Yankees’ rookie right-hander flashing brand new breaking ball

jhony brito, yankees

With the Yankees announcing that 2022 All-Star Nestor Cortes suffered a rotator cuff injury on his throwing shoulder, his 2023 season is effectively over. This puts added pressure on a Yankee rotation that’s seemingly falling apart, and while they’ve held up for the most part, some more arms are going to need to step up. One of the two rookies the Yankees have called upon this season, Jhony Brito, showed off his most impressive breaking ball on the season.

Generating a Whiff Rate nearing 70% and improved efficacy in finishing two-strike counts against right-handed hitters, his command of a new sweeping curveball had never been better than in his five-inning masterpiece against the Miami Marlins, although it came in a 3-1 loss for the Yankees. The results on the pitch early on are encouraging, and the Yankees could have quite an effective starter for the backend of their rotation.

Why Is Yankees’ Jhony Brito Adding a Sweeper?

Adding a new pitch to a rookie’s arsenal as they try to find their footing at the big league level can be daunting, especially considering the fact that Jhony Brito wasn’t supposed to start the season with the team. Injuries to Frankie Montas, Carlos Rodon, and Luis Severino to open camp created an opening for Brito to make the team out of camp, and while it’s been a turbulent rookie season, he’s shown plenty of flashes and plenty of areas to work on.

Jhony Brito has flashed impressive velocity early on, with his sinker averaging 96 MPH on his sinker with strong numbers in terms of Stuff+. His sinker has posted a +1 Run Value, making it a great pitch against right-handed hitters, but the shape it possesses as a sinker plays a lot worse against left-handed bats. Righties have a .322 wOBA against his sinker, below the 2023 average that righties have against right-handed sinkers (.338), and with a soft 86.4 MPH average exit velocity, it excels at being a strong out pitch.

The issue is that his sinker isn’t able to generate swings and misses, so on two-strike counts, instead of generating strikeouts, it results in balls in play, and his sinker has a .286 BABIP. What’s the BABIP on a strikeout? 0! There’s a reason strikeout artists are coveted across the league, and while his changeup is an effective enough strikeout weapon against left-handed batters, he needed something he could throw to righties to get whiffs, but his first attempt at correcting it seemed unsuccessful.

Jhony Brito’s first attempt at a breaking ball for righties was a poor curveball that didn’t have enough vertical break to generate whiffs, chases, or soft contact. With an 82 Stuff+ and an ERA of 5.81 through his first eight starts, the Yankees knew he would have to make a change soon, or else he’d get bashed in his next start. They opted to go for an opener before handing the game to Brito in his outing against the Toronto Blue Jays, a lineup with a myriad of powerful right-handed hitters.

He would debut a brand new curveball, and he would go on to allow just one earned run across 5.1 frames, and this would begin a stretch of games where Brito would look pretty strong, all due to this new breaking ball. Over his last seven appearances for the Yankees, he’s been far more effective, posting a 3.74 ERA while striking out 20.3% of batters faced versus the 15.9% he struck out in those first 10 outings.

There’s still plenty to work on, but looking at what his sweeper has done against right-handed pitching, it’s interesting to see how he can build off of this outing against Miami, where he showed plenty of comfort with the pitch in big counts. On 21 swings thus far, right-handed hitters have a 33% Whiff%, with improved Stuff+ numbers that make it a plus pitch. His sweeper wasn’t done evolving there, as over his past four outings, the quality of contact and whiff numbers have gotten a lot better as well.

He’s added about two inches of lift to his sweeper, which has boosted the Stuff+ to 104, and batters are chasing at over 40% of those sweepers to righties. By adding a reliable swing-and-miss offering to his arsenal, Brito has generated league-average chase rates and more acceptable whiff rates, which, when coupled with his hard sinker and strong changeup, has given him a solid 95 Stuff+ in that five-outing stretch, which is pretty solid for a pitcher who relies upon changeups, which don’t perform well in the model.

Strikeouts are still a problem for Jhony Brito, but against the Miami Marlins, he had no problem racking up strikeouts and whiffs, so what can we pick out from his recent start that led to the dominant outing?

The Yankees Placing Added Emphasis On Staying In-Zone

It’s no secret that the league is adjusting to sweepers, but that doesn’t mean you have to keep your breaking pitches off the plate. Breaking pitches in-zone have a +1148.2 Run Value, whereas breaking pitches thrown out of zone are at a -985.4. Granted, there are plenty of “waste” pitches factored here, but so are meatballs when discussing in-zone samples, so it balances itself out for the most part. On top of that, batters chase less at large movement profiles, which is something Jhony Brito can take advantage of.

Against the Marlins, he was able to consistently put himself ahead in the count by collecting 11 called strikes alongside his 12 whiffs. By staying in-zone with his curveball 69% of the time and his changeup 59% of the time, it set up lots of chases, with both of those pitches ranking at the top two in terms of chase and in-zone rate. Getting a batter to swing is typically a good thing since it’s likely to result in an out, strike, or foul ball.

jhony brito, yankees

The Yankees have a knack for developing pitchers, and while there is a multitude of things that will affect Brito’s development going forward, their ability to find consistency in his game is the most crucial. If he’s capable of living in-zone with his hard sinker and using the changeup and sweeper to steal some strikes with their large movement profile and generate swings, that’ll likely result in positive results for Brito as he continues to find his footing at the big league level.

It could be argued that utilizing an opener makes sense for Brito going forward as well, and it’s not a bad argument, as he’s been brilliant in those two outings as the bulk pitcher. Whatever it takes to help Brito develop the confidence and consistency to stay in-zone frequently would be well worth it, because the Yankees could have their hands on a pretty competent fifth starter for a strong rotation.

What we do know is that the profile for what Jhony Brito is now versus what he was before resembles one of a pitcher that can keep his team in a game consistently, with the upside of providing middle-of-the-rotation value at the backend of the rotation. We’d see him toy with that new sweeping pitch against Toronto and Cincinnati, but by adding a bit more lift on the sweeper and finding command of the pitch, he’s seen much-improved results across the board.

In comparison to the graph we saw earlier, we’re starting to see an uptick in pitches thrown in-zone alongside the quality of contact and pitch shape. The “curveball” averages 14.7″ of horizontal sweep and -0.2″ of induced vertical break, and a 43.8% Whiff% and 45.5% Chase% greatly improves his profile against righties. The uptick in Stuff+ is key, and so is the increased in-zone rate on the pitch. Throwing it in the zone 50% of the time just makes his arsenal play a lot better since batters are more likely to swing knowing Brito’s going to stay in-zone.

The Yankees need to see more consistency out of Jhony Brito:

The challenge remaining for Brito is to figure out some of his consistency issues against left-handed batters, who don’t perform well against his changeup, but as he continues to work with his four-seam fastball and the command of his lefty curveball, which has -3.9″ induced vertical break and less horizontal sweep at 4.8″. He’s in-zone frequently against left-handed batters, but the execution he has in-zone is something I imagine the Yankees want to work on with him.

As a whole? The profile has developed extremely well. Since June 21st, Jhony Brito is pitching to a 3.27 ERA with a 4.28 SIERA, and while he’s struggled with the home run ball, a lot of that has to do with some poorly placed sinkers, a pitch he relied upon less in his start against Miami. His changeup and curveball did the heavy lifting, with his sinker used to get some big outs against Miami when needed.

If Brito can build off of this outing and continue to build on his command and consistency, the Yankees have a starter that’s not only young and promising but also helps them win games right now. Jhony Brito isn’t a finished product just yet, but he’s quickly becoming one of the most underrated success stories for the Yankees’ player development staff. The rest of this season could serve as an audition for next year, and right now, he’s emerging as the in-house frontrunner for the 5th starter job as the Yankees enter what could be an extremely interesting offseason.

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