Since Darren O’Day spent seven seasons with the Baltimore Orioles, the Yankees had plenty of familiarity with the sidearmer. He’d carved out a very nice career out of the bullpen over the past decade and was excellent from 2012-15, culminating with his first career All-Star Game appearance in 2015. Over that time, he put up a 1.92 ERA, which was good for a 214 ERA+ over those four seasons.
O’Day’s next couple seasons were merely just “pretty good” or injury-laden, but he bounced back with a very good 2020 in Atlanta during the shortened season. With his history, it made sense for the Yankees to ink him to a $1.75 million one-year deal ahead of 2021. The Yankees had several late inning options, and he seemed like an excellent person to occupy a middle relief role.
While he was mostly okay in his short 2021 season, we didn’t end up seeing a lot of O’Day in a Yankees uniform.
2021 Statistics: 12 games, 10.2 IP, 3.38 ERA, 4.95 FIP, 4.83 xFIP, 9.28 K/9, 3.38 BB/9, 0.0 fWAR
2022 Contract Status: Free agent after mutual option declined
O’Day made his first appearance of 2021 on Opening Day, throwing a scoreless inning against the Blue Jays. In all, his first six appearances were scoreless, and he struck out six batters compared to just one walk in 5.1 innings in them.
The veteran allowed his first run of the year in his seventh outing, but it was about a week after that when things started to turn for the worse. In two outings on April 26th and 29th, O’Day allowed a run to the Orioles both times. Shortly after the second one, he had to go on the injured list with a rotator cuff strain.
It took three weeks after hitting the IL for O’Day to begin throwing again. It took another month after that for him to begin a rehab assignment. He finally returned to the Yankees on June 29th, and made it back into a game the following day. There, he threw a scoreless inning, and it seemed like he was back and ready to be the solid bullpen option he was before the injury.
O’Day’s second appearance back came on July 4th, and he struggled, allowing a home run and two walks in 0.2 innings against the Mets. Shortly after that outing, he had to return to the IL, this time with a hamstring strain. Over the next couple weeks, it emerged that it was in fact a serious tear, and O’Day underwent surgery. He was out for the season.
In the 10 appearances O’Day made, he was mostly fine. His peripherals suggest that he was a bit worse than his 3.38 ERA, but he seemed like he was going to be the perfectly good middle relief option that the Yankees envisioned. However, 10.2 innings was not really enough to make an impact, good or bad.
What impact his absence had is a bit hard to say. The Yankees quite notably had some big bullpen blowups this season. That being said, seemingly none of them really came about from overexposure or lack of bullpen options. Sure, there was a game here or there where it would’ve been better to have O’Day in there instead of (insert pitcher X), but most of the notable blow-ups came from bigger name bullpen pieces that probably would’ve been pitching no matter who was on the roster.
On the other hand, O’Day’s absence did in part lead to the Yankees having to make some bullpen moves. They may have attempted to acquire the likes of Clay Holmes and Joely Rodríguez, anyway, but O’Day’s absence definitely opened innings that needed to be filled.
O’Day’s deal came with a player and team option that were both declined, and the reliever is now back on the free agent market. Considering the emergence of some other relievers after he went out for the season, that’s probably it for his Yankee career. His 2021 season feels like the exact definition of “incomplete.”