The Yankees made a bit of news the morning after Opening Day, signing veteran left-hander Fernando Abad, adding some depth to an already elite bullpen. Abad has never really thrived in MLB, pitching to exactly league-average ERA in 21 games for the San Francisco Giants in 2019 despite mediocre strikeout numbers.
Abad was released by the Washington National last week, towards the end of summer camp. It’s unclear at time of writing whether he was signed to a major-league deal or not, but it’s hard to imagine him making the main club immediately. This is such a strange season for baseball rosters, we’ll have to wait around and see if the Yankees bring Abad up to the majors at all.
If he does make it onto the big club, it’s kind of easy to see what the Yankees like in Abad. I’m going to show you two screenshots, the first, one of Abad’s performance in MLB, and then one of a current Yankees reliever:
Exit velo, barrel%, xBA, wOBA, xwOBA, xwOBA on contact, walk rate, and xERA. Abad was as good or better than our mystery Yankee reliever in all those metrics in 2019. That reliever? Zack Britton.
The two pitchers have similar profiles - both throw their sinker as their primary pitch, Abad about 57% of the time, Britton more like 87% of the time. Britton has had more, and more sustainable, success with that approach in the majors, but they’re both trying to do the same thing. Abad’s shown, at least in the 2019 sample, the ability to roughly replicate what Britton does, and he’s one of the best relievers on the team.
The question now is can he repeat it, on a team with better analytics, better defense, and better coaching than the Giants. The biggest difference between the two players has been launch angle - Britton’s is negative, and 78% of the balls put in play against him are on the ground. Abad manages 62% ground ball rate, which is still excellent, but leaves enough scary contact to keep his surface stats higher.
You can see what the Yankees are trying to do - take a low-cost flier on a guy with elite or near-elite ability in one area, and hope he can develop into his potential. They did this with Luke Voit and DJ LeMahieu, among others, and it’s worked well. Fernando Abad is probably not the next Zack Britton, but it’s worth a shot, isn’t it?