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Yankees Potential Free Agent Target: Brandon Workman

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The right-hander was bad in 2020, but he was absolutely lights out in 2019, which represents the bigger sample.

Philadelphia Phillies v Washington Nationals - Game Two Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

As the New York Yankees round out their roster for the 2021 season, four relievers stand above the rest: Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton, Chad Green, and Darren O’Day. Other names, such as Luis Cessa, Jonathan Loáisiga, Brooks Kriske, Nick Nelson, Michael King, Ben Heller, Adam Warren, Kyle Barraclough, Tyler Lyons or even Albert Abreu are also in the mix to contribute.

I’ve explaind here that, in order for the Yankees’ bullpen to regain elite status, more internal options need to step up. And I maintain that. However, it doesn’t hurt to take one last look at the pool of remaining free agents.

And if we are willing to focus on 2019 as the larger sample in comparison with 2020, Brandon Workman makes too much sense not to consider as an option, provided that his arrival wouldn’t put the Yankees over the $210 million luxury tax threshold — which has been the plan all along.

At 32, Workman could potentially take a one-year, prove-it kind of deal, so he can focus on having a good season and then re-enter the free agent market next year, hopefully (for him) under better overall conditions.

Yes, Workman struggled last season. I’ll tell you his stats, but first, look at this:

Yikes.

But hey, look at his 2019 Statcast profile:

Not so fast, then, huh?

In 19.2 innings in 2020, he had a horrid 5.95 ERA and a 5.48 FIP, with a 22.8 K% and an elevated 12.9 BB%. He was so bad that he was worth a negative fWAR of -0.4.

In 2019, though, he had a truly amazing season. In 71.2 innings, he struck out a whopping 13.06 hitters per nine frames (his K% sat at 36.4) and while he handed out 5.65 BB/9, he finished with a 1.88 ERA and a 2.46 FIP. He’s no Greg Maddux, but he showed that he can dominate even with that ugly walk rate.

Since turning into a reliever in 2017 after losing virtually two years because of Tommy John surgery, Workman had a couple of solid, if unspectacular seasons in 2017 and 2018 (3.18 and 3.27 ERA, respectively, but both with FIPs over 4.00) before fully breaking out in 2019. That year, he embraced the use of his curveball, to the point that he threw it 47 percent of the time. The pitch was good, and in addition, it made both his four-seamer and cutter play even better, with a 37.7 and a 42.4 whiff rate, respectively.

Then 2020 came. It was a weird season for lots of pitchers, who had their routines screwed up with the pandemic and the delayed start. Workman was okay with Boston in the small sample size he collected before getting traded to Philadelphia. He had a 4.05 ERA in 6.2 frames with the Red Sox, nothing too abnormal.

However, in 13.0 innings with the Phillies, he had an ugly 6.92 ERA and a 2.46 WHIP. Philadelphia had put its hopes on Workman fixing their bullpen woes, and turns out he was even worse than what they had.

It’s possible that his struggles in Philadelphia can be chalked up to adjusting to (mostly) new hitters, as he’d spent his entire career in the AL East. It’s also possible that his mechanics were off. The bottom line is, if I have a sample of 71.2 innings and another one of 19.2, and they are separated by only a year, I’m definitely putting more weight on the former.

It’s possible that Workman isn’t a true-talent sub-2.00 ERA pitcher, but I’m quite sure that he isn’t a 6.00+ ERA one either. If the Yankees can get him on the cheap, and he can contribute something remotely close to that performance two years ago, it would be a big win for the franchise.