With a 3.17 ERA in 76.2 Triple-A innings last year (after a stellar showing in Double-A), the arrow was pointing up for left-handed pitcher Matt Krook, despite his 5.75 BB/K in Scranton. It was his first go-round at the minors’ highest level, and he showed some excellent strikeout ability (10.33 K/9) to offer some optimism that he could be a backend starter in the future.
The 2022 season has answered a few questions we had about Krook. While we certainly can’t predict the future, it has become evident that he may be best suited in relief, because his control and command issues didn’t go away in the present campaign.
When he is on, he can be quite devastating, particularly against left-handed hitters. At one point this season, he had a streak of 42 straight batters retired — 18 of those by strikeout — and has accumulated 122 punchouts in 110.2 Triple-A innings.
Yankees prospect Matt Krook has been DEALING in Triple-A…— Farm To Fame (@FarmToFame_) July 2, 2022
July 1: perfect game into the 8th
June 24: 5 perfect relief innings
Over his last 3 appearances he had a streak of 42 STRAIGHT batters retired, 18 of those by strikeout
But he has also had his fair share of “downs”: his ERA is an acceptable 4.15, but his FIP is an even worse 4.95 FIP. His walk issues continue, with 4.47 BB/9, and he has developed a homer problem, too — he has conceded 1.38 long balls per nine frames.
Despite the negatives, there is some optimism around the industry that Krook can reach the bigs. Josh Norris of Baseball America wrote about him recently:
“At his best, Krook has some of the most unforgiving stuff in the upper levels of the minor leagues. His sinker can shatter your bat and his slider can get you to wave right over the top. In his last start, he was at his best. The lefthander rung up his first double-digit strikeout game of the season while also getting seven outs on the ground, leaving just three of his 20 outs to come via flyballs. His command and control are not likely to ever be pinpoint, but he has the pure stuff to reach the big leagues someday soon.”
With his command and control being iffy at best, his ceiling and future as a starter on a first division team are murky. He can, however, carve out a role as a reliever in the big leagues, and there is absolutely no shame in that.
He added a cutter last season to give his repertoire three usable pitches, but seems to lack something to consistently get right-handers out. He has allowed 16 home runs to righties against just one to a lefty hitter. His WHIP against the former is 1.55, and it’s 1.07 vs. the latter. This is a problem for his future as a starter, because the vast majority of the hitters he will see in an MLB rotation will be right-handed.
Even with those flaws, Krook is good enough to be a solid reliever in MLB one day, not just reach the bigs. The bullpen is usually more forgiving in more than one way: it allows pitchers to add a tick or two to their fastballs/sinkers, and more velocity could help cover some of his command deficiencies.
As a starter this year, Krook’s sinker velocity fluctuated a bit on a nightly basis, even collapsing to the 89-90 range at one point according to some reports. He could throw a bit harder in relief, at least in theory, as long as his control doesn’t suffer much.
Matt Krook is doing what he's doing with a fastball that, tonight, topped out at 91 mph.— Conor Foley (@RailRidersTT) July 2, 2022
"I describe it almost as like a 90-mph knuckleball," catcher Max McDowell said. "So, hitters are coming into the box saying this is the weirdest 90, 88 I've ever seen."
He was sitting between 92 and 94 mph in spring training, so he is capable of reaching back for some extra velo. His arsenal, evidently, is at its best when the sinker is in that range.
Matt Krook's stuff looked pretty sharp. 92-94 sinker with a lot of downward action, high-80s cutter, low-80s sweeping slider (a few spinning north of 2800 rpm). This pitch here was a cutter at 88. pic.twitter.com/n9Ms3jAIXY— Lucas (@DBITLefty) March 22, 2022
Unless something changes and he can A) improve his control/command, and B) develop something to neutralize MLB right-handed hitters consistently, Krook’s ceiling appears to be that of a reliever. But there is no shame in that, and the Yankees’ bullpen could potentially have a need for someone like him this year or next.