Yankees could bring back this intriguing reliever to bolster their bullpen

MLB: New York Yankees at Detroit Tigers
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

In one of the oddest trade deadlines for the Yankees in recent memory, they chose to essentially stand pat, not selling but also not buying, but they still made a couple of minor moves. Keynan Middleton was acquired from the Chicago White Sox for right-hander Juan Carela, an arm they likely would have lost in the Rule 5 Draft, and while the team slumped in August, Middleton was excellent. The right-hander would post a 1.88 ERA down the stretch with the Bronx Bombers, striking out 30.4% of batters faced and sporting a 71% groundball rate.

With the Yankees in need of bullpen depth, could they reunite with Keynan Middleton on a cheaper deal heading into the 2024 season?

Potential Steal on the Market for the Yankees?

MLB: New York Yankees at Miami Marlins
Aug 13, 2023; Miami, Florida, USA; New York Yankees relief pitcher Keynan Middleton (93) tosses the baseball to first base and retires Miami Marlins right fielder Jesus Sanchez (not pictured) during the eighth inning at loanDepot Park. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Keynan Middleton was fine in Chicago, sporting a 3.96 ERA and 19.9% K-BB%, but right-handed hitters crushed him early on to the tune of a .344 wOBA and .371 OBP. He’s a changeup-first pitcher, but his changeup doesn’t play very well to right-handed batters. While they whiffed 42.5% of the time against his changeup, they also had a .415 xwOBACON and .332 wOBA, and he’d need to find a different pitch to use as his primary offering against righties. With the White Sox, his pitch distribution against right-handed hitters looked like this:

  • Changeup (38.1%)
  • Slider (35.7%)
  • Four-Seam (26.3%)

The Yankees would make a quick change to that pitch usage against righties, increasing his slider usage by 10% and decreasing his changeup usage by roughly 6% in the process. As a result, right-handed hitters had a .263 wOA against him down the stretch, and the success with New York could indicate a higher ceiling than the back of his baseball card indicates. On the surface, Middleton is a career 3.84 ERA reliever coming off of the best season of his career and won’t get much on the market as a result.

Unlocking more in Keynan Middleton’s profile didn’t take much for the Yankees, and the upside here is finding another high-leverage option for your bullpen at a low cost. Getting swings and misses is the most attractive trait a pitcher can have, and Middleton’s 17% Swinging Strike% was the ninth-best mark for any pitcher in baseball this past season with at least 50 IP. That list includes pitchers like Felix Bautista, Spencer Strider, Devin Williams, and Jordan Romano, who are some of the best strikeout artists in all of baseball.

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Market value for Keynan Middleton will almost certainly stay under $10 million, and he might take another one-year deal to try and rebuild his market to get a bigger contract next winter. The stuff certainly plays well enough to be a high-leverage reliever, and Middleton has also displayed the ability to give the Yankees multiple innings when needed. A versatile arm with upper-percentile whiff rates should intrigue any team, and he could be had a much lower price point than what teams would usually have to pay for said luxury.

It seems that the Yankees would be a team Middleton is enticed by as well, as when he was acquired at the trade deadline, as in an interview with Jesse Rogers of ESPN, he revealed his excitement to join the Bronx Bombers.

“The second I found out I was traded, I shaved my face…I was ready to play by their rules because all I want to do is win games”

If the Yankees match an asking price that’s likely not very high, they could bring back a reliever who shows plenty of emotion on the mound, generates plenty of contact on the ground, and gets plenty of strikeouts as well. It’s a perfect match for the team, and he could be a perfect addition to a loaded Yankee bullpen.