If you’ve been keeping up with the Yankees’ offseason (non)doings, you no doubt will have noticed two items dominating the conversation: DJ LeMahieu and the starting rotation. Deciding whether or not to retain the team-MVP over the last two seasons is the first piece of business, while filling out the vacant slots in the front five after Gerrit Cole and Jordan Montgomery follows closely in importance. Lost in the noise — though still just as concerning — is the compromised state of the bullpen.
Just over 14 months ago, the Yankees boasted a fearsome fivesome in their bullpen of doom. Now their pool of relievers is a shell of its former self — Tommy Kahnle is a free agent, Adam Ottavino has fallen out of the circle of trust, and once-vaunted closer Aroldis Chapman is coming off his second straight postseason in which he surrendered a season-ending home run. Chad Green, Zack Britton, and Chapman are the only high-leverage arms with the rest of the pen made up of either ineffective or raw, inexperienced arms.
Luckily for the Yankees, the free agent reliever market looks like it will yield the most bargains of the offseason. Brad Hand was outrighted by the Cleveland Baseball Team and made it through waivers unclaimed, while Archie Bradley was non-tendered by the Reds. Both have been extremely effective relievers in their careers, which is why it was so surprising they and their affordable contracts were released to free agency. Also in their tier of relievers and potentially available for a steal: Trevor Rosenthal.
Rosenthal began his career with the Cardinals, and turned in two straight 45+ save seasons in 2014-15. He underwent Tommy John surgery in the middle of the 2017 season and missed all of the subsequent season to rehab. A shaky start to 2019 saw him bounce around a handful of teams, and he finished the season in the Yankees’ minor league system. The veteran righty pulled off a resurgent 2020 campaign, starting with the Royals before being acquired near the trade deadline by the Padres. On the year, he made 23 appearances, with a 1.90 ERA, 2.22 FIP, 2.83 xFIP and 38 strikeouts in 23 2⁄3 innings pitched.
Rosenthal is a flamethrower, pure and simple. He has what I like to call an “Eff-you” fastball. He’ll throw the cheese right past you, daring you to hit it, but knowing that you won’t. For his career, he strikes out north of 12 batters per nine, while limiting the opposition to just under half a home run per nine. He has always had some control issues with a career 11.3 percent walk rate, but that’s to be expected from high velocity relievers.
Trevor Rosenthal, 102mph and velo check. pic.twitter.com/EHksFJD8Fd— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 1, 2020
Rosenthal pairs elite velocity with top-end spin rate to produce one of the hardest to hit fastballs in all of baseball in 2020. His four-seamer was ranked the second-best in terms of run value (-10 runs) and sixth in terms of xwOBA (.198) according to Statcast.
He tied the likes of Chapman, Dustin May, and Josh Staumont for ninth in average fastball velocity at 98 mph. He also boasted a spin rate in the 87th percentile in baseball, creating that much-sought-after late-riding life at the top of the zone. The combination of these two factors allowed Rosenthal to place in the 93rd percentile in whiff rate against the four-seamer in 2020.
Even though he only pitched 23 2⁄3 innings in 2020, metrics such as pitch velocity and spin rate stabilize much more quickly than counting or rate stats — at around 100 pitches according to one study conducted by Baseball Prospectus — so we are justified in gleaning some meaning from the 271 fastballs Rosenthal threw last season. And knowing that, one can have some confidence that Rosenthal’s rediscovered velocity and spin rate is here to stay, now that it appears he is fully recovered from his surgery.
To round out his arsenal, Rosenthal throws an above-average slider about 20 percent of the time and an underrated changeup just under 10 percent of the time. His slider exhibits a decent movement profile, both vertical and horizontal, but by no means is his put-away pitch. As for the changeup, the reason I call it underrated is because even though he uses it sparingly, opposing hitters put up a big fat goose egg (.000 wOBA) against it last year, whiffing an absurd 80 percent of the time. Despite having well-below-average movement, it is still a super-effective pitch, probably due to the 9-13 mph gap between it and the fastball. Such success with the pitch may encourage Rosenthal to deploy it more often.
And if his overpowering stuff wasn’t enough to entice you, it looks like he could be signed for a veritable bargain. FanGraphs predicts a two year, $13 million pact while MLB Trade Rumors is marginally higher at two years, $14 million. Considering he is only 30 and has top-end closer’s stuff, any team would be lucky to sign him at that price — which is why I wholeheartedly endorse Trevor Rosenthal as the next dominant Yankee reliever.