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Yankees 2021 Season Preview: Darren O’Day

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The submarine right-hander, brought in by the Yankees on a cheap deal, is ready to dominate hitters with his 86-mph fastball.

MLB: New York Yankees-Workouts Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees have become famous for their bullpen firepower over the last few years and/or decades. They even call their spring training pitching development center the “Gas Station.” Yet, one of their highest-profile signings during the offseason was a guy who was in the first percentile in fastball velocity last year.

Seeing as their bullpen had a down year in 2020 – the unit finished 16th in ERA with a 4.51 mark, 20th in FIP at 4.69, and 21st in fWAR –the Yankees decided to shake things up by trading Adam Ottavino and bringing in multiple late-inning arms.

One of those arms was O’Day, as the Bombers signed him to a one-year, $2.45 million contract with a $1.4 million player option for 2022. If he declines the option, the Yankees will be able to retain him if they exercise a $3.15 million club option (or pay him a $700,000 buyout if they let him walk.)

2020 Stats: 16.1 IP, 8 H, 1.10 ERA, 2.76 FIP. 0 SV, 12.12 K/9, 2.76 BB/9, 4.4 H/9, 0.6 HR/9, 0.3 WAR

2021 FanGraphs Depth Chart Projections: 60 IP, 4.22 ERA, 4.53 FIP, 0 SV, 10.17 K/9, 3.40 BB/9, 1.53 HR/9, 0.2 fWAR

Making a commitment to a 38-year-old pitcher is usually not a very good idea, but Darren O’Day is not like your average veteran hurler. With a peculiar arm slot that results in a submarine delivery, the right-handed O’Day is very tough to square and has a history of getting the job done even while throwing his fastball in the mid-80s.

O’Day’s career ERA in 13 MLB seasons is a stellar 2.51, and his 3.43 FIP is still very good. Last season, he was one of the most dependable bullpen arms on the Atlanta Braves, hurling 16.1 innings and finishing with a 1.10 ERA.

Even at his advanced age, the veteran proved that he still belongs among the elite of the league, striking out 32.8 percent of the batters he faced. Aroldis Chapman is the clear-cut closer on the Yankees, but without Zack Britton out of the mix for the foreseeable future as he recovers from elbow surgery, O’Day will be one of the arms in which manager Aaron Boone will rely on to get those tough outs in the late innings.

Armed with a fastball many high school pitchers could surpass, you would think a pitcher like O’Day would have been bounced from the majors long ago, but his body of work speaks for itself. He throws at an angle that disrupts hitters, which should provide a nice change of pace from the Yankees’ other hard-throwing, over-the-top relievers.

“I think there’s always a place in this game for different people,” he recently said in a Zoom conference. “We can quantify just about everything these days. Spin rates, break, all that stuff. But it’s tough to quantify deception. And I think that’s something that often gets overlooked.”

O’Day mainly uses three pitches: a four-seam fastball (46 percent of the time) a slider (43 percent, with 43.1 inches of drop) and a sinker that he goes to around 11 percent of the time.

He can make hitters do this:

With those weapons, he has managed to hold right-handed hitters to a .193/.262/.287 line in his MLB tenure, with a .248 wOBA. Despite the fact that he is much more effective against batters of the same hand, he doesn’t have a pronounced platoon split, as lefties have hit .228/.299/.412 off him, with a .303 wOBA.

All things considered, the Yankees should be happy to have O’Day in their bullpen, and they can rest easy knowing that whenever there is a string of right-handed hitters looming, he is as automatic as they come. Despite his advanced age, the Yankees should look forward to another dependable season from the right-hander.