Huascar Ynoa‘s 2021 campaign started about as well as he could have possibly imagined. Following one perfect bullpen appearance, he was thrust into the Braves starting rotation, where he performed exceptionally well. Through his first seven starts, Ynoa boasted a 4-1 record with a 2.23 ERA and 46 strikeouts over 40.1 innings. His fastball was touching triple digits, and his patented wipeout slider was as nasty as ever.
Then things took a turn. Following his first poor outing of the season against the Brewers, he punched a wall, which resulted in a fracture in his hand and a stint on the 60-day IL.
Ynoa would return exactly three months later against the Marlins and didn’t miss a beat, tossing 5.1 innings of scoreless ball. Unfortunately, that would be the last of the “good” Ynoa we would see for the rest of the season. Over his final eight starts of the season, he recorded an unsightly 5.71 ERA and was relegated to a hybrid relief role in the postseason, where things got even worse.
In his only playoff appearance, Ynoa surrendered two earned runs in just an inning of work against the Brewers. Then, he was supposed to be the Game 4 starter in the NLCS but was scratched with an arm injury and subsequently declared out for the season. There have been no updates on his situation, but assuming he’s good to go to begin the 2022 campaign, what does his role look like moving forward?
No matter what happens this offseason, the Braves will have an open competition for at least one rotation spot, if not two. The likes of Kyle Wright, Kyle Muller, Tucker Davidson, Touki Toussaint, and Ynoa will all have the opportunity to win the job in Spring Training. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Braves have started thinking about a different course of action for their hard-throwing Dominican right-hander.
Ynoa’s fastball-slider combination is as effective as any, but it was evident that his lack of a third offering began to catch up to him. He throws his slider nearly 50% of the time and his fastball over 40% of the time. The changeup is still developing, and until it becomes something he’s more comfortable going to, Ynoa might be better suited for the bullpen.
This is something I’ve been advocating for since last season. The Braves relief core was money in the postseason, but it still has plenty of holes, particularly from the right side. Luke Jackson is the only reliable right-hander they have at the moment, and his career has been a roller coaster ride. You never know what you’re going to get out of him from one season to the next. Atlanta needs more reliable right-handed relief options, and Ynoa’s filthy two-pitch combination profiles much better in the bullpen.
I imagine Ynoa and the Braves are working endlessly on developing that third offering, but coming off an injury and facing a potential lockout, I’m not sure how possible that’s going to be. If it happens, there’s no doubt he should be considered the favorite for one of those rotation spots. But if it doesn’t, there’s a great chance he ends up contributing as a reliever in 2022.