It’s no secret that the Yankees need bullpen help. In a win-or-go-home playoff game, they could only trust Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman and planned to ride them for three combined innings of relief. Predictably, it didn’t work out, but it’s less an indictment on those guys than it is the rest of the bullpen. Aaron Boone really couldn’t trust any other bullpen arms with the season on the line?
While the Yankees looking to add to their relief corps, it’s intriguing that Brad Hand is available. The Indians declined Hand’s $10 million option in a cost-cutting measure, and now the man who led MLB in saves in 2020 and has a 2.70 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 12.2 K/9 and a 157 ERA+ over the last five years is on the market. It should be a no-brainer for the Yankees, really.
Hand began his career as a starter for the Marlins before finding his niche in relief with the Padres. He’s thrived thanks to a dynamic slider and well-placed fastball, and has achieved three 100-strikeout seasons and three All-Star selections. The great thing about Hand is that he gets a lot of strikeouts, but his walk rate also isn’t out of control. He’s been one of the game’s best relievers over the years.
A southpaw, Hand is particularly stingy against left-handed hitters. They haven’t hit better than .196 against him over the last four years, and a lefty hasn’t taken him deep in two seasons. He also keeps righties in check plenty well, and has been remarkably consistent at a position known for its inconsistency.
Now, there are a few downsides to Hand as well. His once-elite ground ball rate has now plummeted well below MLB average, as more hitters are lifting the ball in the air off of Hand. His home run rate hasn’t really climbed and his exit velocity is right around his career averages, but a ground-ball pitcher-turned-fly-ball pitcher might not be a great fit at Yankee Stadium, particularly with his relatively low whiff rate and velocity.
However, Hand has staved off the anticipated decline for years now. Despite declining whiff and chase rates, Hand’s strikeout and walk rates remained in the top eight percent of all MLB pitchers. His fastball has a high spin rate and his slider is his go-to strikeout pitch, in on lefties and backdoor on righties.
What Hand might cost is tricky to predict. Every team passed on him for one year at $10 million, but he is still good enough to probably expect a multi-year deal. MLB Trade Rumors is projecting a two-year, $14 million deal. Even with Hand’s velocity loss and rising fly ball rates, he’s been good enough to be worth taking that risk.
Relievers are volatile and there are some underlying signs with Hand, but do the Yankees really have a choice? If they stay put, they are banking on Adam Ottavino, Chad Green and Jonathan Loaisiga to improve, while also expecting repeat performances from Chapman and Britton. It’s possible, but for $6-$8 million in yearly salary, why not take a chance on adding one of the game’s top relief arms? Even with the Yankees’ rumored budget cuts, it’s not a huge price to absorb for a player who could greatly help the team.
The days of the Yankees’ “Super-Bullpen” are over, but adding Hand could provide much-needed depth and a trustworthy arm late in ballgames.