New York Yankees: Blake Treinen could be the perfect Tommy Kahnle replacement

Nick Nielsen
Should the New York Mets target Blake Treinen?
Aug 16, 2019; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Athletics relief pitcher Blake Treinen (39) reacts during the seventh inning against the Houston Astros at Oakland Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

It seems as if for however good of a bullpen the New York Yankees have, it can always get better. While a back-end of Britton, Ottavino, and Aroldis Chapman is still amongst the best in baseball, why not bolster it further. Tommy Kahnle officially hit FA a couple of weeks back, after declining an option to the minors proposed by New York.

The jury is still out on whether the team decides to bring him back on a multi-year deal for cheaper, but as of now, he’s fielding interest. While losing Kahnle to his injury hurt the team — as prior to him getting hurt, he was one of the most dominant out of the arsenal of arms — it allowed guys like Jonathan Loaisiga and Mike King to see some innings. Although that alone didn’t crush this team, going forward, it should be a hole that should see addressing. A great potential plug for that hole this next season is Blake Treinen. Treinen may not be as dominant as he once was with Oakland, but he would be a great signing nonetheless.

For the Yankees, there’s never going to be a massive lack at any individual position. Luckily for Yankees fans, the team’s reputation and devout fans hold ownership accountable for results.

Signing Treinen would be adding to a room of luxuries, but it would certainly be a signing that could help this team a ton. While bullpen arms are becoming more and more prevalent and important in today’s game, the Yankees have always been a team with a sound pen. Whether it was the David Robertson and Boone Logan pow-wow I grew up watching whilst Mo anchored the closer’s role, or past examples alike, the Yankees know the importance in having a balanced bullpen. Even with the talent already there, Treinen would add depth and solidity.

The appeal to signing him is obvious; former all-star, 2018 AL Reliever of the Year, and now a World Series champion. Yet, he’s not attracting as much interest as one would believe. Adding to that, it is looking more likely that he ends up accepting a multi-year deal worth an AAV less than $10,000,000 per. If the Yankees are to be looking into bolstering the bullpen, nabbing Treinen would immediately address that.

While his 2020 season wasn’t elite by any means, it was a huge step forward from the disastrous ’19 year. Though Treinen may not be able to find that incredible form that he had in 2018 with Oakland, to say he’s a solid and talented arm is completely fair. Below is a comparison of his previous 3 seasons (info via Fangraphs):

2018 80.1 11.20 2.35 0.22 0.78 1.82
2019 58.2 9.05 5.68 1.38 4.91 5.14
2020 25.2 7.71 2.81 0.35 3.86 3.15

The most obvious thing to note with the above statistics is just how bad his 2019 year was. The main reason behind the lack of excitement around Treinen has to be the doubts about his health and form. While 2020 was a huge step forward, and his advanced metrics back that up, even more, it still was too small of a sample to be entirely convinced. Unfortunately for Treinen, him hitting the market after COVID hurt his chances drastically. With players coming off “prove-it” seasons in general, especially for relievers, there is very little room for error. To do so across a 60 game season following a horrendous financial year for the league, that room for error virtually disappears.

One of the more intriguing things with relievers is the amount of volatility involved with them. Relief pitchers have a difficult life in the MLB, as every pitch means more later in games. This offseason, there are an abundance of guys that were once considered elite, now having to find a new team. A few of the names in the same boat as Treinen include: Pedro Baez, Trevor Rosenthal, and of course, former Yankee David Robertson amongst countless others. It is the unfortunate reality in that there are more and more teams focusing on their bullpens internally rather than splashing big money on aging arms. While relievers are becoming more and more of a necessity, the money for them is not going with the demand. For the Yankees, however, there shouldn’t be any hesitancy around a bullpen-arm, simply because of their age. I think seeing Treinen in Pinstripes would be a welcomed sight, and if this last season was anything telling for the future, he may be a perfect complement to Zack Britton.

Looking closer at Treinen’s 2020 season, in comparison specifically to Britton’s, there are some good underlying similarities (info via Fangraphs):

GB% HR/FB % LOB% Soft Contact % Barrel %
BRITTON 71.7% 0.00% 68.4% 28.3% 3.8%
TREINEN 64.0% 9.1% 57.0% 22.7% 1.3%

First thing worth noting is that Britton didn’t allow a HR over the 19.0 innings he tossed. That feat is crazy, but back in his ’16-’17 prime, Britton only allowed 2 HR those two years, over an astounding 104.1 IP. I will say that this last season is a bit of an outlier for both guys, in some ways positive and others negative. Britton’s LOB% of 68.4% was his worst since 2012, and Treinen’s of 57.0% was the worst in his career — by 13.8%. However, the barrel % for Treinen of 1.3% was a career-best, showing that he didn’t give up too much “sweet spot” contact. The interesting thing to observe with Treinen going forward is if he continues to shift his pitching style toward a ground-ball pitcher, similar to how he once was back in Washington. Britton has mastered the art of how to induce soft contact and majority grounders, and it looks as if Blake Treinen could be the next to follow. While his GB% of 64.0% is nowhere near the Britton levels of consistently floating in the mid-high 70’s % that we’ve seen, it is the highest it’s been since prior to him joining Oakland back in 2017.

To be honest, I feel as if the 2018 season was the outlier for Treinen’s career. While he’s always had solid stuff, in terms of great velocity and movement, he’s never been a strikeout reliant pitcher. When he joined the A’s, something changed, thus seeing his K/9 balloon up to 11.20. For his career as a whole, aside from that year, he has been consistently hovering around a K/9 around 8.5. Treinen and Britton could form a very tangible combination between the two, and especially given the opposite handedness of the two, it could make for matchup nightmares down the stretch. Assuming we see more of the 2020 Treinen than the 2019 one, that could be a signing that helps this team immensely going forward.