Yankees’ recently promoted reliever has a new pitch that turned heads in Spring Training

MLB: Spring Training-Toronto Blue Jays at New York Yankees
Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

One of the few things that the New York Yankees have been unable to avoid in recent years is the injury bug, and with Jonathan Loaisiga hitting the 60-day IL with a flexor strain, his season could be over. That’s usually an indication of UCL damage, and a tear of that ligament would mean undergoing Tommy John Surgery. As the corresponding move, the Yankees have given a 40-man roster spot to Non-Roster Invite Dennis Santana, who will join the team in the Bronx ahead of the home opener against the Toronto Blue Jays.

The right-hander has bounced around various organizations, but after adding a brand-new cutter that he learned from former Yankee Frankie Montas, he’s looking to make his stay in New York a permanent one.

Dennis Santana Could Turn Heads in the Yankees Bullpen

MLB: New York Yankees-Workouts
Feb 16, 2024; Tampa, FL, USA; New York Yankees pitcher Dennis Santana (53) pitches live batting practice during training workouts at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

One of the pitches the Yankees have begun preaching more in recent years is the cutter, which can give pitchers with usually shaky control a pitch that’s easy to land for strikes. They usually prevent damage contact, and in Dennis Santana’s case, it also means having three different fastball shapes to use against opposing hitters. The veteran right-hander was a sinker-slider guy his entire career, and while those two pitches are still prominent in his arsenal, he’s now able to platoon his repertoire.

Now having five different pitches he can rely upon, he’s far more deceptive than he was in years past, and the ability to use so many different movement profiles should give him an advantage over most relievers. Not all pitches play well against all hitters and Dennis Santana seems to identify what he should throw to righties or lefties based on movement profiles and success.

When I talked to Spencer Medick earlier this week, I found out that the Yankees use two different Stuff+ models, one behind the rubber to measure how good a pitch is based on movement profiles, and then one at home plate based on the results said pitch gets. This helps them identify not just how good a pitch is on paper, but also how it performs to make sure that pitchers know how to use it and where to locate it.

That kind of intel has likely been used to help Santana understand which of his pitches perform best based on certain matchups, and it gives the Yankees a leg up on organizations that may not have that level of detailed information. In an era with so much pitch information, they’ve hired a lot of smart communicators on the pitching side of the ball to help translate that to players, and it seemed to work wonders on the right-hander in Spring Training.

Across 9.2 innings, he struck out 32.5% of batters faced with a measly 2.5% walk rate, honing in some of his command issues with the newfound cutter. Since they don’t move nearly as much as other pitches, hovering close to the zero-line on the vertical and horizontal planes, Dennis Santana can use it as an easy way to get ahead of hitters. Since he has a four-seamer and sinker as well, it gives him three firm pitches and keeps hitters guessing on which way the ball will move.

READ MORE: Yankees lose key bullpen arm to 60-day injured list with right flexor strain

MLB: Spring Training-Toronto Blue Jays at New York Yankees
Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

His arsenal graded out well according to Stuff+ (104.6) with four different pitches grading above-average according to the model. The only pitch that didn’t was his changeup, a pitch that never performs well in those models, so his profile is extremely encouraging and could also make him versatile. There’s some multi-inning value here, and if he can continue to effectively platoon his pitches and identify what pitches work best against certain hitters, we could see him evolve into a much bigger part of this bullpen.

For context, on April 3rd a year ago, the team selected Ian Hamilton’s contract and he was able to stick on their roster after a myriad of injuries in their bullpen, including one to Jonathan Loaisiga. He’s now arguably the best reliever on the team, and newcomers like Nick Burdi have already impressed after blowing hitters away in Spring Training. Dennis Santana is a groundball artist with a 95-96 MPH fastball and excellent secondary offerings, the profile just fits what the organization has developed well for so long.

We’ll see if his tenure is a footnote in the season or a surprise contributor who sticks in the bullpen all season, but he’s certainly turned heads in the organization and could step up for the Yankees.

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