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What the Yankees are getting in Darren O’Day

The submarining righty fits nicely into Adam Ottavino’s old spot while giving the Yankees payroll flexibility.

Division Series - Miami Marlins v Atlanta Braves - Game Two Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

When the Yankees dumped Adam Ottavino earlier in the week, the implication was clear that another move was on the way. A few days later, the Yankees replaced the former Big O with a new Big O. 38-year-old veteran Darren O’Day is the newest Yankee, coming to terms on a one-year, $2.45 million contract.

On the surface, O’Day effectively replaces Ottavino in the Yankees’ bullpen. He’s still a step below the Aroldis Chapman-Zack Britton-Chad Green trio, but he’s a better option than tweeners like Luis Cessa and Jonathan Loáisiga, or any of the unproven rookies. Ottavino was a pitcher heavily reliant on movement and better against righties than lefties. In that way, O’Day is more of the same, but with less velocity, a quirkier windup and a cheaper salary.

The most obvious thing about O’Day is his submarine windup. He definitely gives the Yankees’ bullpen a different look, which is something that helped make the Rays’ bullpen so great. Last year, the Rays had guys who threw hard or soft, overhand or sidearm, righty or lefty, and they flummoxed the Yankees in the ALDS. O’Day gives the Yankees the polar opposite of the hard, overhand offerings of Chapman, Britton and Green with his soft, submarine delivery. The Yankees haven’t had many dedicated side-armers in the bullpen since the days of the Cody Eppley-Clay Rapada bullpen of 2012.

O’Day’s greatest strength is his ability to generate soft contact, as his 83.9 mph exit velocity from 2020 can attest. For his career, he’s only averaged 0.9 HR/9, and his career 1.02 WHIP is stingy. These traits should fit in well at Yankee Stadium.

His fastball is the slowest in Major League Baseball, averaging just 86 mph, but velocity is not what the Yankees are signing O’Day for. He throws his fastball and slider almost an even 50% of the time each, and his ability to keep hitters off-balance has helped him get whiffs at a rate above MLB average his entire career. His walk rate rose a little bit last year, but it’s not nearly as high as the departed Ottavino’s.

We’ll have more on the salary implications later, but the Yankees got a similar player to the one they just let go for almost $7 million less. The Yankees will likely use that money on a Brett Gardner reunion, and possibly one more bullpen arm. So, would you rather have Ottavino, a talented and unreliable arm, or O’Day, Gardner, and another reliever for the same price? The latter seems like a better allocation of money with the Yankees proceeding as if the luxury tax threshold is a de facto salary cap.

The risk with O’Day mainly centers around how much longer he can stave off the aging curve. O’Day is 38, and his pitches sure aren’t getting any faster. He has also had lengthy stints on the IL with shoulder, elbow, hamstring and forearm problems in the last five years, and has pitched just 41.2 innings over the last three years. Much like the Yankees’ acquisitions of Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon, the team has brought in a talented pitcher, but one with serious durability concerns. These pitchers should all be good when they’re on the field, but can the club realistically count on a clean bill of health for these arms?

O’Day isn’t too risky for the Yankees given the relatively low-stakes nature of the signing. He can’t be relied upon at age-38 like he was in his prime for the Orioles, but if used in a complementary role, he should shape up to be a solid addition to the Yankees’ 2021 bullpen.