After a productive and thrilling 2021, albeit one interrupted by a weird, self-inflicted injury, Huascar Ynoa crashed back down to earth in 2022 and ended the season with a serious injury that might put the rest of his career in jeopardy.
At this point, the trade that netted Ynoa from the Twins in exchange for Jaime Garcia has become somewhat infamous. While I doubt anyone on the Atlanta side regrets this trade, Ynoa has made it look like a heist (last year) to a salary dump (points before and/or after last year) depending on the time frame in question. Ynoa’s talent hasn’t really been a question mark — it’s whether he can actually leverage that talent to produce at the major league level.
What were the expectations?
Expectations for Huascar varied wildly from individual to individual entering the 2022 season. At times in 2021, Huascar looked like an above-average starter (and also hit some home runs); on the whole he looked more than serviceable considering that he had a 95 ERA-, 94 FIP-, and 80 xFIP- in 91 innings last year. If there were concerns, they largely centered around his potential inability to go deep into games given a fairly predictable two-pitch mix.
Some expected Ynoa to fully break out into a borderline star level starter if and when his FIP regressed to his xFIP, some expected him to essentially repeat his 2021 level of pitching figuring that there was no way he could pitch as well as his xFIP indicated over a longer sample, and some were skeptical that he could continue to work with only two pitches, one of which isn’t particularly good, and questionable command.
2022 was not a good year for Ynoa, to say the least. He opened the season on the active roster, but that only lasted a few weeks before he was ticketed down to Gwinnett. Those few weeks featured just two horrible starts in which he couldn’t last four full innings in either. Command and home runs were absolutely killers for Ynoa.
In Triple-A, he continued to struggle with his command, and with home runs. His Triple-A FIP was 5.00, and the 4.04 xFIP wasn’t exciting either. He had a nice seven-start stretch at one point, but struggled to stay on the field or pitch effectively afterwards. He eventually had Tommy John Surgery in September.
The net result: -0.2 fWAR in two starts at the major league level, and some overall mediocre-to-poor innings at Gwinnett.
What went right? What went wrong?
Basically nothing went right for Ynoa on the heels of his out-of-nowhere, surprisingly awesome 2021. His command completely abandoned him in both of his major league starts — he at least managed an 11 percent K%-BB% in his first game, but that dropped to zero, i.e., four walks and four strikeouts in his second start. He threw his fastball, which featured an inconsistent shape in addition to no semblance of command, a bunch in those two outings — perhaps because he couldn’t locate the slider at all anymore — to his severe detriment.
Both games he appeared in were big losses where Ynoa bled a ton of WPA. In his first start, the Braves ended up losing 11-2 to the Nationals; Ynoa’s third inning in that game blew a 1-0 lead and allowed five runs when all was said and done. Here was the big blow from that game, courtesy of Lane Thomas.
The highlight of Ynoa’s season, such as it was, probably didn’t come on the mound — instead, it came a few minutes ahead of that Lane Thomas double, when Ynoa made a good play on a comebacker to throw a runner out at the plate:
That’s really pretty much all we have on the “positive things about Ynoa’s 2022” front.
Ynoa is unlikely to factor in at the major league level and probably won’t even play baseball for most, if not all of 2023, as he rehabs from Tommy John Surgery. He does have a number of team-controlled years left, and remains a talented arm, but will be 25 by the time he pitches again. The bigger concern with Ynoa at this point, though, is not so much his recovery from injury, but whether he can refine his craft enough to be consistently useful at the major league level. The issue here isn’t that he had two horrid starts in 2022 (which he did), but rather that he showed little to get excited about in Gwinnett after his demotion. Like some other guys the Braves jettisoned off the roster early on (e.g., Alex Dickerson), Ynoa’s real issue is that whether because he was pitching with a hurt elbow, or for some other reason, there are serious concerns about a player who couldn’t even manage a sub-5.00 FIP in his third stint at Triple-A.
If Ynoa could just pitch like he did in 2021, there’d be a spot for him on every roster. But he has to show he can do that consistently, first.