The Yankees’ 2021 season has been a roller-coaster ride that only began to gain some stability in the past month. Now with the team sitting 22 games over .500, the Yankees more closely resemble what we thought we would see from them prior to the season. There were some notorious offensive issues in the first half, but the pitching has remained steady nearly all year long.
A good portion of that credit can be attributed to the Yankees’ solid pitching coach, Matt Blake, who joined the organization from Cleveland prior to the 2020 campaign. Blake is not particularly flashy and doesn’t make too many headlines, but his impact this year has been undeniable.
Before Tuesday’s game, the Yankees had the fourth-lowest ERA in the league at 3.61. Their pitching staff is also the fourth in fWAR with 18.2. New York has featured a surprisingly deep, effective pitching staff, even while navigating through injuries, three COVID-19 outbreaks, and a few unexpected underperformers. Considering the eyebrows that were raised at the Yankees’ rotation in particular at the start of the season, that’s commendable work.
The Yankees’ pitchers have gone out of their way to praise Blake, as well. Here, ace Gerrit Cole detailed how he worked hard to get over his worst start in quite some time (seven earned runs allowed against Tampa on July 29th):
“There’s some stuff behind the scenes going on in terms of working with Matt (Blake), trying to figure what exactly we identify that we were one step behind and how maybe we could’ve stayed ahead of that last team.”
Thanks in part to Blake, Cole rebounded nicely since that outing, conceding only one run in two starts and 11.2 innings.
In this article, Andrew Heaney talked about how, thanks to conversations with Blake, he made some mechanical adjustments after his trade deadline acquisition to correct “quite a few mistakes, like pulling my changeup across my body a little bit.” Heaney obviously ran into problems at the Field of Dreams Game, but has pitched 11 innings of three-run ball since then (while previously gutting out a win on August 7th).
Blake discussed one of the Yankees’ most surprising performers this year, Néstor Cortes Jr., here. It’s evident that the coach knows all his pitchers well, even members who only came to spring as non-roster invitees:
“I think the best thing about Néstor is that he’s flexible in his attack plan. And when we look at facing different teams, and if they have left-handed batters or right-handed batters, if they’re aggressive, or if they’re patient, Néstor kind of has a bunch of different things he can do ... Whether it’s the four-seamer with a little deception, he can drop down for a two-seam or he can drop down for the slider. He’s got the cutter. I think he’s just got a nice flexible attack plan.”
Cortes is having a career year with limited resources and is rocking a 2.56 ERA in 56.1 innings. Jameson Taillon managed to turn things around after an ugly start and now has a sub-4.00 ERA at 3.94. Jonathan Loáisiga is having a breakout season and is one of the top relievers in the American League. Lucas Luetge came out of nowhere to win a spot in the bullpen in spring training and now has a 3.14 ERA in 57.1 frames. Albert Abreu finally took a step forward and is performing like reliable, quality reliever. It just can’t all be a coincidence. Stephen Ridings has been strong every time he has been needed. And so on.
The Yankees’ trade acquisitions have all stepped their performances up as well. Wandy Peralta, who came to the Yankees in exchange for Mike Tauchman, is unscored upon in his last eight games (nine innings) and has a 3.14 ERA with New York in 29 frames. With an emphasis on his wicked changeup, he’s bailed the team out of numerous tight situations, including last night against Freddie Freeman with both the game and the team’s recent winning streak on the line:
Clay Holmes had a 4.93 ERA in Pittsburgh, but came to the Yankees, began to pound the zone, and has a 1.93 ERA for them in 9.1 innings. Joely Rodríguez was the secondary piece in the Joey Gallo trade, but has likewise performed very well in the Bronx — he had a 5.93 ERA in Texas and now has a 2.16 mark in New York.
It seems like Blake has a plan for everybody, adapted to their individual strengths, weaknesses and role. Pitchers always talk about how they make adjustments when needed with the help of Blake, and more often than not, they find what works for them.
As long as Blake is the pitching coach of the New York Yankees, they will likely have a competent, quality pitching staff. He certainly deserves some of the credit for the team’s success in 2021.