The last few weeks have seen quite a bit of activity on the pitching free agent market, with teams scrambling to snap up arms from the dwindling pool of impact hurlers. Even with the transactions of the New Year, a handful of pitchers still remain, from Trevor Bauer at the top of the heap to the likes of James Paxton and Jake Odorizzi hoping to bounce back from injury-shortened 2020 seasons, on all the way down to the minor league and non-roster invitee types. Given the Yankees’ self-imposed budgetary situation, it is from this final group that the next New York signing is likely to come.
The Yankees have already signed Corey Kluber and acquired Jameson Taillon to address vacancies in the rotation, but given the high variance in potential outcomes of their pitching staff as a whole, it would be wise to stack the roster with even more depth. However, the apparent plan to carry a payroll below the $210 million luxury tax threshold complicates the ability to supplement that group in a significant manner. That is why we have seen the Yankees accumulate depth in the form of minor league deals handed out to veterans with the allure of competing for a major league roster spot. One player who fits this criteria and is still available is Brad Peacock.
Peacock has pitched for the Astros in each of the last eight seasons, with his performances ranging from excellent to mediocre. His best season came in 2017, when he made 21 starts and accumulated 3.2 fWAR, going 13-2 with a 3.00 ERA, 3.07 FIP, 3.73 xFIP, and 161 strikeouts in 132 innings. He missed all but 2.1 innings in 2020 after undergoing surgery to correct a right shoulder injury that has plagued him for the last two years and caused him to miss 133 days overall on the injured list.
Assuming he is fully recovered from his procedure, there may yet be a role to play for the 33-year-old Peacock. The Yankees may be most intrigued by his versatility, as he has pitched as a starter, long reliever, and setup man at various points in his career. This could prove to be invaluable to the Yankees, as it’s unknown if they will use a traditional five-man rotation given the injury question marks, potential innings limits, and general uncertainty surrounding the current pitching staff. While Peacock has never exceeded 132 innings in a season, one can imagine him being deployed in a spot start or as a multi-inning reliever following an opener.
At his very best, Peacock was a potent combination of high strikeouts and weak contact. Since 2017, he has struck out just over eleven batters per nine. From 2017 to 2018, he sat in the 80th percentile or better in strikeout rate, hard hit rate, whiff rate, expected ERA, and expected wOBA. He is also a proven contributor in the postseason.
Peacock achieved this success with a diverse and effective arsenal, throwing five different pitches: a four-seamer, sinker, slider, changeup, and curveball. He mainly relied on the four-seam/sinker/slider combo, making up 90 percent of his pitches thrown, but he mixed in the other two secondary offerings enough to keep the hitter honest. On top of just pure variety, every single one of Peacock’s five pitches displayed above-average lateral movement from 2016 to 2019.
There are many question marks surrounding Brad Peacock. Is he healthy and if so, will that continue? Has his velocity recovered after finally undergoing the shoulder surgery, considering he had lost about two mph on the fastball from 2019 to 2020?
If the answers to these questions are “yes,” then Peacock still has a lot to offer to an MLB team. Neither FanGraphs nor MLB Trade Rumors included Peacock in their top-50 free agent lists, so it is hard to gauge what kind of contract he might sign. However, looking at the signings of similar pitchers this winter, there is a chance that the Yankees could entice Peacock with a minor league deal or some other low-risk contract. If they do, then Peacock would be another possible high-upside arm to further add to their pitching options.