The Yankees currently have one left-handed reliever projected to make the final bullpen, and that’s Wandy Peralta. It’s clear that the Yankees have the talent to handle left-handed batters, with options like Ron Marinaccio, Tommy Kahnle, and Albert Abreu having reverse splits last season. With that being said, they could certainly use another left-handed reliever who can supplement the backend of their bullpen. With injuries to Frankie Montas and Nestor Cortes knocking Montas out for the Spring and setting Cortes back to the 5th start, having depth is also extremely important. Getting a spot starter, long-relief option, and left-handed arm all bundled up in one could be a massive asset for this bullpen.
Matt Krook has battled injuries, the lost COVID-19 season, and struggles as a starter, but he could be the perfect piece to add to this bullpen for the 2023 Yankees.
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Strong Start to Spring Training for Matt Krook:
The Yankees have had two appearances for Matt Krook so far, and he’s been nearly perfect in these outings. With five innings of shutout baseball and seven strikeouts to just two hits and one walk, Krook’s looked excellent. The command has always been a point of emphasis for Krook to improve upon, as he walked 12.1% of batters faced last season, but perhaps in shorter spurts, he could walk fewer batters. There’s been interest in Krook for a while on the Yankees’ side, as they signed him ahead of the 2021 season and made sure to place him on the 40-Man Roster this past winter, protecting him from the Rule 5 Draft.
While the Yankees may not initially have the spot on the 26-Man Roster, Krook’s early showings could force them to make room. The Yankees have made it clear that they have multiple at-bats and innings up for grabs, and Krook is hungry to grab some of those innings.
Krook thrives off of a sinker, slider, and cutter mix that allows him to generate plenty of groundballs (55.7% GB%) and lots of strikeouts (25.7% K%), which gives him a really high ceiling if he can cut down the walks. His slider is a sweeper that generates 14.5″ of horizontal sweep at a low-80s velocity, and when played off of the cutter and sinker, it can be truly devastating. The sweeper goes down and away for lefties and down and into righties, creating lots of sharp movement for batters to try to track.
The issue with large breaking balls is that batters rarely swing at them, leading to more walks. Krook added a cutter prior to the 2022 season to aid this, though it seems it still needs work. Nonetheless, the cutter adds an offering close to the zero line in horizontal break, so that means batters are likely to swing at it, resulting in weak groundballs or swings and misses. The pitch mix is certainly there to succeed at a high level, as when you look at his pitches on a “stuff” basis, they’re certainly well above average.
The Yankees love their sweeping sliders, and Matt Krook is another name on a very long list of notable sweepers in the organization. His strikeout and groundball capabilities allow him to have a high ceiling in a low-volume role. On top of this strong Spring start, where we’ve seen his trio of pitches result in plenty of strikeouts, we’ve also seen him avoid walks. I still view Krook as a pitcher with shaky command and large movement profiles that’ll lead to fewer swings, but if he can keep his BB% to ~10%, his high strikeout numbers and great batted ball data are going to help him prevent runs.
With that said, the Yankees don’t just have a talented pitcher having a strong Spring, but a versatile one as well.
Giving the Yankees Added Versatility
As previously mentioned, the Yankees have a high injury risk with their rotation. Even guys like Clarke Schmidt and Domingo German have extended injury histories, so they’ll need as much depth as they can get to keep their arms fresh. Matt Krook has experience as a starter, and while his performances are shaky, there are flashes of absolute brilliance in there as well. Even if he gives the Yankees four or five innings in his occasional spot starts, there’s still plenty of value there. Another role he can play at times is the bullpen-saver, tossing three innings to eat up innings instead of burning three different arms.
The Yankees could see themselves in blowouts (hopefully in their favor) where they would rather not dispense one of their high-leverage arms in the final three innings, and that’s where Matt Krook can also shine. He can be asked to also give the Yankees the final out of an inning if the opposing batter is left-handed, something they can’t do with Wandy Peralta since he’s an excellent late-inning option. His role is going to change on a night-to-night basis, and that’s something that could prove difficult but also very rewarding for the 28-year-old LHP.
Sometimes you’ll need Matt Krook to play the role Joely Rodriguez did two years ago, other times, you’ll need him to be like Lucas Luetge, and when things are dire, you’ll need him to be that night’s starter. Whatever it may be, Krook should aim to give the Yankees a productive 70-80 innings in whichever role he’s asked, and that could make him one of the best weapons in the Yankees’ pitching staff. It’s tough to find innings on the Yankees due to the amount of veteran talent they have, but a pitcher like Krook, who checks all the boxes of what the Yankees want in a reliever, has a great shot to get a slice of the workload pie.
As for the Yankees, they’d certainly benefit from adding more cheap bullpen talent with MiLB options, as they can trade veteran arms at the deadline or in the offseason to save cash or open up room for more internal options. Aaron Judge is just one of many large contracts on the Yankees, and with the upcoming free agency class being rather shallow, it could be a year for the Yankees to reset the Luxury Tax. Arms like Matt Krook would be pre-arbitration, thus having little impact on the Luxury Tax, which allows the Yankees to surround their expensive talent with cost-controlled effective talent.
Whether it’s as a starter, bulk reliever, or left-handed specialist, the Yankees should certainly keep monitoring Matt Krook’s situation this Spring Training. They have an opportunity to add a very effective arm that can provide them with plenty of versatility and allow them to flex their organizational strength. Krook was let go by the Tampa Bay Rays, a team the Yankees have tried to catch up with analytically over the past few seasons.
According to Bryan Hoch, Matt Krook was among those considered to be activated last year…for the postseason. The confidence level for the organization is so high with Matt Krook that they also felt DFA’ing Lucas Luetge, which eventually led to a trade to the Braves, was something they wouldn’t have to worry about since Krook could potentially replace him. The Yankees seem to have a very high level of confidence in this left-handed rookie, who could mirror Ron Marinaccio’s rise to prominence after a strong Spring Training.
This team truly has faith in Krook, and I’m not going to doubt the Yankees’ pitching lab on a decision like this. The stuff is there for Krook to be spectacular out of the bullpen for the Yankees, now it’s just a matter of continuing to excel in camp and hoping the Yankees open a roster spot for him since they have arms like Albert Abreu, who is out of options but are too good to release for absolutely nothing. They could DFA Abreu as they did with Luetge, eventually finding a trade partner, but I still like what Abreu could potentially provide with his power arm.
The Yankees have tough decisions to make, but that’s a good thing in this context. Matt Krook is someone I expect to survive the roster downsizing in Spring, and I think Yankee fans need to start learning his name. He has no MLB experience, but this is an arm the Yankees should hedge their bets on for their bullpen. Maybe it’s foolish to trust a rookie to break camp, but I’ll always respect an organization’s process in a decision if it hinges on a pitcher with elite-level stuff succeeding. Keep an eye on Krook as camp rolls on, because he could end up opening a lot of eyes this season.