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Victor González brings intriguing sinker/slider mix to Yankees bullpen

The Bombers have a new ground ball specialist joining the ranks of their bullpen.

Los Angeles Dodgers v Washington Nationals Photo by Jess Rapfogel/Getty Images

Yesterday, the Yankees completed their third piece of business this winter, trading top-ten organizational prospect Trey Sweeney to the Dodgers for lefty reliever Victor González and infield prospect Jorbit Vivas. The trade allows the Dodgers to clear up space on the 40-man roster to add Shohei Ohtani and Joe Kelly, while the Yankees get to upgrade from Sweeney to Vivas while addressing the shortage of southpaw relievers in their ‘pen. Andrés will have a deep dive on what to expect from Vivas tomorrow, so today I’d like to profile the newest member of the Yankees’ relief corps.

Signed by the Dodgers out of Mexico as an international free agent in 2012, González made his big league debut in 2020 and was immediately one of the better relievers across the league during the COVID-shortened season. His 1.69 FIP placed sixth among qualified reliever, 1.40 ERA earned 10th place, and 0.6 fWAR among the top-30. He walked only two batters in his 20.1 innings of work without giving up a home run, and parlayed that success into a high-leverage bullpen role where he pitched to a 2.70 ERA in eight appearances including earning the victory in the Dodgers’ World Series-clinching Game 6 win over the Rays. He didn’t quite hit the same heights in the subsequent three seasons including missing all of 2022 after undergoing elbow surgery, but there’s still a lot to like about the Yankees’ newest reliever.

González excels in two areas: inducing groundballs and keeping the ball in the ballpark. Since his debut, his 57.3 percent groundball rate ranks 19th among relievers with at least 80 innings pitched — giving the Yankees three of the top-20 groundball relievers alongside Clay Holmes and Jonathan Loáisiga — while his home runs per nine rate of 0.50 places him 12th during that span. I’m sure the Yankees would love to be getting the 2020 version that placed in the 98th percentile or better in groundball rate, barrel rate, walk rate, chase rate, and xwOBA, but even if that iteration was a mirage of the shortened season, González has shown he can be a perfectly serviceable replacement for Wandy Peralta.

There are several similarities between González and the recently-departed lefty reliever. Both southpaws throw out of low three-quarters arm slots that give their sinkers above-average tailing movement armside. González employs his sinker a good deal more than Peralta, throwing it almost two-thirds of the time in 2023, with González’s clocking in about one mph slower than Peralta’s.

While Peralta leaned heavily on his changeup as his out pitch, González relies on a traditional gyro slider that, while its movement profile won’t jump off the page, is still a nasty pitch when paired off his running sinker. He used the pitch 30 percent of the time in 2023 — most often in two-strike counts — with the pitch racking up a 46.8 percent whiff rate and 37 percent strikeout rate.

It’s the changeup, however, that has me most intrigued. He threw it just 6.5 percent of the time and exclusively to righties, and I wonder if he would benefit from upping its usage. Given all that Matt Blake learned as Peralta’s pitching coach over the last three seasons, I wonder if he could pass on some of that knowledge of the changeup to González. The one he throws is already an impressive pitch, holding opposing hitters to a measly .179 xwOBA while carrying a 31.3 percent whiff rate and 36.4 percent strikeout rate, with half of the changeups thrown in a two-strike count resulting in a strikeout.

González is far from the flashiest player the Yankees will add this winter, but for every star player, it’s also important to improve around the margins wherever one can. The Yankees have certainly done that by turning Trey Sweeney into a fellow minor league infielder and a major league reliever. With Wandy Peralta departed in free agency, González gives the Yankees a readymade replacement, joining Nick Ramirez and Matt Krook to form a trio of lefties in the Bombers bullpen.