Yankees acquire new reliever for final bullpen spot

Colten Brewer, yankees
WORCESTER - Colten Brewer delivers a pitch during the final home game of the inaugural WooSox season at Polar Park on Sunday, September 26, 2021. Spt Woosoxgame 29

Aaron Boone hinted at the Yankees making a move for a reliever, and it seems this could be that move. After the Rays attempted to assign RHP Colten Brewer to Triple-A following an excellent Spring Training campaign. While the Rays are certainly loaded with relievers, they had some tough cuts to make in camp with plenty of surprise performers, including this journeyman reliever. Brewer is entering his age 30 season and has spent time with the Yankees, Pirates, Padres, Red Sox, and Royals prior to getting a Non-Roster Invite to Spring Training with the Tampa Bay Rays.

With 9.1 innings of scoreless baseball and 15 strikeouts, Brewer looked excellent in Spring Training, and now he’s got a shot to stick in a Yankee bullpen that desperately needs him.

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Impressive arsenal the Yankees can utilize:

The Rays are of course on the cutting edge of pitching analytics, but the Yankees aren’t too far behind either. Colten Brewer relies on his slider, cutter, and curveball mostly, with his breaking ball offerings creating large movement profiles that are bridged by a strong cutter. First, let’s discuss his cutter, a pitch that averaged 93.6 MPH this Spring, averaging about 3 inches of horizontal sweep and serving as a great pitch for called strikes and soft contact. Brewer generated a 31.5% Called Strike + Whiff% on the pitch this Spring Training while also serving as a pitch that can induce swings and softer contact.

As for his breaking ball offerings, his most used pitch was his slider, a harder slider that averages 86.8 MPH and generates strong vertical and horizontal movement. While not a sweeper, it averages ~7 inches of horizontal sweep with high spin and strong vertical drop that makes it an elite whiff pitch. He’s aggressive in its usage, and Brewer’s biggest change while working with the Rays has been the usage of that slider. In years past, Brewer has gone with the outdated template of always using your fastball as your primary offering, but Brewer’s adapted to just throwing his best stuff more often.

https://twitter.com/RoyalsFarm/status/1512461660665135105?s=20

He also has a strong curveball that averages nearly 3,000 RPMs of spin, and it serves as a heavy dropping pitch with sweep to combat left-handed batters who may handle a horizontally-oriented pitch (such as a slider) better than the curveball. A three-pitch pitcher isn’t initially going to be seen as someone with a diverse arsenal, but Brewer certainly possesses the movement profiles to find success in most situations. He doesn’t possess anything with arm-side run, but that’s because he’s a natural supinator, meaning that he naturally gets around the ball instead of behind or inside it.

This means his most efficient transfer of energy to the baseball also likely comes in the form of pitches with glove-side run, and the Rays/Yankees emphasize having a pitcher lean to their strengths. Taking what someone does well and emphasizing it creates added confidence in an arsenal, but even more importantly, it creates some nasty pitches. When we look at Stuff+, we see that Brewer’s pitches grade remarkably well:

  • Slider: 114.3
  • Cutter: 116.7
  • Curveball: 117.4

If the Yankees can continue to unlock that as the Rays did in Spring Training, Brewer could become an attractive option in the backend of their bullpen. Brewer has struggled to find his footing at the Major League level, but after striking over 42% of batters faced this Spring, he caught the attention of the Rays and now the Yankees. The Rays have incredible depth, and thus they weren’t going to be able to roster Brewer over other more proven arms in their bullpen, but that is an opportunity the Yankees and Matt Blake hope to take full advantage of.

matt blake, new york yankees
Apr 17, 2022; Baltimore, Maryland, USA; New York Yankees pitching coach Matt Blake (67) walks to the mound during the eighth inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

The Rays have already done most of the work when it comes to getting Brewer to optimize his pitch mix and develop his stuff, now it’s just a matter of applying that in the regular season. It’s an interesting pickup for the Yankees, and one I believe could end up working out really well for them. We’ve seen them acquire arms with a mixed bag of MLB success but clear upside in the past, so before you look at his career ERA and WHIP and decide he’s a “bum,” take a look under the hood at his pitch shape and upside first.

It’s likely that Estevan Florial is the cut made to roster Colten Brewer, which makes sense considering they just acquired OF Franchy Cordero, and players like IKF, Hicks, and Higashioka can provide MLB value to the Yankees at various points during the season.