As the Yankees look for cost-effective alternatives to build their rotation depth for 2021, there are still several quality options in the free agent market. Star power is lacking, but more than a few decent, potentially cheap pitchers remain unsigned. Matt Shoemaker is one of them.
Shoemaker’s 2020 campaign with the Toronto Blue Jays represents the clearest example of why we shouldn’t rely on small sample sizes to make assessments about a player’s performance. Of course, it provides an idea, an approximation, but a few innings, in his specific case, won’t tell us the whole story about who he is as a pitcher.
For example, in 2020, Shoemaker pitched 28 2⁄3 innings in six starts. His run-prevention stats were all over the place: he had a 4.71 ERA, a 5.95 FIP, and a 4.14 xFIP. One of his outings (August 4th against the Braves) was much worse than the other five, and that had a significant effect on his overall numbers. Shoemaker actually did well in three starts against the AL champion Rays, and he also shut them out over three innings in Game One of the Wild Card Series before being lifted in favor of Robbie Ray, a doomed piggybacking strategy. The overall numbers are hazy, so was he mediocre, downright bad, or actually decent?
In those aforementioned 28 2⁄3 frames, Shoemaker had an 8.16 K/9 and a 2.83 B/9 mark — not bad, but not elite. The luck element was also all over the place in his statistical profile, as he found good fortune on balls in play (an abnormally low .194 BABIP, which means fewer hits) but also an absurdly high home run rate (2.51 per every nine innings, 29.6 HR/FB ratio).
It may be wiser to analyze what Shoemaker has done in his career in regards to whether or not the Yankees could use him as a rotation option. In 602 1⁄3 innings, he has managed decent run-prevention numbers (3.86 ERA, 4.03 FIP, 3.97 xFIP, 3.88 SIERA.) I think that’s enough to tell us that he may not be an ace or even a mid-rotation staple, but if health cooperates, he has the ability to keep his team in the game more often than not.
During Shoemaker’s career, he hasn’t had a severe home run problem (1.27 per each nine innings) and since he has a 12.4% HR/FB, I’m inclined to think that the homer-itis we saw in 2020 was a fluke. It certainly didn’t help that three of the eight dingers he allowed came in that disastrous August 4th start in Atlanta.
In the (likely?) case that the Yankees decide that they don’t want to spend top dollar in the free agent market, Shoemaker can be a very enticing option. He has experience in the American League East, having pitched there in 2019 and 2020 with the Blue Jays.
Additionally, the Yankees would like the fact that he experienced an uptick in his fastball velocity. He threw his four-seamer at 92.1 mph on average, the hardest he has done it since 2016.
Of course, if you are wondering what is driving Shoemaker’s price down, it’s the injuries. He hasn’t surpassed 160 innings since 2016 (!), which is why he can’t be counted on for a full season. In 2020, he missed time with right shoulder inflammation. The season before, it was a torn ACL. A right forearm strain derailed his 2018 campaign, and a right forearm extensor strain ruined his 2017.
The right-hander has had some bad luck with injuries, but as of now, he has a clean bill of health as we approach spring training. If the Yankees are looking for some cheap per-inning production, Shoemaker might make sense as a free agent addition.