The Yankees add an interesting bullpen arm who could return to old form

Syndication: Journal Sentinel
Mark Hoffman / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

Following their four-game sweep of the Houston Astros, the New York Yankees struck a deal with the Chicago White Sox to acquire right-handed reliever Jake Cousins. The right-hander had spent his entire career with the Milwaukee Brewers before being dealt to the Houston Astros midseason last year, finding himself outrighted in September and signing with the White Sox after. He would have a strong Spring Training, but with Chicago favoring some of their young in-house options over Cousins, they’d send him down to Triple-A instead.

Now, he finds himself on the Bronx Bombers, and this could be an under-the-radar bullpen arm who adds serious value to this bullpen if they’re able to hone his stuff and skillset.

Jake Cousins Could Leverage Unique Arm Slot To Bolster the Yankees’ Bullpen

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at Baltimore Orioles
Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

One of the most under-discussed aspects of pitching is how someone releases the ball, as that has a huge effect on movement and perception from hitters. Take Nestor Cortes for example, who combines a lower-slot release with over 20 inches of Induced Vertical Break to create a fastball that gets plenty of strikeouts despite sitting 90-92 MPH on his heater. Clay Holmes throws a bowling ball sinker that’s made even harder to hit thanks to how steep his release height is, and if you think teams aren’t paying attention to those details, you’re behind the eight ball.

Jake Cousins has a unique release point, throwing his sinker from a much lower slot than most pitchers while also having a crossbody action that causes him to have an extreme Vertical Approach Angle (VAA) and Horizontal Approach Angle (HAA), which are important metrics for deciphering between good and bad pitches. How you throw a baseball can affect how well a pitch performs because hitters are reactionary, meaning they’re going based on the information they process when a ball approaches the plate to judge where a pitch will be and make a decision from there.

Jake Cousins’ best pitch is his sweeping slider, which generates over 11 inches of horizontal movement and has a 5.1° HAA, meaning it’s approaching the plate with a sharp angle, which can be extremely deceptive. That sharp angle means that his slider will generate more swings and misses when located away from right-handed batters, as they struggle to read where his slider is going. In that tweet, Ryan Mountcastle swings at a slider that would make most viewers cringe, but let’s get into his mind to understand why he swung at that pitch.

The sharp angle at which he throws his slider causes the pitch to look like it’s going to end up in the strike zone, and Mountcastle is trying to swing at a pitch on 0-2 to avoid a strikeout, but the slider is actually headed right into the dirt where he has no chance of making contact. It’s no surprise that batters have whiffed at his slider 49.8% of the time with a .238 wOBA allowed, a true buzzsaw pitch that can be impossible to barrel up or even make contact with.

Yankees, Jake Cousins

His slider is the bedrock of his arsenal, but his two fastballs present interesting offerings that might be a few tweaks away from allowing him to take off. The biggest issue that he has stems from a lack of command, as not only does it result in walks, but also in pitches that are over the heart of the plate for damage contact. If Jake Cousins wants to find the success he had in 2021 and 2022 where he had a 20.7% K-BB% and 2.70 ERA, he’ll have to be more consistent in the execution of his pitches.

One of the weapons I’m most intrigued by is his four-seamer, as despite having the lowest Stuff+ grade in his arsenal (94), his -4.6° VAA and low release height give it a flatter angle with good velocity. Batters have a 39% Whiff Rate and .318 wOBA against it, and while the sinker has never been a plus pitch for him in terms of results, it could be harder to pick up when thrown alongside another fastball. It’s all about changing looks and movement profiles, and there’s already a blueprint for success here.

Since 2021, only 10 right-handers released on average from a wider slot than Jake Cousins, and that should be plenty of fun to work with for the organization. The Yankees love their sinker-slider pitchers, especially out of the bullpen, and he could join the long list of bullpen success stories under Matt Blake and Sam Briend, who head one of the best pitching labs in the league. Desi Druschel, who is the Yankees’ pitching design coach, has helped various arms in the organization craft some of the nastiest pitches in the league, and the Yankees are a great landing spot for someone like Cousins.

The unique nature of his arm slot and his strong movement profiles could make this a fun addition if the Yankees can help him return to his 2021-2022 form, and Jake Cousins might just be their next great-value pickup in the bullpen.

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