If one looks at the list of Yankees relievers who have missed time with injury this year, they would find a lot of names between those who are currently physically unable to play and those who have underperformed according to preseason expectations. Zack Britton, Aroldis Chapman, Jonathan Loáisiga, Michael King, Chad Green, Ron Marinaccio, Stephen Ridings, and Miguel Castro are some of those names. Only Chapman, Loáisiga, and Marinaccio are currently active from that list.
This is not to say the bullpen has been bad. It’s still a top unit, but injuries to Britton, Green, and King (most painfully for 2022) took some of the star-level performance off it, and the rest of the absences have sapped some valuable depth. The fact that Lo and Chapman haven’t been sharp when healthy has really complicated matters, too.
That’s why the Yankees should address the bullpen ahead of the August 2nd trade deadline; the King injury only cements the need. Thankfully, it appears to be the deepest position for buyers, as lots of relievers could enter the trade market and be had for a prospect or two. One of them is Kansas City Royals righty Scott Barlow, who just saw his teammate Andrew Benintendi head to the Bronx yesterday.
After a couple seasons with ERA finishes in the 4.20s, Barlow broke out in 2021 with a 2.42 ERA (2.63 FIP) in 74.1 innings and a 29.7-percent strikeout rate. However, we should point out that his breakout actually began in 2019. During that campaign, he also had a 29.7-percent strikeout rate, not to mention a 3.41 FIP. Barlow replicated that performance a year later with a 31.2 percent strikeout rate and a 3.42 FIP, respectively.
The right-hander’s 2019 breakthrough coincided with his decision to throw many more sliders than four-seam fastballs. Barlow had whiff rates over 40 percent from 2019-21, but this year, it’s at 29.9 percent. Perhaps Yankees pitching coach Matt Blake can sharpen the pitch and make it return to its best. It’s already pretty good:
Scott Barlow, Wicked 85mph Slider.— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 8, 2022
Adding injury to insult.
Sword of the Week. pic.twitter.com/OgWgrcqEBm
This year, Barlow is throwing 44.2 percent of sliders and 32.1 percent of curveballs, making his four-seamer the third pitch in his repertoire. The hook has an incredible 42.7 percent whiff rate and a .195 xwOBA, so it’s very, very good.
Barlow’s four-seamer has lost a tick this year, but he has remained effective because of his excellent breaking stuff. This is a clip from last year, but take a look at those nasty sliders and curveballs:
Scott Barlow, K'ing the Side with Filthy Breaking Balls. pic.twitter.com/dCbZoOjF0c— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 14, 2021
Barlow’s 24.6-percent strikeout rate is a bit lower than recent seasons, but is currently working on a nine-game scoreless streak and has been effective, as his 1.93 ERA, 3.55 FIP, and 0.96 WHIP indicate.
The 29-year-old has another thing going on for him, as Barlow is under team control for the next two and a half seasons. This means that if they decide to acquire him, the Yankees, would have him for the next three playoff runs.
Barlow is one of the best relievers on the Royals’ roster, and to the contrary of what happens in Washington or Oakland, for example, there is hope in Kansas City that they have the goods to contend next year. Convincing them to trade Barlow may not be as easy as it looks.
Barlow is a good reliever, on an affordable salary (he is making $2.4 million this year), and under relatively cheap control for two extra seasons in addition to what is left of 2022. He is no Michael King, but Barlow is a useful, effective reliever with some untapped upside under Blake’s wing. He makes sense as a trade target.