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Yankees 2020 Season Preview: Tommy Kahnle

Can Kahnle bounce back after a devastating loss in the Madden league championship?

2019 ALCS Game 6 - New York Yankees v. Houston Astros Photo by Cooper Neill/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Tommy Kahnle was considered a secondary piece of the trade that brought himself, Todd Frazier and David Robertson over from the White Sox prior to the trade deadline in 2017, but Kahnle quickly showed with a very strong postseason showing that he could be one of the most valuable relievers in a bullpen loaded with quality arms.

Then 2018 came, and Kahnle was plagued by injury and never showed the dominant stuff he had the year before. But a return to health and a cutback on Red Bulls helped the righty return to form in 2019, and at 30 years of age, Kahnle should have another strong season ahead of him, if that season ever happens.

2019 Stats: 61.1 IP, 3.67 ERA, 3.33 FIP, 12.9 K/9, 6.6 H/9, 2.9 BB/9, 1.3 HR/9, 0.8 WAR

2020 Depth Chart Projections: 68 IP, 3.50 ERA, 3.57 FIP, 12.07 K/9, 3.73 BB/9, 1.17 HR/9, 0.8 fWAR

The Yankees would obviously love Kahnle to return to his 2017 form, when he accrued as much WAR in half a season with the Yanks as he did through all of last season, but Kahnle was two years younger and had more life on his fastball, which was diminished in 2018 due to a load of injuries. Kahnle began to trend back in the right direction in 2019 and was in the 93rd percentile in all of baseball in fastball velocity, but was still below his 2017 numbers.

Data courtesy of Statcast

As a result of his decreased velocity, Kahnle dropped his fastball rate 10 percent last year, and raised his changeup usage 10 percent, ultimately throwing his change more frequently than his heater. The results were favorable, as Kahnle’s hard hit rate against his changeup was actually slightly lower last year than in his dominant 2017 season, despite hitters seeing the pitch more often.

One major change coming MLB’s way in 2020, other than a drastically different regular season schedule, is the three-batter minimum. Fortunately, Kahnle shouldn’t suffer from this change, and his usage will likely be similar to what it was in 2019 given his equal efficiency against both righties and lefties. Kahnle tossed 31 innings against lefties last year and 30.1 innings against righties, and actually had a lower xFIP (2.34) against lefty batters than he did against righties (3.04). His numbers against both were solid, so he won’t be a specialist like Adam Ottavino was down the stretch of last season.

Despite decreased velocity compared to years prior, Kahnle’s strikeout rate was his highest as a Yankee last year, and like Aroldis Chapman, he has a secondary pitch valuable enough to get strikeouts even as he continues to age. The projections foresee another solid year for Kahnle, and given the $2.65 million he’s being paid for 2020, he should be quite a bargain for the Yankees this season. And while the season will be drastically abbreviated at best, that could actually help arms like Kahnle come playoff time, when less mileage on the arm means more velocity and a potentially greater speed difference between his fastball and changeup, which should keep hitters from both sides off balance.