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Yankees 2023 Season Preview: Tommy Kahnle

The right-hander is back in the Bronx and still has a wicked changeup.

New York Yankees Photo Day Photo by Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty Images

I was excited about the new of old friend Tommy Kahnle returning to the Bronx. Last year when I watched his handful of appearances with the Dodgers, it was clear to me that he still had the juice. There aren’t too many pitchers in the league with as effective of a changeup as him both in and out of the zone.

However, we’ve started in a very familiar position with Kahnle, as he is due to start the season on the IL with bicep tendinitis — the type of injury that can linger for a while if not addressed. The fact that they seem to be taking care of it at this stage in the season is great; however, it’s hard to not be skeptical with Kahnle’s health at this point given the extensive history.

If we take Cashman’s tone for what it is, then the concern doesn’t seem too high with Kahnle’s potential to be on the roster within the first month or so of the season. Kahnle himself has said that he’s worked through this before, too. Assuming a smooth recovery, the Yankees will have a unique right-hander in their pen who has already proved he can handle high-leverage innings with little concern about platoon splits. With that said, let’s do a quick overview of what Kahnle did in LA last season, and what his projections look like for 2023:

2022 Statistics (Dodgers): 12.2 IP, 2.84 ERA, 4.38 FIP, 30.4 K%, 6.5 BB%

2023 ZiPS Projections: 41.3 IP, 3.49 ERA, 3.19 FIP, 27.8 K%, 7.7 BB%

ZiPS is probably just as confident in Kahnle as the Yankees are. On a rate basis, these numbers are near the upper echelon for relievers. When Kahnle is healthy, he is a great option out of the pen. As long as he has the changeup, he will be a successful pitcher. The bigger question with him is where he will fall in the pecking order of Aaron Boone’s decision tree.

Even with the injuries of Kahnle and Lou Trivino, the options for Boone are still quite deep. With the return of Michael King, Boone has his multi-inning Swiss Army knife that can get both lefties and righties out. If we take the knowledge of last season and the playoffs, it’s safe to assume that Clay Holmes, Jonathan Loáisiga, and Wandy Peralta have the late innings locked up. Does that mean Kahnle will be a good candidate to bounce around from the middle to late innings? I think so. His ability to get lefties out will be huge for the team. Peralta is also likely to take a late-inning lane with lefties, and it feels like Kahnle can take the earlier innings. With Scott Effross out for the year, the Yanks will need Kanhle and Marinaccio to routinely take on lefties in the early stages of games.

When Kahnle’s contract was initially announced, I did a deeper dive into his repertoire following the ’22 season and his brief stint with LA. While you’re all probably quite familiar with Kahnle, I’d like to remind you of a few things. First, his in-zone whiff rate on the pitch is elite. Of all pitchers who threw over 100 changeups between 2017 and 2019, he ranks fifth overall in whiff rate in the zone. This is the kind of pitch that he locates wherever he likes and can still get a whiff.

There aren’t many pitchers in the league who have such a skill. My second point reinforces the first. A reason why the changeup is so effective is because of how it traces with the fastball. Out of the end and to the plate, the pitches are nearly identical. But when the changeup begins its break, it has a sharp vertical contrast from the fastball, hence its success in and out of the zone. This type of two pitch mix is a lethal combination.

We will all be pulling for Kahnle to get healthy right away so he can bring his talents, and energy, to this clubhouse. It’s very difficult to measure or have any tangible evidence of clubhouse guys mattering, but countless teammates of Kahnle—including CC Sabathia—always emphasized the impact it has on a team to have somebody like Kahnle who is not only good, but livens the energy each and every day. The baseball season is long! It doesn’t hurt to have a few dudes who you know will bring it every day. If all goes well, Kahnle will join the team in April or May and miss bats with that invisible changeup.