While the majority of the Yankees’ focus this winter will be on keeping a certain supersized outfielder in the Bronx, retaining Aaron Judge is just one move in a list of business to which the Bombers must attend if they hope to be playoff contenders next season and beyond. It is a near-guarantee that GM Brian Cashman will be working the phones as he always does, searching out trades that the Yankees can win.
Cashman’s biggest successes in recent years have seen him trade for relievers who are able to unlock another level of effectiveness after entering the tutelage of Matt Blake, Sam Briend, and co. In a recent evaluation of the offseason landscape, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic identified the Tigers as a plentiful source for teams in search of relief pitching. We’ll be breaking down the three pitchers he explicitly named in the coming days; today is dedicated to tackling the first name on the list: Joe Jiménez.
2022 Stats: 62 games, 56.2 IP, 3.49 ERA (109 ERA+), 2.00 FIP, 33.3% K%, 5.6% BB%, 1.4 fWAR
2023 Contract Status: Projected to earn $2.6 million in third and final year of arbitration-eligibility. Free agent after 2023 season.
After struggling as a borderline major league reliever for the first five years of his career, Jiménez finally put it together in 2022. He doubled his career wins output, posting career-bests in practically every metric including ERA, FIP, strikeout rate, walk rate, and home run rate. Entering the season, he had pitched to a 5.72 ERA in 209.1 innings, surrendering a home run and a half per nine with a walk rate in the double-digits, making it rather remarkable that he transformed himself into one of the best available relievers in a year’s time.
There’s even some evidence to suggest that Jiménez was a bit unlucky and performed better than some of his top line stats indicate. The 1.49 run discrepancy between ERA and FIP was the sixth-largest such delta among all relievers with at least 50 innings pitched. He gave up a .328 BABIP which is elevated relative to his career and league average as well as a 67.4-percent left on base rate, both of which reasonably can be expected to regress toward the mean. It must be noted that his 6.5-percent home run per fly ball is unsustainably low, but on the whole it appears that Jiménez was the recipient of more bad luck than good.
The 27-year-old righty profiles similarly to Chad Green, throwing a high-spin rising four-seamer almost two-thirds of the time backed up by a slider that induced a 42.4-percent whiff rate and a seldom-used changeup thrown almost exclusively to lefties. Much of his success this year can probably be attributed to mechanical changes made to the fastball, taking the pitch unequivocally into the elite tier.
He added a MPH from last season to take its average velocity to 95.7 MPH and adjusted his hand positioning at release to maximize the spin efficiency of the pitch from 90 percent last year to 97 percent in 2022. A more efficiently-spinning four-seamer exhibits a greater degree of that desired late riding life, and indeed, he added roughly an inch more rise to the pitch from last season, giving the heater the 24th-most rise vs. average in baseball.
In his final year of arbitration eligibility and slated to hit free agency in 2023, Jiménez is likely the most available of the Tigers’ impact relievers. Bullpen arms entering their walk years generally do not command a steep price on the trade market. And with a projected $2.6 million salary in 2023, he comes with an attractive contract for teams conscious of payroll next season, and is likely to provide substantial surplus value if he can hit his roughly one win projection for next season.
While the relief corps is far from the most pressing area of concern for the Yankees, no team can have too many good relievers. Especially when you consider the destruction injury wreaked on the bullpen, New York sure could have used depth arms with Jiménez’s capabilities. Given the strides he has made in the last year and the success the Yankees pitching coaches have had in transforming relievers once they join the organization, Jiménez’s name is one to keep an eye on in the coming weeks.