The current 2022 New York Yankees roster has several clear needs. A starting-caliber shortstop is the most pressing one, while rotation depth and another center fielder come right behind. Fortunately, relief pitching is not one of them.
As of now, the Yankees will roll into spring training with a solid bullpen, headlined by late-inning weapons Aroldis Chapman, Jonathan Loáisiga, Clay Holmes, Chad Green, Joely Rodríguez, Wandy Peralta, Lucas Luetge, and Michael King. Other arms could potentially join the unit in Domingo Germán, Stephen Ridings, and Ron Marinaccio.
However, there is no such thing as too many good relievers, so the Yankees would be smart to monitor the market once the lockout ends. There are still several quality arms available to shore up the bullpen, and one of them is certainly Ryan Tepera.
The 34-year-old right-hander has a career 3.48 ERA, and in seven years as a major leaguer, Tepera’s ERA has been higher than 4.00 only once; back in 2019 when he had a 4.98 mark over a small 21.2 inning sample. He also happens to be coming off the best season of his career in 2021.
Tepera started the year with the Chicago Cubs, and posted a 2.91 ERA (2.80 FIP) in 43.1 frames, with a very good 30.3-percent strikeout rate. He was traded to the crosstown rivals, the White Sox, and was even better, with a 2.50 ERA (2.56 FIP) in 18 outings, with a 32-percent strikeout rate.
Overall, Tepera pitched 61.1 frames, in which he put a 2.79 ERA, with a rock-solid 2.79 FIP and a 2.53 xERA (expected ERA, per Statcast). He struck out 10.9 hitters per nine innings and walked just 2.8.
Of course, a bit of luck aided his stellar season: his BABIP was very low at .223 and he allowed just 0.6 home runs per nine innings, the result of a low 6.6-percent HR/FB rate (only 6.6 percent of his fly balls left the yard, which was much lower than the league average). However, it was mostly skill and talent.
Better control was behind Tepera’s improved performance: his 2.79 BB/9 was the lowest since his rookie season in 2015. He also achieved the highest strikeout rate of his MLB tenure, which he attained by making the slider his most frequently-thrown pitch.
Tepera’s slider had an incredible 50.6-percent whiff rate, and he threw it 44.9 percent of the time according to Baseball Savant. Batters hit .132 off his slider, with a .205 expected weighted on base average (wOBA) and a .224 xwOBA (expected wOBA, based on walks, strikeouts, and quality of contact). He upped the slider usage even more after landing on the White Sox.
50% slider usage by Ryan Tepera since his trade to the White Sox pic.twitter.com/WqrltEBgwV— Nick Pollack (@PitcherList) August 6, 2021
Besides the excellent slider, Tepera also throws a four-seamer that averaged 93.3 mph in 2021, a sinker, a changeup, and a curveball, although he rarely uses the last offering. He ditched the cutter, which was his bread and butter in 2019 and 2020.
That stuff helped Tepera induce a healthy amount of whiffs and strikeouts, his fair share of groundballs (44 percent in 2021), and limit hard contact overall. His hard-hit rate was 35 percent, enough to rank him in the 78th percentile. The rest of his Statcast profile looks very good, with many more reds than blues:
As long as he keeps emphasizing his great slider, Tepera won’t need elite velocity to succeed. His chances of landing on the Yankees will depend on many things, and while he is not a priority, his presence would fortify an already strong bullpen. The fit is obvious.