The Yankees turned a journeyman into one of the best bullpen arms in baseball

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

In a challenging 2023 season, the New York Yankees faced numerous setbacks. However, amid the struggles, there were some bright spots worth noting. The team witnessed the disintegration of their batting order and starting rotation, but the bullpen managed to maintain its reputation as the best in the game.

Discovering Ian Hamilton: A Hidden Gem

One notable discovery for the Yankees was Ian Hamilton, a former journeyman pitcher who transformed into one of the most formidable relief pitchers in baseball. At just 28 years old, the Yankees have secured Hamilton’s services until the 2029 off-season, making his acquisition a tremendous steal.

Impressive Performance Metrics

Hamilton’s performance statistics speak volumes. In the 2023 season, he posted a remarkable 2.64 ERA and a 2.83 FIP. He averaged 10.71 strikeouts per nine innings, boasted a left-on-base rate of 77.2%, maintained a ground ball rate of 55.3%, and had a HR/FB ratio of just 6.5% over 58 innings pitched.

Pitching Dominance: Examining Hamilton’s Arsenal

To truly appreciate Hamilton’s dominance, let’s delve into his pitch repertoire. Hamilton’s pitching prowess ranked in the 94th percentile for average exit velocity allowed, the 94th percentile for whiff rate, and the 92nd percentile for ground ball rate. His primary pitches include a slider, sinker, and four-seam fastball.

The Deceptive “Slambio” Slider

Notably, Hamilton’s slider is a game-changer, often referred to as the “slambio” due to its combination of slider and change-up characteristics, creating a deceptive motion. This pitch held batters to a meager .156 batting average against it, with an impressive 42.5% whiff rate and a 25.3% put-away rate. Hamilton relied on this pitch 54.2% of the time, yielding just one home run. The “slambio” generates a mere 1.1 inches of horizontal break but an impressive 32.1 inches of vertical movement.

Leveraging the Sinker

Hamilton’s slider complements his sinker effectively, enhancing his overall pitching repertoire. The slider had a run value of 13 in the past season, ranking as one of the best on the team. Furthermore, Hamilton’s exceptional ground ball rate makes him an efficient closer and late-inning relief pitcher. In clutch situations, when the Yankees needed double plays or were protecting a slim lead, Hamilton consistently induced ground balls, allowing the infield to execute routine plays.

The Yankees’ Future Prospects

With Hamilton under team control for the foreseeable future and at just 28 years old, the Yankees have a valuable asset on their hands. This is especially evident when considering the two-year, $11.5 million deal given to Tommy Kahnle. Kahnle, now 34 years old, has battled injuries and questions about his durability. However, his high-strikeout ability aligns with the Yankees’ pitching preferences.

A Shift in Analytical Focus

Despite their traditional emphasis on spin rates and power pitchers, the Yankees may be poised for analytical shifts in the upcoming off-season. Ownership has expressed interest in making analytical adjustments, and even star slugger Aaron Judge has suggested a reevaluation of the metrics influencing player performance. Nevertheless, when it comes to Ian Hamilton, the Yankees should continue following the successful path they’ve paved, a path that sets him apart from most of the team.

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