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Yankees Potential Free Agent Target: Chaz Roe

The Yankees could still use some more help in the bullpen, so why not turn to the final boss version of Adam Ottavino?

Tampa Bay Rays v New York Yankees Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

After a whirlwind past few weeks the winter is slowly wrapping up. Of the top free agents, only Trevor Bauer and Marcell Ozuna are still deciding on their futures. The Yankees have completed the majority of their business with only some loose ends left to be tied.

Pulling off those moves will be tricky. The Yankees 40-man roster is full while only several million dollars separate the current payroll from the CBT threshold. The team can always use more pitching, and while I am sure many fans are hoping for some added insurance in the starting rotation, the bullpen is the more likely of the two to receive further reinforcements. One pitcher the Yankees could target with the remaining budget is former Rays reliever Chaz Roe.

Roe is coming off an injury-shortened 2020 with the Rays, which culminated in his missing the playoffs and being outrighted off the major league roster following the season. Still, across his four seasons in Tampa, he was the Rays’ fourth-most valuable reliever, totaling 1.6 fWAR in 119.1 innings, accompanied by a 3.54 ERA, 3.53 FIP, 4.01 xFIP, and 17.1 percent K-BB rate. Anybody familiar with the PitchingNinja is sure to recognize Roe and his calling card: the slider.

If Adam Ottavino’s slider is a frisbee, then Roe’s is a full-fledged boomerang. Roe blows the rest of the field away with his other-worldly slider, as the 22.8 inches of horizontal tilt in 2019 led the league and bested the second-place finisher by more than three inches. He is able to generate this level of swerve thanks to an insanely high spin rate (2,953 rpm, 11th in MLB) and active spin (94.6 percent, first in MLB).

Here is the physics-defying pitch in action:

And some more:

Last one:

Okay, maybe one more:

Curiously, despite the absurd movement on Roe’s slider, it is not an overly-dominant pitch. He sat in the bottom third of the league in whiff rate against the slider in 2019 and was middling in xwOBA against, strikeout rate, and put-away rate with the pitch.

Data courtesy of Statcast

What does one make of all this mess? Well aside from the video game levels of horizontal break Roe (the red dot) creates on the slider, this shows that there is more to the story of an effective slider than simply the amount of movement. Yankees fans are well aware of this, as Ottavino was not as consistently dominant as many had hoped.

Roe is a predominantly slider-sinker pitcher, throwing the former around 60 percent of the time and the latter around 20. Perhaps this predictability is what allows hitter to slug the slider better than its movement profile might suggest. Roe’s career walk rate is 25 percent higher than league average, and in 2020 he surrendered a career-worst ground ball rate (26.9 percent) and career-high line drive rate (38.5 percent) before the elbow injury claimed the rest of the season. Optimistically, tests showed no ligament damage, so there is the hope that the long layoff from baseball gave him ample time to recover.

Still, there is a lot to like about Roe. He is one of the best in the business at limiting hard contact. Between 2018 and 2019, Roe sat in the 94th percentile or better in average exit velocity and hard hit rate. He rarely surrenders home runs and he is due for some positive regression as his BABIP against stood at an unsustainably high .361.

There are a handful of pitchers around the league that just make you shake your head in disbelief at the magic they conjure with the baseball. For me, Chaz Roe falls firmly in that category with the whiffle-ball like movement he gets on his slider. If nothing else, it would be quite the spectacle to see him spin the ball in pinstripes.