The New York Yankees bullpen has garnered a lot of attention in 2016. For good reason, too. The trio of Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman is as fierce as it gets in baseball right now. No group, on the whole, has a higher K/9 rate than the Yankees' bullpen does as their lofty 10.73 mark leads all of baseball to this point in the season. That has a lot to do with Betances, Miller and Chapman, each of whom have shown a knack for inducing swings and misses and sending batters back to the dugout listlessly.
He may not be part of that terrific trio, but Kirby Yates has been pitching well, too. The 29-year-old came up through the Tampa Bay Rays organization in 2009 before finally being called up to the majors in 2014. He appeared in 37 games with the Rays that year and in 36 innings he showed flashes of filth with 10.5 K/9. However, Yates was plagued by an ERA near 4.00 with his FIP and xFIP hovering around that mark as well.
2015 came around and it was more of the same from Kirby. Only this time, despite his BABIP sharply declining from north of .300 to below .250, his ERA, FIP and xFIP skyrocketed. This was due to a rough stretch of games in late June and early August where Yates allowed 10 runs in just 5.1 innings pitched for a cringeworthy 17.65 ERA. His K/9 was still high after throwing 21 strikeouts in 20.1 innings pitched, so it was clear that Yates had the right stuff, but just was not putting it together.
Enter 2016, where Yates has pitched awfully well for the Yankees as one of their overlooked pieces to the puzzle. Through 12.1 innings pitched, Yates has struck out 15 batters, good for a K/9 of 10.95, with a 2.19 ERA, 2.61 FIP and 3.62 xFIP. That K/9 puts him in the company of accomplished relievers such as David Robertson, Kelvin Herrera, Nick Vincent and Boone Logan as well.
The money pitches for Yates this season have been the four seam fastball and the slider. His fastball has been especially good, as hitters have hit just .143 against it with only one extra-base hit being logged. It also forced the most whiffs in the month of April, as Yates picked up 15 of them from his fastball. As for Yates' slider, he has only yielded a BA of .222 and SLG of .278 with one extra-base hit much like the fastball. The slider picked up five whiffs, second-most of all his pitches used in April. His changeup, meanwhile, has yet to induce a base knock. However, he has only gone to that well eight times this season and has yet to at all in May.
It is, of course, worth noting that we are merely 12.1 innings into Yates' season and hot starts to the season are no strangers to, well, just about anyone. After all, Chris Martin in particular got off to a hot start just last season with similar numbers. A few bad stints in May and June later and Martin was hardly ever heard from again until September. Whether the same fate awaits Yates is left to be seen, but proceeding with caution with players as volatile as relievers can be is probably the best choice.
With that said, it's possible that Yates is getting the pendulum to swing his way with regards to his luck after his stomach-churning effort last year. If that proves to be the case then the Yankees have themselves yet another asset in the bullpen whose strength is striking batters out. As if they needed another one of those.