you have a pitcher that is walk prone or a batter that is remarkably patient behind the 1st batter of the inning.

  4. @2,

    My take on Boxcar’s ceiling.

    First, I consider ceiling as “10% probability highest outcome.” So, I am not saying he will hit this, but what he could be without some unusual or almost fanciful thing happening.

    His ceiling is about a Good MLB # 4 starting pitcher or a second best righthanded reliever on a first division club (and I hope and expect the Hammers to remain one of those for the next 5 to maybe 10 years). Why? Some scouts had his fastball as double plus, curve at plus and change up as average (at ceiling) with average command (at ceiling). That is certainly good enough to far exceed the Lisp. In fact, I think Huascar is already as of end of 2020 at Lisp Level.

    But also my eyeball test was impressed with him. He can frequently have good results against good hitters. The improvement in the changeup and somewhat the curve will tell us how far he gets on this. But clearly if the Braves win against he Dodgers, we would all be remembering the day he stopped the barrage.

  5. Statcast showed Ynoa’s changeup to be rather ineffective and only thrown 5 times this season. He’ll either have to develop it or his ceiling will be swingman/bullpen.

    Other Statcast data: His slider was REMARKABLE this season, and in 40 PAs, it yielded 5 walks, 5 singles, and only 1 double and 12 strikeouts. The line for hitters against his slider: .171/.250/.200.

    Sounds like he could be a Matt Wisler/Luke Jackson adjustment away from being a really good reliever.

  6. Agree with y’all. I think Ynoa is capable of being Cristhian Martinez-level right about now. There’s an outside chance that he could be a backend starter, meaning a guy who goes 5-6 innings every night, but I see him as a guy who is much better at going 1-3 innings than he’s ever likely to be at going 5-6. Classic swingman — the Betemit of the bullpen.

  7. Tomlin’s had an interesting career. He’ll be 36, he’s really only had 2 decent years in his career, and here he is, just cashing yearly one million dollar checks almost in perpetuity as a long reliever/swing man. A 4.69 career ERA, pretty much never good but also never bad, just chugging along making beer money deep into his 30’s. He’s been in the bigs for 11 years, never has made more than $3M per year, and never less than $1M after arbitration. Love it.

    He’s like the Creed Bratton of Major League Baseball. He does just enough to not get fired.

  8. I’m surprised no one has mentioned that Boxcar is still only 22yo (23 in May). He would likely be at the AAA/Gwinnett Shuttle period in his life if it weren’t for a little flash in 2019 and the weird year in 2020. He was being groomed as a starter and the poor results on his change are likely due to inadequate development time. I would think that if he ends up as a good MR, then it’s die to stunted development.

    I might actually argue that he should or nearly did take over Tomlin’s role during 2020. It’s possible that Tomlin’s signing indicates he may be treated more as a starter or opener going forward. Or he may go back to Gwinnett to develop as a starter if MiL baseball comes back next year.

    So did anyone guess Tomlin to win the shirt? If not, how do we proceed?

    I also think the Braves will bring back the cheaper of O’Day and Greene. O’Day was underutilized in 2020, most likely due to the quality of other relievers available and concern about how well he was rehabbed from near to a year off.

    I’m not sure I understand the Tomlin signing. I’d have thought that Ynoa and Matzek would be covering that role completely from the right and left sides respectively.

  9. So with Tomlin, the pitching staff might look like:

    SP: Soroka, Fried, Anderson, Wright, Wilson
    CL: Smith
    SU: Minter, Martin, X
    MR: Webb, X?
    LR: Tomlin, Matzek, Ynoa

    That last spot could be filled by any number of up and comers – Pfeifer, Newk, Davidson, Weigel, Walker – or holdovers – Dayton, Touki, Sobotka, Luke – or a re-sign – O’Day, Melancon, Greene.

    I just think, among all of those names, that Tomlin shouldn’t really have a spot. The best value Tomlin might have at this point is to fill a gap for someone from the above that is traded. Any number of the above names may be the subject of a significant trade. If the Braves add a SP then Tomlin becomes more irrelevant.

  10. @15 As far as the contest goes, we will now move to the 2nd FA signed. I’ll update the blog on that for tomorrow’s piece.

    @16
    I’m going to assume, for now, that rules will revert back to the beginning os 2020 and that there’ll only be 26 players on a roster and only 13 can be pitchers, so there’ll be one less x in your scenario.

  11. Not too surprising to bring Tomlin back. He helps the young guys a lot and is a good clubhouse guy. Ynoa and the rest can still ride the Gwinnett shuttle and you don’t need to put tomlin on the playoff roster but you know he’ll be a solid mop up innings eater when you need him.

  12. @16-17

    With less roster spots, I think there’s only one missing role, and that’s in either setup or in MR, depending on how Matzek is used. I would think Matzek has earned a role greater than that of a long reliever, and I don’t think there will be 3 anyway. So with Tomlin likely taking a long relief role, long relief is largely covered.

    But now that Roger has written it all out, if he’s correct that Webb has a spot in the pen, then I’m not sure where O’Day would fit in. I’m not sure I would pencil him in for anything higher leverage than middle relief, so where would you put him?

    But overall, if we got another starting pitcher leaving only the 5th spot up for grabs between Wilson and Wright, then I really like our pitching staff. I’ll go to war with Soroka, Fried, Anderson, and FA SP as a top 4 any day.

  13. I think Matzek is in the setup man lineup, rather than long relief, even though he can be brilliant for more than one inning. Do we have any idea whether Newcomb is likely to be a major league pitcher in 2021?

  14. If the team doesn’t move on from newcomb I feel like he would have to be on the roster to try and build some kind of value but what do I know

  15. I see Matzek as the 7th inning guy on good days, and the 6th and 7th inning guy on bad days with a lead. With Matzek, Minter, Martin, and Smith as 4 good arms in the bullpen already, I really see the Braves going upside (read: cheap) on the last slots.

  16. I generally don’t like reducing players to walking dollar signs, but the chance that Josh Tomlin will be worth $1 million is simply lower than the chance that Darren O’Day will be worth $3.5 million. (In fact, the net payment to O’Day would have been just $3 million, as they had to pay a $500,000 buyout to let him walk. Net of Tomlin’s $1 million and O’Day’s $500K buyout, keeping O’Day would have just cost $2 million more than bringing back Tomlin.)

    Bringing back a stiff like Tomlin just doesn’t make sense to me in the context of the O’Day buyout, unless there’s something that their scouts saw in O’Day that made them believe he would cease being effective next year. He certainly wasn’t good against the Dodgers in the LCS. But he was lights out otherwise, just like he’s been basically every healthy year of his career. Why spend $1.5 million signing Tomlin and kissing O’Day goodbye when you could spend a lousy two million extra clams keeping O’Day and letting Tomlin walk?

  17. @25: I’m not saying this justifies it, Alex, but the ‘long relief’ spot can’t be held by O’Day, and they don’t know who else to put there. (I know some possibilities, including Ynoa…)

  18. @25 O’Day was not perfect in the NLCS but he wasn’t the worst pitcher. Two appearances, one scoreless, and the only runs he gave up were on a 3-run HR off of Minter. 4 batters and 2 singles – not great but not the worst either. Both Webb and Minter had worse performances than O’Day in the NLCS. And Tomlin was twice as bad as any of the three.

    But it’s true, for some reason, Snitker never trusted O’Day with high leverage any time during the season.

  19. Tomlin seems to have found his home as a swingman, so he’s a pretty good bet to be worth $1M. We played 60 games last year, and he pitched in 39 above-replacement level innings in a versatile role, and there’s a lot of value in having a guy on the roster that you can trust to get you through those innings in a regular season where you just simply don’t want more gasoline.

  20. Ah, Rob, but you’re overlooking the fact that he sucks and I hate him.

    Trevor Bauer is literally the first Cincinnati Red to ever win the Cy Young, and that’s kinda nuts.

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