Baseball is a strange game. Back in March, you could have told me that Carlos Rodón, Luis Severino, Nestor Cortes, and Frankie Montas would combine for a sub-zero WAR total, with the Yankees missing the playoffs, and I would have nodded and probably asked few follow-ups. Tell me the same thing and add that pitching might not have actually been the number one reason they missed the playoffs, though, and I’d have raised three eyebrows, if I had them.
In spite of the big name flops on the staff, the Yankees still had their share of good pitching this year, and Matt Blake and the team’s pitching development operation has proven consistently that they’re among the best in the game at tweaking arsenals and getting pitchers to get the most out of what they’re good at. So, why not put together a list at some of the most effective individual offerings we saw out of Yankees pitchers in 2023?
There are a few parameters to establish before running down this fun little list. First, as far as the run values themselves go, I’m using Baseball Savant’s version. Linear Weights – that’s the value stat you’ll find on FanGraphs – are too broad a stat to have ton of value, since it looks at nothing but the change in win expectancy after a given pitch. There’s also PLV, the equivalent stat you’ll find over at Pitcher List. It’s quite innovative, but much of its usefulness comes from its predictive value, rather than its assessment of actual performance. That is, if you’re trying to predict what will happen next year, PLV is awesome. But in terms of what actually happened on the field, we’re sticking with Baseball Savant, which gives you the same “results matter” methodology that you get with Linear Weights, but with substantially more details and context.
There are also two categories of Savant’s Run Value, one of which is what we’ll be talking about here. First, there’s cumulative Run Value. That answers the simple question of how many more or fewer runs were scored over the course of a season than you’d expect from an average version of that particular pitch. It’s certainly useful, but it’s also a cumulative stat, which means it’s directly tied to how much a pitch was thrown. It’s a stat that’s good for telling us that Gerrit Cole’s fastball is really good compared to other starting pitchers and their fastballs, but looking back at the season a team just had, the order in which these names are presented doesn’t tell us a ton, even though the numbers are interesting.
You see the column to the left of the run values, though? That’s what we’re really looking for. So, all that being said, let’s look at the five best pitches on the Yankees staff this past season by RV/100, which just takes a pitch’s overall run value and scales it to 100 pitches, which takes care of sample size issues. Let’s work backwards:
Ron Marinaccio’s Four-Seamer (1.8 RV/100, 55% usage, 29.1% whiff, .352 xwOBA)
Michael King’s Four-Seamer (1.8 RV/100, 22% usage, 25% whiff, .267 xwOBA)
The duality of the four-seamer, huh? Identical run values, but not identical pitches. This is a perfect example of the difference between a stat having assessment value versus predictive value. Marinaccio might have gotten enough positive results early in the season to keep this number respectable, but we all know his fastball wasn’t quite what it was as a rookie, and ultimately, the batted ball numbers — and ERA — bore it out.
So, with all that context, you probably wouldn’t predict that he could maintain that run value unless some other things change. What you also probably would predict is that Michael King’s four-seamer, despite having technically been just as effective on a rate basis, will outshine Marinaccio’s moving forward. He throws hard, has some interesting spin characteristics, and most importantly, it plays very well with the rest of his arsenal. I might take Marinaccio’s presence here with a grain of salt, but King? This won’t be the last you read of him.
Albert Abreu’s Slider (2.0 RV/100, 28% usage, 39% whiff, .270 xwOBA)
Jonathan Loáisiga’s Sinker (2.0 RV/100, 70% usage, 12.4% whiff, .253 xwOBA)
The fact that Albert Abreu can throw this kind of slider with regularity is going to keep getting him chances on a big league roster for years to come. It’s a great pitch. The fact that his fastballs are about as bad as his slider is good might also make him carry on as a waiver wire mainstay all the same. Such is the nature of the relief pitcher!
Loáisiga might truly have one of the best sinkers of the game, and even though it’s only good enough for seventh on this list, the number of pitchers who can throw a sinker seven out of 10 times and have it maintain that level of effectiveness are few and far between. Perhaps the primary driver of Loáisiga’s transformation into a high-end reliever was the Yankees’ realization that it’s a good enough pitch that he’d actually be better by throwing it more often and not worrying about the accompanying decrease in whiffs and strikeouts. Seems to be working!
Greg Weissert’s Sinker (2.3 RV/100, 35% usage, 11% whiff, .380 xwOBA)
Ooh, interesting. As a classic up-and-down guy, Weissert doesn’t necessarily have any standout tools, but he does have the classic bowling-ball sinker that Blake and friends have clearly been enamored with in recent years. The expected stats don’t like it, but the results were there enough to the point that it’s something worth thinking about heading into next spring.
Ian Hamilton’s “Slider” (2.5 RV/100, 54% usage, 43% whiff, .233 xwOBA)
You just knew the Slambio was going to make an appearance, right? Alex Eisert, Jeff Middleton, and myself have all written about it in various places, and even beyond the results it’s a great pitch: a changeup grip, a slider’s release, and the result is the closest thing the majors has to a pure gyroball. Looking forward to seeing much more of this one next year.
Michael King’s Changeup (3.3 RV/100, 15% usage, 41% whiff, .217 xwOBA)
Clay Holmes’s Sweeper (3.3 RV/100, 10% usage, 44% whiff, .078 xwOBA)
This is why we need to be excited about the prospect of Michael King in the starting rotation next. Part of the issue there was that King’s sinker is still pretty stinky, and while he managed to offset it by developing a good four-seamer, the fact remains that sinkers and sweepers are both extremely vulnerable to opposite-handed hitters, and if you can’t get out opposite-handed hitters, it’s really hard to be a starter. Now, instead of the cambio being an afterthought, King has a genuine weapon against lefties that isn’t a fastball. It might really be that simple.
Let’s skip Holmes, because...
Clay Holmes’s Slider (3.4 RV/100, 21% usage, 43% whiff, .176 xwOBA)
Good LORD can this dude spin a breaking ball. If he knew what area code he was putting his sinker in more than ~40 percent of the time, he’d probably be the best reliever in baseball. As painful as some of his outings can be, it’s pretty special to have even one pitch that can bamboozle hitters like these breakers do, much less two of them.
Ryan Weber’s Sinker (5.0 RV/100, 52% usage,8% whiff, .301 xwOBA)
Huh? What? I mean, I could definitely raise the sample size here past 25 plate appearances, and Weber would disappear, but what would be the fun in that? And even in small-sample world, that’s still the seventh-best number of any pitch in the major leagues. And in spite of what the data says, I can see it! Watch this guy throw an 88 mph fastball fully in the strike zone that makes Trent Grisham think he’s about to get drilled in the ribs:
Remember what I said about the Yankees and bowling ball sinkers? This is one of those, except it’s probably going to be the slowest fastball a hitter is likely to see in a given series. It’s sure not nasty in the traditional sense, but sometimes a change of pace is all you need.
Are these, in a vacuum, the filthiest pitches on the Yankees staff? Of course not! But in terms of results, they were simply the most effective on a per-pitch basis. With most of the above cast of characters set to return in 2024, it’ll be interesting to see who can make a repeat appearance.