The Yankees just let Dellin Betances, one of the market’s better free-agent relievers, walk to the Mets. Even with his nightmarish 2019, Betances deserved a lucrative deal based on his sterling track record. Prior to this year, Betances was consistently among the best relievers in baseball, posting the fifth-best ERA among relievers with at least 220 innings across the past five seasons combined.
Now that Betances is officially out the door, it’s hard to envision the Yankees finding a replacement on the open market who could replicate his production. After such a frenetic opening to the offseason, surely there aren’t any hurlers left who could approach Betances’ level.
What if I told you, however, that there was another reliever on the market with a track record somewhat similar to Betances’? Consider, for a moment, Will Harris. The right-hander ranks third on that list of relievers in ERA, having run a 2.36 figure since 2015. The 35-year-old is not a big name and doesn’t carry eye-popping stuff, but his pedigree stacks up with the best of the best in baseball in recent years, and he’s matched Betances in terms of run prevention over the last half-decade.
It’s a minor miracle that Harris isn’t held in higher regard given his stellar results and the fact that that he’s compiled them as part of the Astros’ pennant-winning squads. Just last season, Harris managed 60 innings with a 1.50 ERA. His peripherals don’t lag far behind, as he struck out 62 batters compared to just 14 walks on the year. He’s struck out 9.5 batters per nine in five years with Houston and walked 2.2 per nine.
Harris probably slips under the radar due to his underwhelming velocity. He throws a cutter primarily, one that clocks in just over 91 mph on average, putting Harris in the 25th percentile overall in terms of fastball speed. Even so, that cutter has flummoxed major-league batters. Harris held hitters to a .293 wOBA with the pitch last year. Only once have hitters generated a wOBA higher that even .305 in the past five years against Harris’ cutter.
Just watching clips of Harris using his cutter, it becomes clear why he can succeed with it despite unimpressive velocity. He commands it excellently, allowing him to paint corners and rack up swings and misses. In fact, the way Harris can pinpoint his cutter and use its heavy horizontal break to keep hitters off-balance is reminiscent of a certain former Yankee closer:
Harris is no Mariano Rivera, obviously, but his cutter has a very similar shape to that of the Hall-of-Fame reliever. It’s no wonder that Harris has had success with his cut-fastball as his main offering.
He also uses a curveball as part of a two-pitch arsenal. Both his curve and his cutter rank highly in terms of spin rate, and his curve has been perhaps even more potent than his fastball. Harris allowed a minuscule .170 wOBA to hitters with the curve last year, yielding a mere three extra-base hits all year.
Harris doesn’t have premium velocity, but he has two premium pitches that he commands well and uses to get hitters out. There’s always a risk with relatively old and soft-tossing pitchers that the bottom could fall out at any time, but the fact that Harris has made it this far with a lack of fastball speed suggests he’ll be able to perform even as he moves through his mid-30s.
The Yankees don’t need bullpen help, but that hasn’t stopped them before from adding to a strength. Betances leaves an open spot, and while they could chose to fill it with someone like Jonathan Loaisiga or another young, intriguing talent, using that roster spot on a top-flight veteran arm would only make the unit that much more air-tight. It might be a long-shot, but the Yankees should consider Harris on a one or two-year deal to beef up their pitching even more.