The Yankees stumbled upon their long-term closer

mlb: new york yankees at tampa bay rays, ian hamilton
Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Yankees, amid their quest for offensive stability, have found a consistent strength: their ability to scout, acquire, and enhance relief pitchers. This prowess keeps them competitive, often turning overlooked arms into key contributors within their bullpen.

Yankees’ Bullpen: A Legacy of Success

While 2023 posed challenges, the Yankees’ bullpen emerged as a beacon of reliability. Acquisitions like Clay Holmes have been pivotal, but the rise of Ian Hamilton last season may have unveiled the team’s closer of the future.

At 28, Hamilton, largely a journeyman previously, has carved his niche in high-stakes situations. His 2023 breakthrough featured a career-best 58 innings with a 2.64 ERA, showcasing his capability as a frontline reliever.

Inside Hamilton’s Pitching Metrics

Particularly impressive is Hamilton’s ground ball rate, critical for mitigating risks during late-inning pressures. His statistics – a 19.1% soft hit percentage and a strikingly low 27.7% hard hit percentage – underline his skill in inducing non-threatening contact.

Despite a walk rate that warrants improvement, Hamilton excels in limiting home runs and compelling batters into weak contact. His repertoire, placing him above average in several pitching metrics, becomes even more formidable considering his 94th percentile ranking in average exit velocity and whiff rate.

The “Slambio”: A Game-Changing Pitch

Hamilton’s edge? A distinctive pitch dubbed the “slambio,” a slider-changeup hybrid that baffled hitters with a .156 average and a .234 slugging rate. This pitch, essential in Hamilton’s arsenal, complements his sinker, and four-seam fastball, offering a deceptive, dual-nature appearance to batters.

The uniqueness of the “slambio” lies in its minimal horizontal movement contrasted with a dramatic vertical break. Averaging 88.1 mph, it pairs seamlessly with his four-seam fastball, a combination that keeps hitters off balance while enhancing the efficacy of each pitch.

Closer Controversy: Hamilton vs. Holmes

While Clay Holmes, with his 2.86 ERA in 2023, remains a valid contender for the primary closer role, the Yankees’ control over Hamilton’s contract through 2029 provides long-term security. Holmes, nearing free agency post-2024, had a commendable season but faced inconsistencies.

The Yankees’ bullpen strategy, emphasizing shrewd, low-cost acquisitions, has assembled one of baseball’s most formidable units. This approach not only underscores their strategic acumen but also serves as a reassuring constant in their competitive blueprint.

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