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How does Ian Hamilton fit into an improved Bomber bullpen?

The slambio-toting right-hander was making his way to the top of the depth chart before his injury.

Ian Hamilton in his last game before going on the IL.
Ian Hamilton in his last game before going on the IL.
John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

The slambio is coming back.

During Sunday’s YES broadcast, Meredith Marakovits reported that reliever Ian Hamilton — owner of the unique slider-change (or slider-cambio) mashup — was poised for activation during the Yankees’ upcoming series against the A’s beginning tonight. Prior to incurring a groin injury just over a month ago, Hamilton was arguably the Yankees’ best reliever — with a 1.23 ERA and 1.77 FIP across 22 innings — and seemed poised to continue earning higher and higher leverage roles. That, coupled with his unique pitch and remarkable comeback story, made him a fan favorite.

His return is especially welcome news for a struggling Bombers squad; even after taking both series of their homestand, their record since Aaron Judge went down is still just 7-10.

Yet, the Yankees’ bullpen has been a notable bright spot — in Hamilton’s absence, Yankee relievers have mustered a 2.42 ERA and 3.31 FIP, good for second and fourth-best respectively in the majors during that span, in 126.1 innings. A lot of that is because Clay Holmes, whom Hamilton previously seemed on the verge of overtaking on the bullpen depth chart, has pitched to a 1.13/2.33 ERA/FIP in 16 innings since Hamilton’s injury.

Holmes’ rebound from a poor second half last year seems sustainable. He’s changed the shape of his slider, adding more depth en route to cementing its status as his most platoon-neutral offering while he continues to attack righties east-to-west with his sinker and sweeper. The increased depth and usage of the slider have paid off when it comes to Holmes’ splits: last year lefties managed a .309 wOBA against him, compared to .267 this season. His early-season inconsistency this year appears to have been a small-sample mirage.

While Holmes has improved his standing against opposite-handed hitters, another lefty-stifling righty has returned in Hamilton’s absence: Tommy Kahnle. He’s held righties to a wOBA just three points worse than lefties across his career thanks to a changeup that has graded out as above average according to the Stuff+ pitch model, which can be counted on even in small samples. Kahnle has tossed 9.2 scoreless innings on the season so far, striking out 10 against just one walk.

Speaking of vaunted changeups, Ron Marinaccio has also held his own since Hamilton went down, throwing 15.2 frames and yielding just two earned runs. He’s actually posted reverse splits in his young career, holding lefties to just a .250 wOBA with righties at .279. In addition to an above-average changeup, Stuff+ also looks favorably upon his heater, another platoon-neutral pitch.

The right-handed Hamilton’s ability to hold his own against hitters of either handedness, thanks to the slambio, was a major strength for him earlier this year: lefties managed a paltry .157 wOBA against him compared to righties’ .298 mark. Luckily for Hamilton, his is a skillset that won’t become redundant even as several relievers have neutralized their splits in his absence. At the same time, their excellent play will force Hamilton to prove himself in order to return to a high-leverage role.

Hamilton’s no stranger to proving himself; he’s had to do so several times since he sustained facial fractures back in 2019. So there’s no reason he won’t end up in critical relief situations again — and soon.