Right after the trade deadline, it was clear that the Yankees were heavily interested in pitchers with a specific type of sinker. I wrote about how Clay Holmes and Joely Rodríguez’s sinkers had similar qualities, particularly the deviation in observed and spin-based movement. With the growing reliability on Hawk-Eye data, teams can gather information on inferred and actual spin axis data. The old tracking system, Trackman, was limited to inferring the spin of the baseball, leaving some questions about what some pitch models were missing in pitchers like Kyle Hendricks or Marcus Stroman.
Since the official deployment of Hawk-Eye in 2020, the Yanks and other teams have clearly aspired to harness the data for a competitive advantage. That competitive advantage has come through in the form of understanding the concept of seam-shifted wake (SSW). What is that, you ask? The short answer: It’s the force created by the direction of the seams on a baseball that cause the ball to deviate from its current axis. It’s the type of wizardry that comes through on sinkers thrown by pitchers such as Hendricks and Stroman.
The one area that the Yankees’ change zeroed in on was targeting high-velocity sinkers with strong seam-shifted wake properties. The team already had a pitcher of their own who exhibited this type of pitch in Jonathan Loáisiga.
Both Loáisiga’s sinker and changeup exhibit these properties. While he isn’t necessarily at the very top of the league when it comes to SSW, the high velocity gives him an added feature, making the sinker extremely nasty and the changeup a perfect pair to take hitters off the sinker. These two pitches and a serviceable curveball help Loáisiga to miss barrels.
The right-hander is in the 97th percentile for barrel rate according to Statcast. Barrel rate has some serious flaws because the denominator of the calculation is only batted-ball events instead of total swings, but in this case, it’s a perfect illustration of the type of pitcher that Loáisiga is. He doesn’t strike out a ton of hitters. Instead, he is a groundball and soft-contact machine, making him a great candidate to clean up jams. This is going to be a trend throughout the Yankees bullpen.
Loáisiga’s bullpen mate, Wandy Peralta, is a bit of a contact suppressor himself, with a hard-hit rate in the 96th percentile. His main offering is his top of the league changeup. Like Loáisiga’s sinker, Peralta’s changeup is a strong seam-shifted wake offering. It’s near the top of the league among lefty changeups when it comes to its deviation between the observed and spin-based movement.
An extremely deceptive release with this type of movement is a perfect recipe for getting groundballs from right-handed hitters. That’s the thing about Wandy — he’s extremely useful against both righties and lefties because of the wicked movement on his changeup. It’s leads to soft contact on the ground with very good consistency.
Lastly, there are the pitchers who I have already discussed in depth, Holmes and Rodríguez. Holmes’ barrel and hard-hit rates are 96 percent and 79 percent, respectively. Holmes has a bit more strikeout capability than his fellow sinkerballers, but that’s due to a wipeout slider. The main point is that his sinker allows him to suppress contact with the best of them. While we didn’t always see lights-out performances from Rodríguez, his pitch properties are very promising. He gets hitters to chase because of his funky arm slot and good pitch movement, and he is also very good at limiting hard contact! His hard-hit rate stood in the 71st percentile and his barrel rate was in the 89th percentile.
The TL;DR here is that the Yankees are targeting players with robust SSW profiles who can suppress contact quality. It could be for a myriad of factors, but I imagine the state of the ball and the added pitch data have strongly contributed to this strategy. Either way, it’s great to know the Yankees are ahead of the rest of the league in utilizing information that will continue to flow in.