When the Yankees signed Ian Hamilton to a Minor League deal, there weren’t many expectations for him, but they quietly converted him into one of the best relievers in baseball last season. Tossing 58 innings across 39 appearances, the 28-year-old righty posted a 2.64 ERA and struck out 69 batters, keeping the ball on the ground and posting the second-best fWAR in the team’s bullpen (1.1) behind Clay Holmes. Entering 2024, expectations will be higher for Hamilton, but he could blossom in a high-leverage role next season.
Sporting a strong arsenal headlined by his ‘slambio’, Ian Hamilton could be one of the team’s most important pitchers next season as he’ll be one of Aaron Boone’s most-trusted weapons in late-game scenarios.
Providing Versatility to the Yankees’ Bullpen
Ian Hamilton provides an incredible ability to fill out a variety of roles and come into plenty of situations for the Yankees, even serving as an opener for the team on three separate occasions. The right-hander displayed an ability to throw upwards of 3.2 innings in an outing while also being a high-leverage option that could shut down an inning if there were runners on base. What makes his 58 innings impressive is that he had two separate IL stints that knocked him out for roughly two months in total, as he can be a workhorse in the bullpen when needed.
That kind of versatility is usually seen in former starters who were converted into bullpen roles, but Hamilton was drafted as a reliever by the Chicago White Sox back in 2016. We’ve seen the Yankees experiment and try converting relievers into starters before, most notably with Michael King, who has since been traded to the San Diego Padres for Juan Soto. Hamilton could give the Yankees the flexibility to have some bullpen games since he can come in and toss 2-3 innings if needed, and he certainly has the arsenal to be a multi-inning weapon.
Everything starts with his excellent ‘slambio,’ a pitch that Hamilton can throw with both glove side sweep or arm side run depending on what the situation calls for. It’s an excellent offering that generated a 42.5% Whiff Rate and 38.6% Chase Rate, and he utilized this pitch 54.2% of the time. It generated the eighth-best Run Value per 100 pitches (min. 300 pitches) among sliders, and it’s been the key to his success with the Yankees.
This pitch also allows him to perform well against right-handed or left-handed batters, who both posted an OPS below .700 against him in 2023. Hamilton also sports two different fastballs to aid his cause, using his four-seamer more against left-handed batters and his sinker against right-handed batters. They help to create different movement profiles in situations in which he’s either looking to go upstairs for a chase with the four-seamer or jam a hitter with his hard sinker.
His sinker generates plenty of weak contact with a .320 xwOBACON, but it wasn’t very effective for him, having a -2 Run Value. Ian Hamilton’s four-seamer had much more success, generating a near-30% Whiff Rate at 96 MPH, and his lower-slot release helps the 15.5″ of Induced Vertical Break play up even more. It had a +3 Run Value, and while one may argue he should throw more four-seamers than sinkers, it’s the differing fastball looks that allow his fastballs to outperform their mediocre Stuff+ numbers.
The Yankees have a versatile weapon that can come in and get more than three outs, handle lefties or righties, and even pick up a save if need be, but what if they wanted to get weird with his role in 2024?
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Is Ian Hamilton a Swingman Candidate?
I need everyone to just stick with me here; trust me, I’m not entirely deranged as a person (yet). This isn’t saying the Yankees should look at Ian Hamilton the same way as Michael King; the key difference here is that Hamilton didn’t come up through the Minor Leagues as a starter. What I am saying, however, is that Hamilton could become part of a new breed of pitchers who can eat up 3-4 innings every few days and work as a pseudo-starter for a team’s bullpen.
The Yankees have opened games with Hamilton, and while the ERA isn’t pretty, it was a small sample size, and he still got plenty of swings and misses. A pitcher I’d compare Hamilton to is Jakob Junis, who relies heavily on his slider, using his sinker and changeup more as secondary or tertiary offerings. Typically, a pitcher needs a breaking ball and offspeed pitch to pair with a fastball, but Hamilton’s unique slambio can act as both a breaking ball and an offspeed pitch.
As mentioned earlier, having two fastballs also helps with varying looks and platooning pitches based on the situation, as right-handed sinkers tend to play better against right-handed hitters, while right-handed four-seamers play better against left-handed hitters.
The effectiveness of right-handed sinkers has only improved against right-handed hitters, whereas the effectiveness of right-handed four-seamers against right-handed hitters has plummeted. We could see him in a multi-inning relief role or potentially stretched out more in 2024. It relies on his health and ability to stay healthy, but the arsenal is certainly good enough for the Yankees to use him in a unique role. Matt Blake spoke to the New York Post and seemed to be supportive of the new trend of relievers being stretched out more.
You can create more value by having more guys that can give you ‘length.’ It doesn’t necessarily need to be labeled starter or reliever, but stretching guys out and having hybrid roles will probably be a trend.– Matt Blake
Jordan Hicks signed with the San Francisco Giants and will be stretched out into a starter’s role, although that will look more like a 3-4 inning role. The Yankees signed Luke Weaver to a one-year $2 million deal for a similar role, serving as a multi-inning reliever and sixth starter if need be, and the team could look to be innovative with their bullpen roles next season.
This could be a huge year for Ian Hamilton, who still has five years of control and might be one of the most valuable pitchers on their pitching staff next season.