The injury to Ian Hamilton, alongside the suspension of Domingo German following the use of a foreign substance in his outing against the Toronto Blue Jays, leaves the Yankees puzzled as to what they can do in order to fill in for these two key pieces. Hamilton’s arguably been the Yankees’ best reliever, and while Domingo German hasn’t blown anyone away, his 3.75 ERA and 88 ERA- have made him the second-best starter on a battered Yankee team. With one of the few remaining SPs on the roster Randy Vasquez struggling in Triple-A, they could use more of a bullpen game to piece together two starts in German’s absence.
Matt Krook has arguably been the Yankees’ best reliever in their entire MiLB system, and with his multi-inning versatility and left-handedness, the Yankees could turn to him to be part of the solution.
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An Elite Four-Pitch Mix
Matt Krook’s been able to incorporate the cutter and changeup more to his sinker-sweeper pitch mix, and it’s yielded excellent results thus far. One of the biggest things Krook struggles with is walks, and while he still does struggle with them, he’s been able to get enough swings and misses for it not to matter. His sinker generates 15.9″ of horizontal break whereas his sweeper generates 16.7″ of horizontal sweep in the opposite direction, and pitches with large amounts of break tend to get swung at way less. For those unaware, pitchers typically succeed when batters swing, and while that sounds a bit confusing, the results speak for themselves.
When batters swing in 2023, they have a .295 wOBA, whereas batters have a wOBA north of .400 whenever they do not, and that’s because throwing strikes reliably is extremely difficult. Sure, you could just try to throw it over the heart of the plate, but a ~90 MPH sinker from a lefty being thrown right down the middle to a powerful right-handed hitter like Vladimir Guerreror Jr. would probably result in that sinker becoming a souvenir for a fan in deep left field. With that in mind, Krook developed a cut-fastball that has just 0.6″ of horizontal sweep, making it an easier pitch to reliably generate swings on.
As for the changeup, it’s a pitch that Krook’s been reliably able to use against opposite-handed batters to generate strikeouts, and with a 45% Whiff% so far this season, it’s certainly done the job. There’s a reason Krook has a 49.1% K%, and that’s because all four of his pitches can be used in a variety of roles to generate all types of strikeout action. His sweeping slider is one of the most eye-popping pitches in his arsenal, with a 47.6% Whiff% and measly 57.9 MPH Exit Velocity against. Batters cannot hit this pitch, and when they do, it’s typically in the form of harmless contact.
The large break on the pitch alongside the arm angle Krook delivers from adds even more deception, but his bread-and-butter pitch is his sinker, which he uses over a third of the time, and it’s performed extremely well early on. With a 37% Whiff% and 79.2 MPH Exit Velocity against, this pitch excels at generating groundballs on top of the fact that it’s been a great whiff pitch for him as well. I expect the whiffs to regress at the Major League level for obvious reasons, but when your worst whiff pitch is a cutter that generates a 28.6% Whiff%, that means you’re doing something right.
All of these pitches serve a distinct role in his arsenal and his rather even distribution of his mix makes him unpredictable. For a right-handed hitter, will he try a down-and-away changeup for a chase or a backfoot sweeper? Could he go with a backdoor cutter or a sinker you swing over the top of? As a lefty, the sweeper down-and-away or cutter upstairs could both prove to be dangerous and if he wants to jam a lefty with a sinker or changeup, he certainly can. There are different ways to incorporate each he throws in a variety of situations, and that’s why he’s pitching to a 1.42 ERA in the early going.
With all of that in mind, it’s also important to note that since Matt Krook is a former starter, there are creative ways the Yankees could incorporate him.
The Perfect Opener For the Yankees?
While Jimmy Cordero was awesome in his first MLB start with the Yankees as an opener, I believe that Matt Krook would be the perfect option for this role. As a left-handed pitcher who can throw as many as three innings in an outing, he could be used to go through an opponent’s lineup one time but force a team to also have to throw out plenty of righties to try to get hits off of Krook. It wouldn’t work with Jhony Brito following him since both perform better against lefties than righties, but using an arm like Clarke Schmidt as a piggyback arm instead of a full-time starter could work excellently.
Schmidt is terrible against left-handed batters this season, and Krook would create a deterrent for the opponent to even think about stacking their lineup with lefties. They’d end up depleting their entire bench by the 3rd or 4th inning to try to crack Schmidt, and if Krook/Schmidt can get you into the sixth inning, you could then turn it to the backend of your bullpen for the final big outs. This strategy should yield great results for the Yankees, and potentially help Clarke Schmidt find confidence in a unique role. It’s clear that his stuff is there, but he’s just not made out to be a full-time starter.
While many dislike the opener strategy, it’s worked extremely well for some of the best teams in baseball, and considering the strength of the Yankees’ bullpen despite a myriad of injuries, they could use that to their advantage. One could argue that Deivi Garcia should be the one to take on that role, but with his spotty command in Triple-A, there’s no real reason to promote him over a clearly better and more prepared arm for big league action.
Yes, the Rays use the opener and that’s partially because they try to cut corners financially, but it’s also because the strategy works. Both the 2020 Dodgers and 2021 Braves featured bullpen games on their route to baseball immortality, and it would be a bit insane to chalk up a team like the Dodgers to just a budget-slashing penny-pinching organization. It’s not always pretty, and the Yankees have been burnt by the opener in the past, but judging a strategy used with Deivi Garcia and JA Happ seems completely disingenuous, bad pitchers pitched bad, that happens.
Deploying Matt Krook as the opener and Clarke Schmidt as the bulk guy, could dramatically improve the results they’re currently getting from Schmidt’s time through the order, and if they’re effective, we could see them give the Yankees five or six innings routinely, which would shorten the game and allow the Yankees to deploy Wandy/Holmes/Marinaccio/King without much worry of running out of arms. The injury to Ian Hamilton hurts this strategy a lot since he’s a multi-inning option, but the Yankees could look to bring back Colten Brewer, who recently returned from the IL and recorded some big outs for the Yankees early in the season.
If they were in a situation where they were up by 3+ runs or down by 3+ runs, they could simply have Krook/Schmidt/Brewer try to cover all nine innings, effectively saving their big guns in the backend of the bullpen, and while the return of arms like Tommy Kahnle and Luis Severino will only make this strategy stronger, they’re still currently capable of pulling it off. If you wanted to argue that Krook should be used in a more traditional role, I wouldn’t disagree, but the Yankees currently have the back end of their bullpen sorted out.
Marinaccio has struggled lately, but we know his true talent better exceeds his current performance. Clay Holmes hasn’t allowed a run in over a week, with a +0.43 Win Probability Added and just one walk in his last 6.1 IP, Wandy Peralta simply doesn’t seem to be scared of anyone, and Michael King has been an elite-level reliever for the Yankees this season. They’ll feel comfortable going to any of them in a big spot, and as mentioned earlier, when they get arms like Severino and Kahnle back, we’ll see another high-leverage option added to the bullpen alongside one of the best starters in the AL.
When German then returns, it would create a rotation that on paper, should yield great results for a Yankees’ team that’s found its offensive groove with the return of Aaron Judge and Harrison Bader into the lineup:
- Gerrit Cole
- Luis Severino
- Nestor Cortes
- Domingo German
If they feel like Brito fills the long-man role better than Schmidt, then he could become a potential multi-inning reliever as well. For as terrible as Schmidt has been in the rotation, people quickly forget how effective he was in 2022 as a reliever, pitching to a strong 3.12 ERA and 3.60 FIP in 57.2 innings. Schmidt currently has a 3.93 xFIP and 3.85 SIERA, which suggests he’s due for some sort of positive ERA regression, and his measly 0.51 HR/9 and elite 25.9% K-BB% 1st Time Through the Order this season suggests his stuff simply isn’t as effective in a stretched out role.
However they choose to handle this, the return of Luis Severino is going to help, but the addition of an arm like Matt Krook could open up a plethora of possibilities for a rotation that desperately needs to find some form of consistency sooner rather than later. It’s a longshot, but Krook could seriously improve the Yankees’ record on Clarke Schmidt’s “start” days, and with one of their few reliable starters out, they’ll need whatever improvements they can make.