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Rookie Yankees reliever Johnny Barbato has major league stuff

Barbato's fastball and slider combination could make him a long-term option.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

About two weeks ago, I wrote about the roster additions this season. While Luis Cessa just got the ax and was optioned to Triple-A yesterday, Kirby Yates, Ronald Torreyes, and Johnny Barbato remain. In particular, Barbato has been impressive. He had a 1.64 ERA in spring training, and he's had four scoreless outings so far this season.

In that previous article, I mentioned that Barbato would need to enter Joe Girardi's circle of trust before arms had to be reshuffled, and for now, he still has a job. However, he didn't retain his spot on results alone; from Barbato's major league debut onward, it was apparent that he has really good stuff.

On Opening Day, he showed off a strong slider against Marwin Gonzalez.


That pitch was 89.77 mph, which is incredibly fast for a slider. The league-average slider velocity is 84 mph. What's also incredibly interesting about this slider is that it dives almost like a changeup, and the velocity differential is small enough that it could be hard to distinguish between his 94.6 mph four-seam fastball and this slider.

This slider is reminiscent of what it is now called the Warthen Slider, an offering Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen taught to Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Jeurys Familia, and Noah Syndergaard. Eno Sarris chronicled the birth of this pitch, and he showed that if you get a fastball-like grip and generate more spin, then you could essentially get a slider/slurve with fastball velocity.

The league average vertical drop for sliders is 1.7 inches--Barbato's is 4.2 inches. The average velocity differential between fastball and slider is 8.2 mph--it is 6.4 mph for Barbato.

That doesn't mean his fastball isn't good either. He generates a ton of arm-side run on his four-seamer, which as I mentioned averages 94.6 mph, which is 1.8 mph above average. He generates 7.4 inches of movement to the arm side, which helps immensely against both left-handers and right-handers.

Using this pitch, Barbato can paint low-and-away with lefties and get it in on the hands of righties. Even when he leaves it out over the plate, like here against Ian Kinsler, he can still get outs:


Barbato was able to get this pitch up to 95.62 mph, and even though he essentially left it right down the middle, there's that late tail on the pitch. That will generate more ground balls than when the pitch is straight, so sometimes, like here, it'll help him get away with mistakes.

It's very early. Relievers are fickle and fragile. They get injured, their stuff can fluctuate immensely, and we only deal in small samples. Nonetheless, a new pitcher's repertoire certainly offers intrigue. It sure seems like Barbato can be a capable major league reliever. If he truly straightens out his command he could be a late-inning option. Things could always go south, but on pure stuff alone, Johnny Barbato will get his chance.