It was evident, during the 2020 season, that the Yankees’ bullpen just wasn’t the same elite unit that dominated opposing hitters in the final innings during recent campaigns. Adam Ottavino has seemingly regressed, Tommy Kahnle was lost to Tommy John surgery and is now a free agent, and no one from the group of Luis Cessa, Jonathan Holder, and Ben Heller has stepped up. Jonathan Loaisiga is a fine middle reliever, but hasn’t shown he can be much more than that.
Entering the offseason, only three arms inspire any kind of confidence: Aroldis Chapman, Chad Green, and Zack Britton. In the past couple of years, there were five or six reliable options, but that’s not the case anymore.
That needs to change. But the Yankees surely won’t break the bank for a Liam Hendriks, for example. They need to find reliable, cost-effective alternatives, and that means spotting potential breakouts in the trade market, cheap and medium-priced free agents, and developing hurlers from within who are capable of helping in the bullpen.
Brooks Kriske is one of those internal options. And despite the poor statistical look (14.73 ERA, 8.10 FIP, 6.80 SIERA) in a tiny sample size (3 2⁄3 innings) in the 2020 season, he represents a candidate to step up in 2021 and be an important contributor in the relief corps.
I know that Kriske is hardly entrenched in the team’s plans for next year, but he could change his fate with a small step forward in his control. That’s all it would take for him to force his way in the Yankees’ bullpen in my view.
We will not use 3 2/3 frames to judge him in any way, but if we say he had a 14.73 ERA, the third-worst on the Yankees, let’s also say that he had the third best swinging strike rate (SwStr%) with a healthy 16.5%. Considering that he had a 16.0 SwStr% in his excellent run at Double-A in 2019, the number could be somewhat sustainable in the long run.
Excellent minor league numbers back up his case
In 2019, Kriske pitched in Class-A Advanced and Double-A. Here are his numbers:
Class-A Advanced: 12.0 IP, 12.00 K/9, 3.75 BB/9, 0.00 ERA, 2.14 FIP, 2.82 xFIP, 0.00 HR/9, 18.0 SwStr%
Double-A: 48 2/3 IP, 11.84 K/9, 4.25 BB/9, 2.59 ERA, 2.82 FIP, 3.19 xFIP, 0.55 HR/9, 16.5 SwStr%
And here are his numbers in his brief big-league cameo last season:
MLB: 3 2/3 IP, 19.64 K/9, 17.18 BB/9, 14.73 ERA, 8.10 FIP, 5.61 xFIP, 2.45 HR/9, 16.0 SwStr%
Kriske’s walk rate increased with every level he played from 2019 to this point. That is not uncommon, but needs to be fixed if he’s going to be a successful reliever for the Yankees.
However, as evidenced by the run-prevention stats in Class-A Advanced and Double-A, as well as his pretty stable SwStr% in all three mentioned levels, he has some serious swing-and-miss stuff.
Kriske’s high-octane fastball averaged 95.3 mph according to FanGraphs, and it often touched 97-98 mph. He developed a very nice splitter that he uses almost 24 percent of the time, and he also throws a slider.
Here, you can see a fastball-splitter-splitter sequence:
Fastball, splitter, splitter from Brooks Kriske to leave the bases loaded. Good location in an important spot. pic.twitter.com/THoSWwoe9H— Lucas A (@DBITLefty) August 30, 2020
If Kriske keeps his walks to manageable rates, he could be someone to watch as the Yankees are looking for some names who can make an impact in the bullpen.
We know that development isn’t always linear, but given that Kriske has already dominated the high minors (Double-A), he could only need a couple of months of Triple-A to prove he’s ready to get big league hitters out on a consistent basis. He has potential to be a late-inning weapon in the best-case scenario if he keeps his walks down.