It is hard to call Tommy Kahnle’s 2018 season anything other than a major disappointment. When the Yankees traded the White Sox for Kahnle, David Robertson, and Todd Frazier, Kahnle was arguably the centerpiece of the deal. At the time, he was one of the best relievers in all of baseball, plus he still had several remaining years of team control. Kahnle was a major part of the team’s 2017 playoff run, and the Yankees expected him to be a key part 2018 bullpen. Ultimately, this season was not a continuation of 2017 but a season of frustration and disappointment.
2018 Statistics: 24 games, 23.1 innings pitched, 6.56 ERA, 23 hits, 17 earned runs, 3 home runs, 15 walks, 30 strikeouts, 5.79 BB9, 11.57 K9
2019 Contract status: Arbitration eligible; free agent: 2021 (out of minor league options)
This season was supposed to be a big one for Kahnle. How could expectations not be high? After the Yankees acquired him last season, only Dellin Betances made more appearances, and only Chad Green and David Robertson were worth more fWAR. In the playoffs, Kahnle appeared in seven of the team’s 13 games, and he stranded nine of his 10 inherited runners. Yankee fans had every reason to believe Kahnle would be a vital member of the 2018 bullpen, but he was not.
The season couldn’t have gone worse for Kahnle. It started bad and never really got better. Between poor command, injuries, and diminished stuff, the 2018 version of Tommy Kahnle never got close to emulating his 2017 self.
After starting the season with the big league club, it took Kahnle less than a month to get off it. His first appearances this season weren’t totally lights out but not altogether troubling either. After his first four outings, Kahnle’s stat line was 5.2 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 7 K, 4 BB. Not fantastic, but not terrible for the first week of the season either. Unfortunately, things only got worse from there.
On April 10th, the Yankees lost a 14-1 game against the Red Sox, and Kahnle just didn’t look right. He struggled to find the zone, walking 3 in just two-thirds of an inning. His fastball was also noticeably slower than it was in 2017. A week later, the Yankees put Kahnle on the disabled list with right shoulder tendinitis.
Kahnle returned to the bigs after more than a month on the DL, but he didn’t prove to be any more effective than he was before the injury. Kahnle was optioned to Triple-A in early-June and didn’t return to the Major League roster for good until mid-August. Kahnle performed well at Triple-A, but the Yankees clearly did not think his stuff was good enough to be effective against major league hitters. Giovanny Gallegos, David Hale, and Ryan Bollinger got the call to the bigs in lieu of Kahnle at various points in 2018.
Kahnle remained in the minors because he simply wasn’t the pitcher the Yankees traded for in 2017. No one will ever mistake him for Greg Maddux, but Kahnle was particularly bad at finding the strike zone this season. His BB/9 rate from 2017 more than doubled to a horrid 5.79 this season.
Even when Kahnle was in the zone, things were still bad. In 2017, his average fastball velocity was 98.11 mph, whereas his average velocity this season was about 95.5 mph. The fastest pitch he threw in 2018 clocked in at 97.96 mph, and hitters feasted. Kahnle’s 2018 batted ball profile shows a lot less soft contact and a lot more barrels than 2017. In the second half this season, hitters hit .293/.349/.491 off of him. When every hitter you face is essentially Charlie Blackmon (.291/.358/.501), you’re not going to do well.
Unsurprisingly, Kahnle was left off the playoff roster, and things look rather bleak for him moving into 2019. A fastball-heavy pitcher isn’t going to get by with 95 mph in today’s game, especially if he’s got no command. Kahnle has to find his velocity again to be an effective option next year and beyond. If he can figure it out — great! The earliest he can become a free agent is 2021. If Kahnle can’t though, he’s out of minor league options and will likely be out of the organization before the Yankees season opener on March 28th.