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Can Luis Gil Sustain This Success?

A deeper dive into the Yankees breakout starter

Every season, there seem to be a few pitchers who appear from relative obscurity and provide their teams with an impressive breakout campaign. This season’s most notable breakout candidate has been Luis Gil of the New York Yankees, who has done nothing but produce after earning a spot in the starting rotation after the elbow injury to Gerrit Cole. Gil has seized upon his opportunity to have a role in the Yankees’ starting rotation this season, producing a 2.03 ERA, 30.4% strikeout rate, and 18.0% K-BB over 80.0 innings pitched and 14 starts so far this season.

With an impressive pitch arsenal headlined by a dominant four-seam fastball, Gil has positioned himself as a favorite in the American League Rookie of the Year race. Despite this early success, some of his underlying metrics and past durability issues raise some concerns over how much longer Gil will be able to maintain this level of production. Let’s take a deeper look at Gil’s profile to determine whether or not this current level of performance will be sustainable moving forward.

 

Pitch Arsenal

Gil’s pitch arsenal predominantly consists of three pitches: a four-seam fastball, a changeup, and a slider. Gil uses all three pitches to right-handed hitters,¬†while he focuses on mainly the four-seamer and changeup when facing left-handed hitters. Pitch models are divided in their opinion of the quality of Gil’s arsenal, with FanGraphs’s Stuff+ rating the four-seamer and slider as above-average pitches, while PLV only grades the changeup as an above-average offering.

Luis Gil: Statistics (2021-24)

As shown by the table above, Gil has had no problem generating strikeouts over the last three seasons, producing a strikeout rate of at least 28% at each level he has played at since 2021. On the other hand, Gil has consistently walked opposing batters at a high rate over the past three seasons (at least 14% at each level from 2021-2023) and the 80 innings he has pitched this season are the most he has pitched in a single year at the Major League level.

Gil has shown an ability to strikeout hitters at a high level throughout his professional career, currently possessing a 30.4% strikeout rate which is the seventh highest strikeout rate in all of Major League Baseball among qualified starters. This high strikeout rate is driven by Gil’s effective use of his four-seam fastball, which is the centerpiece of his arsenal and one of the most effective pitches in all of baseball so far this season.

Luis Gil: Pitch Arsenal (2024)

As shown by the table above, Gil has frequently relied on his four-seam fastball so far this season, utilizing the pitch 55.2% of the time. The pitch has been very effective at generating swing-and-miss with a well above-average whiff rate of 31.2%, making the pitch the sixth best four-seam fastball at generating swing-and-miss in all of baseball this season (minimum 50 plate appearances).

By measure of run value, Gil’s four-seam fastball is not only the most effective fastball in the league but the most effective pitch in all of Major League Baseball so far this season due to its ability to generate swing-and-miss and sub-optimal contact (.230 wOBA, .270 xwOBA).

Despite the success the pitch has experienced at generating swing-and-miss so far this season, pitch models have been divided on the quality of the offering, with PLV grading the pitch as near-average while Stuff+ believes that the pitch is above-average. I can not speak in great detail as to which model is better at evaluating Gil as I did not create either model, however, I am more inclined to believe Stuff+’s evaluation of the four-seam fastball.

Averaging 96.6 mph with 16.7 inches of induced vertical break, Gil’s four-seamer is above league average in both of these categories, and an adjusted vertical approach angle of 1.3 suggests that the pitch should be effective at generating swing-and-miss up in the zone. Perhaps PLV grades the pitch near league average because the offering has 5.5 inches of horizontal movement, and the model might prefer the pitch to have more induced vertical break at that amount of arm-side break.

While both of Gil’s secondary pitches have produced positive run values this season, both the changeup and the slider have generated whiff rates below league average. Similar to the four-seam fastball, both pitches have been effective at generating sub-optimal contact (.246 wOBA against the changeup, .226 wOBA against the slider), which is likely why the offerings have produced positive run values so far this season.

Pitch models also are divided on the quality of Gil’s secondary offerings, with PLV preferring the changeup to the slider while Stuff+ believes the slider is the better pitch. Based solely on pitch characteristics, I believe the slider is close to league-average offering, as the pitch breaks the 85 mph threshold for being an effective gyro slider (averaging 87.2 mph) while the changeup possesses plus velocity and above-average arm-side run (averaging 91.6 mph with 15.7 inches of horizontal movement).

Given the high walk rates he has produced throughout his professional career, it is no surprise that Gil has a below-average ability to command his pitches and I believe this is a reason why his slider and changeup have underperformed in terms of generating swing-and-miss. As shown by the heatmaps above, Gil’s slider tends to leak towards the middle of the zone as opposed to being consistently located on the outer edges of the plate.

While he has perhaps gotten “lucky” this season and not allowed too much hard contact with the pitch, this location makes his slider vulnerable to opposing hitters and limits his ability to generate swing-and-miss with the offering.

Gil wants to locate his changeup low-and-away to hitters of the opposite handedness so the offering can generate swing-and-miss due to its “fading” action away from the hitter. However, similar to the slider the pitch often leaks towards the upper part of the strike zone, causing the pitch to be located in more optimal locations for opposing hitters to make contact.

Perhaps this is why Gil increases his four-seam fastball usage to 64% against left-handed hitters rather than increasing his changeup usage due to his inability to consistently locate his pitch in ideal locations.

As a pitcher with a high adjusted vertical approach angle, Gil should be successful when locating his four-seam fastball up in the zone, and I believe that he could generate even more swing-and-miss with the offering if he elevated the pitch a bit more frequently. Given the high walk rates he has displayed throughout his career, it is no surprise that Gil has had difficulty locating his secondary pitches effectively so far this season.

Gil has ridden the dominance of his four-seam fastball to success so far this season and while that provides him with a solid foundation to build the rest of his pitch arsenal around, it leaves his level of production vulnerable to fluctuation once an opposing lineup is able to consistently produce against his best pitch.

 

Durability and Underlying Metrics

One piece of adversity that Luis Gil has had to navigate throughout his career has been his tendency to get injured, undergoing a right shoulder surgery which caused him to miss the 2016 season, and Tommy John surgery which caused him to miss most of the 2023 season. This injury history and the reduced workloads he has experienced throughout his professional career have raised questions regarding how many innings Gil can pitch this season and leave the Yankees with a difficult question they’ll need to answer over the next few weeks.

Luis Gil: Innings (2015-24)

As shown by the table above, Gil has only pitched over 100.0 innings in a season once in his career (108.2 IP in 2021), and this season is only the third time in his career that he has pitched over 50.0 innings in a season. This puts the Yankees in a tough spot, especially as World Series contenders, regarding how to handle Gil’s workload moving forward.

Do the Yankees let Gil continue in the rotation until he maxes out his innings limit? Do they give him a quick hook out of the rotation once he has a bad outing? Or do they keep him in the rotation until Clarke Schmidt returns from the injured list toward the beginning of August? While Gil projects to be an effective bullpen arm due to his ability to generate strikeouts, the Yankees will need to find a balance between maximizing Gil’s production this season and maintaining his long-term health.

While it is always hard to predict injuries on the public side without private information available, Gil’s injury history combined with his ability to throw at high velocity is a red flag in terms of his health, and he will at least become more fatigued as the season progresses due to the increased workload he has undertaken this season.

Luis Gil: Peripherals (2024)

In addition to concerns about his health, Gil’s peripherals indicate that he is due for some regression in the near future. As it pertains to ERA estimators, Gil is currently outperforming his FIP and SIERA by at least a full run, which indicates that he has been getting “lucky” with his on-field results. Given his high strikeout rates, it can assumed that he has been getting “lucky” on balls hit into play, and this is backed up by the .194 BABIP he has allowed so far this season.

While some of the low BABIP can be explained by natural variance, I wonder if the majority of the regression in results on balls in play will come from opposing hitters making better contact on sliders and changeups that leak back over the plate. Gil has also left runners on base at a high rate (83.3%) which may regress towards the mean as the season progresses, increasing his ERA.

While Gil has displayed impressive results so far this season, his injury history and potential upcoming regression leave reasons for concern as to whether Gil’s early-season success can be sustainable moving forward.

 

Concluding Thoughts

While Gil has found early-season success with an impressive pitch arsenal headlined by a dominant four-seam fastball, questions remain about his long-term health and underlying metrics that raise concern over how much longer Gil will be able to maintain this level of production.

Gil’s four-seam fastball has been the best pitch in all of baseball this season by measure of run value, and while his ability to control his pitches is below average, he will consistently produce high strikeout rates regardless of which role he is utilized in moving forward. While the Yankees would like to maximize Gil’s production this season as they are widely considered to be World Series contenders, he is currently on pace to pitch more innings than he has ever before in a professional season.

This raises the question, can Luis Gil sustain this level of success as a starting pitcher moving forward? I believe that it is unlikely that Gil is still a member of the Yankees starting rotation at the end of the regular season. While Gil’s on-field production has given the Yankees zero reason to remove him from the rotation, pitching 150.0 innings in a season seems unrealistic and borderline reckless given the fact that Gil has only surpassed 50.0 innings pitched three times in his career. The Yankees appear to be moving in this direction, as pitching coach Matt Blake stated in a recent interview that moving Gil to the bullpen or giving him a “timeout” is a possibility as the season progresses.

In my opinion, I would possibly skip one of Gil’s starts in the next month and a half and aim to move him to the bullpen when Clarke Schmidt returns in August if I were the New York Yankees. This would allow Gil to still provide production as a starter in the near term while allowing him to lower his workload and prepare for an important postseason role as a reliever.

This plan makes the impossible assumption that no other members of the starting rotation will get injured between now and August, however even in this scenario I believe it is important to transition Gil to the bullpen given the important role he could have on the postseason roster. Utilizing Gil as a multi-inning reliever in October could give the Yankees an edge in the postseason as Gil will not only be able to provide strikeouts out of the bullpen but will be able to provide more rest for other members of the Yankees pitching staff.

While he might get moved from the rotation to the bullpen before the end of the season, Gil projects to continue to be an important member of the Yankees pitching staff as they seek to contend for their first World Series championship since 2009.

 

Photo by Icon Sports Wire | Adapted by Carlos Leano

Adam Salorio

Adam Salorio is a Going Deep Writer at Pitcher List, and a lifelong Boston Red Sox fan. When he's not talking about or researching baseball, you can probably catch him at a Bruce Springsteen concert.

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