There is absolutely no reason to believe that the Yankees will be signing any more players to major league free agent deals. The market for starting pitching has dried up and there seems to be a legitimate lack of funds available to improve the team. At this point in the offseason, it’s hard to advocate for anyone still out there, but that doesn’t mean the roster is complete. In order to add more pitching depth, the Yankees should pursue more minor league deals than they have so far.
The Yankees have signed Ruben Tejada as a potential replacement infielder and Ji-Man Choi will serve as depth for first base, but the pitching appears to be lacking. The Yankees might be convinced that their starting pitching depth is enough for them, but how about relief? They just went through a purge of the team’s last round of bullpen saviors and now we should just cross our fingers and hope the next batch does better? High-leverage relievers are nice, but competent middle relief can’t be ignored, which is why the Yankees should pursue Matt Albers on a minor league deal.
2016 Statistics: 58 G, 51.1 IP, 6.31 ERA, 5.80 FIP, 5.3 K/9, 3.3 BB/9
Age on Opening Day 2017: 34
Position: Right-handed starting pitcher
From 2012 to 2015, Albers pitched to a 2.32 ERA with a 3.90 FIP over 170.2 innings, essentially a full season for a starting pitcher. Those are pretty solid numbers for a reliever, numbers that would likely get a pitcher a multi-year deal if he had just negotiated differently during that span. After the 2013 season, Albers went year-to-year for the next three seasons until his luck ran out in 2016 and he put in an ugly line of work. Now here he is, without work in the middle of January.
To his credit, Albers has been fantastic at generating ground balls throughout his career as evidenced by his 52.3% ground ball rate. He uses his sinker to shoot the ball down in the zone and keep hitters off balance. They typically top the ball and hit an infield grounder. This year, however, he had trouble keeping the ball low, resulting in one of the lowest ground ball rates and one of the highest home run rates of his career.
As you can see, the majority of his pitches are much lower in the zone from 2013-2015 than they are during the 2016 season. The higher a pitch is, the more hittable the pitch typically is for a batter. Albers’ pitches went from just below the heart of the zone to being right down the middle, resulting in a very ugly year. It’s hard to know why exactly this happened, but it likely has something to do with his release point.
As seen in the gif above, his release point has continuously dropped over a period of four seasons. Albers spent a significant amount of time on the disabled list with a shoulder injury in 2014, and that is where you can see a dramatic turn in his arm slot. It’s possible that the continued drop of his release point finally took its toll on him this past season. Now it’s just a matter of whether or not more time will lead to a healthier shoulder, or if Albers can accept where he is now and figure out how to adapt.
Right-handed middle relievers are certainly a dime a dozen, but one that has shown a history of generating consistent ground balls should not be ignored by a team playing in the likes of Yankee Stadium. There’s a chance that this is the end of Albers being a good, reliable reliever, which is why he can’t find a major league deal right now. If the Yankees think there is even a chance he can recover his past value, a minor league deal won’t harm anyone.