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Why the Yankees took a flier on Matt Bowman

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New York inked the righty to a two year deal, even though he just underwent Tommy John surgery.

MLB: Game Two-Pittsburgh Pirates at Cincinnati Reds Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Yankees finally made a move in free agency, but it wasn’t much of a headline grabber. Matt Bowman, a 29-year-old reliever, has agreed to a two-year minor league deal with the Bombers. The right hander has not pitched in the major leagues since 2019, and unfortunately needed Tommy John surgery this past September. As a result, he won’t recover in time for the 2021 season, but should be ready to roll in 2022, thus explaining the logic behind the two year agreement. He will earn a $900K salary if he does indeed pitch in the majors in either of the next two seasons.

He was originally drafted out of Princeton University in 2012 by the crosstown rival Mets in the 13th round. Believe it or not, both he and Mike Ford were on the same staff while at Princeton. Yes, Mike Ford used to pitch in college and even finished the 2013 season with a 0.98 ERA over 64 innings, including five complete games!

Getting back to Bowman, he was selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2015 Rule 5 draft and made his big league debut in 2016. Then, two years later, he was claimed off waivers by the Cincinnati Reds, and as previously mentioned, needed Tommy John surgery three months ago.

So now that we are all caught up and know a little bit about his playing career, let’s figure out why the Yankees decided to take a flier on someone who hasn’t proved much at baseball’s highest level. Let’s start with his arsenal.

Bowman relies on six different pitches. He offers a four-seam fastball (37.9%), slider (17.7%), split finger (15.7%), cutter (14.6%), curveball (11.5%) and sinker (2.7%). He doesn’t light up the radar gun, as his heater tops out at around 94 mph, but he does throw it with a little bit of movement, which makes it much more effective at that speed.

Baseball Savant

His secondary pitches work well, too. In 2019, both his splitter and cutter were among the best in terms of vertical movement. Not to mention his curveball and slider were towards the top in terms of horizontal movement.

Baseball Savant

Bowman also sports a high ground ball rate with a career 56.6% clip. In a hitter-friendly park like Yankee Stadium, keeping the ball out of the air is vital, and Bowman is equipped with that skill.

The reliever obviously does have some things to work on once he recovers from his surgery. His strikeout numbers are relatively low, averaging a career 7.40 K/9. Missing more bats is definitely something he should strive to work on. Although he is a ground ball pitcher who can live without putting up crazy strikeout numbers, the amount of strikeouts he’s gotten so far hasn’t really worked out for him. Increasing the K numbers will add another element to his game that he’s missed.

Another thing that could be worrisome is his recovery from a major surgery like Tommy John. Bowman’s fastball hit an average of 92.5 mph in 2019, which was in the league’s 45th percentile. The hope is that his elbow surgery won’t take velocity off of his already mediocre fastball rate.

Bowman will have to wait until 2022 to get his first realistic shot to put on the pinstripes, as he continues to recover. It’s a very low-risk signing that could turn into some high upside for the Yankees.