The Yankees made a couple of minor moves this week. They designated Ronald Torreyes for assignment, and ended up sending him to the Cubs. This was to make room for Parker Bridwell, who the team claimed on waivers from the Angels. Bridwell, a 27-year-old right-hander, is not a name most Yankees fans should have heard of before this week.
Bridwell has just 131 major-league innings to his name. He’s coming off a lost 2018 season, one in which he made five appearances and gave up 13 runs. He also dealt with pain in his right elbow throughout the season, and ended up undergoing arthroscopic surgery in July. He did return from the surgery before the end of the year, pitching in four games in September.
At a glance, there doesn’t appear to be much here. Bridwell does, however, have a shiny 2017 statline to his name: 20 starts, 121 innings, a 3.64 ERA, good for a 117 ERA+. That strong spate of run prevention belies his less impressive 73-to-30 strikeout-to-walk ratio that year, but starters in their mid-20’s that have seasons as solid as Bridwell’s 2017 don’t often end up on waivers. Is it possible the Yankees have something useful in Bridwell?
Any chance the Yankees have found a decent player on the scrap heap lies mostly in writing off Bridwell’s 2018. He was injured and ineffective, and his elbow problems caused a clear drop in velocity. If Bridwell isn’t able to move past the injury issues that plagued him last year, he ultimately won’t contribute.
So, what exactly was it about Bridwell’s 2017 that enabled him to be so successful? Part of it might be his deep arsenal. According to Brooks Baseball, he has five legitimate pitches; a four-seamer, a sinker, a changeup, a curveball, and a cutter. He used each of those five offerings at least 10 percent of the time in 2017, allowing him to give hitters multiple looks throughout a start.
Of those pitches, Bridwell’s curve and change stand out as the most effective. Per Statcast, he held hitters to a .168 batting average and .326 slugging with his curve in 2017, and a .206 average and .324 slugging with his change. It’s not a huge sample, but it is proof of concept that Bridwell’s secondaries can get hitters out.
He needs those secondaries to work, because there is nothing special about his fastball. Bridwell sat just below 93 mph on his four-seamer in 2017, basically league average. The pitch doesn’t run in on the hands of right-handers all that much, nor does it have a ton of rise. Accordingly, even in Bridwell’s finest season, opposing hitters tattooed his four-seamer for a .320 average and 11 home runs.
Bridwell profiles as a starter who can’t rely on his mediocre hard stuff and needs to generate weak contact and whiffs with his slower pitches. He did that just enough in 2017, but he didn’t exactly do it in spades. His 9.2% swinging strike rate was worse than average, as was his hard contact rate of 36%, per FanGraphs. It seems likely that Bridwell’s .262 BABIP that season had less to do with contact suppression than it did good fortune.
The deeper you dig into Bridwell, the more it seems that his shiny 2017 ERA was a result of a few lucky month. His strikeout and whiff rates were impossibly low, and nothing in his batted ball profile indicates he can induce weak contact the way someone like CC Sabathia can. His curve and change look solid, but Bridwell appears to lack the velocity and deception that would allow him to consistently produce results on par with his best campaign.
More likely, Bridwell can provide somewhat better than replacement level innings in a pinch if he’s healthy. He probably won’t approach the quality of his 2017, but he also probably deserves a shot to pitch in the majors somewhere. That the Yankees can stash him in the minors for a rainy day is not the worst situation. Whether that small extra bit of insurance was worth more than Torreyes’ plucky work as a replacement infielder is up for debate, though it’s clear where the Yankees stand on the issue.