Brian Cashman has aggressively built the Yankees bullpen to be a strength of the team during his tenure running the team. This offseason, numerous high-profile relievers are on the market and it is almost certain that the Yankees front office is keeping tabs on potential upgrades and expanded depth for the bullpen. Darren O’Day is battle tested veteran of the American League East who has also found success as a steady part of an Atlanta Braves bullpen that have won back-to-back NL East titles.
O’Day is a very familiar pitcher to Yankees fans based mainly on his long run with division-rival Baltimore. He has faced the Yankees 54 times in his career and he has been very effective in those outings, limiting Yankees hitter to a paltry .501 OPS.
After missing a significant portion of the 2019 season as the result of a forearm strain diagnosed during spring training, O’Day responded with his seemingly typical outstanding 2020 season. In 19 games, he posted a 1.10 ERA and 0.80 WHIP with 22 strikeouts in 16.1 innings.
A deeper look at some analytics show that O’Day was well above his peers in many categories. He allowed an 83.9 mph exit velocity, which is 4.4 mph lower than the MLB average. His hard hit rate and barrel rate were also well below the average of his fellow major league pitchers, while his strikeout rate was over 10% higher.
O’Day stands out in a world of hard throwing relievers — his fastball is in the first percentile for velocity in the major leagues. Using a sidearm/almost submarine delivery, he averages just 86 mph on his four-seam fastball yet he still stymies hitters on a regular basis. Opponents hit just .087 off his fastball in 2020 with very little damage done.
Against right-handed hitters he switches to a higher usage rate for his slider, bringing it up to nearly 50%. Overall he throws his slider 42.9% of the time, and just like his fastball it is a very effective pitch. O’Day is also armed with a sinker but he rarely throws the pitch against righties, using it just three times against right-handed hitters in 2020.
O’Day avoids the downside of his velocity by staying ahead of hitters, throwing first-pitch strikes 71% of the time. He also does not allow many free passes, issuing just 2.5 BB/9 for his career.
He faced 53 right-handed batters in 2020 and held them to a .143/.208/.224 line. He was not a liability against left-handed hitters either, even though it was a very small sample of just 14 plate appearances, holding them to a .100 batting average in that time.
O’Day has pitched in 30 postseason games across six seasons, including the last two years with the Braves. Overall he has a 4.43 ERA in postseason action but just a 1.08 WHIP, showing that he has been a steady hand in the big moments.
MLB Trade Rumors did not list O’Day as one of their top-50 free agents, nor did they put a projection against him. At 38-years-old and with more than 600 major league appearances, it is unlikely that teams will be offering him more than a one-year deal. This could fit with the Yankees attempts to control cost this offseason as they focus on DJ LeMahieu and help for the starting rotation.
Darren O’Day is a solid veteran option on the free agent market if the Yankees choose to pursue him. He is a change of pace from the high-velocity arms that the Yankees traditionally stock the bullpen with, but has proven effective year-after-year. He could be one piece of the puzzle who helps to bridge the gap from starters to relievers in 2021.