Did the Yankees find another Clay Holmes-level gem?

mlb: pittsburgh pirates at los angeles dodgers, yerry de los santos, yankees
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Yankees may struggle to add competent pieces at a number of critical positions, but one area they continuously succeed is the bullpen.

Over the past few off-seasons, the Yankees have landed tremendous talent for next to no cost. The trend started with Clay Holmes in 2022, a 30-year-old relief pitcher who has a nasty sinker. Last year, he posted a 2.86 ERA across 63 innings, including a 65.5% ground ball rate, one of the best metrics on the team.

Yankees’ Success with Low-Cost Acquisitions

Last off-season, they landed Ian Hamilton, a journeyman in the minor-league system who finally landed with the Yanks and put together an elite campaign. Over 58 innings, Hamilton recorded a 2.64 ERA, including a 77.2% left-on-base rate and 55.3% ground ball rate. Both Holmes and Hamilton developed into high-leverage closers, allowing the Yankees to play the hot hand at any given moment.

mlb: new york yankees at tampa bay rays, ian hamilton
Aug 27, 2023; St. Petersburg, Florida, USA; New York Yankees relief pitcher Ian Hamilton (71) throws a pitch against the Tampa Bay Rays in the fifth inning at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Potential New Addition: Yerry De Los Santos

However, they may have stumbled upon another quality bullpen arm who’s just 25 years old, having spent his entire career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, similar to Holmes before his transition to the Yankees. Yerry De Los Santos, a right-handed pitcher who tossed 24.1 innings last season and recorded a 3.33 ERA, signed with the Yankees on a minor-league deal that could transition to an MLB contract.

De Los Santos only recorded 6.66 strikeouts per nine but enjoyed a 70.9% left-on-base rate and 54.9% ground ball rate, but did struggle with some elevated walk metrics. Seemingly, any pitcher that has a good sinker tends to translate well with the Bombers and pitching coach Matt Blake. De Los Santos has enjoyed some good strikeout numbers in the past, but his 54.9% ground ball rate will excite the Yankees, especially since Holmes is in the final year of arbitration and could depart in free agency next year.

Diving into his specific pitch mix, De Los Santos features a sinker, slider, and change-up. His sinker generated a .167 batting average against within a .241 slugging rate across 244 total pitches and 54 plate appearances. His slider could use a bit more improvement, producing a .267 batting average and .600 slugging percentage, but that is something the Yankees will dive into.

It only produces 3.5% inches of horizontal break but 33.2 inches of vertical movement. Adding a bit more bread to his slider would go a long way toward creating more deception and more swings and misses. Over 19 at-bats, he also collected five strikeouts with his change-up, a pitch the Yankees may want to utilize a bit more often, especially since it produces 29 inches of vertical drop, 2% better than the average pitcher.

There are plenty of reasons to believe that the Yankees can maximize De Los Santos and find value where teams may have disregarded, helping support the bullpen. However, most are not worried about relief pitchers, they want to see major offensive improvements, notably in key outfield positions. It is a long off-season, though, and general manager Brian Cashman will leave no stone unturned.