Yankees see the debut of an excellent new pitch

ian hamilton, yankees
Mar 11, 2023; Bradenton, Florida, USA; New York Yankees pitcher Ian Hamilton (71) throws a pitch against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the fourth inning at LECOM Park. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

One of the biggest developments the Yankees have made this decade comes in the hiring of Matt Blake and Sam Briend. They’ve changed the organizational philosophy surrounding pitching, going from an organization that had to buy talent to an organization that develops it. While not perfect, Ian Hamilton showed off plenty of promise in his Yankee debut, specifically with his slider/changeup hybrid known as the ‘slambio’, the fusion of a slider and changeup (which in Spanish is referred to as a ‘cambio’). With the Yankees down bullpen arms like Lou Trivino and Tommy Kahnle, it’s critical that arms like Ian Hamilton step up, and he’s shown off some seriously impressive stuff early on.

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What is a Slambio and Why Should You Care?

As previously mentioned, the slambio is a pitch unique to Ian Hamilton that combines the properties of a gyro slider and a changeup, but how does one do that? Well, first let’s understand what makes for a gyro slider and what makes for a changeup, starting with the slider. If you’ve noticed on the YES scoreboard and Baseball Savant, you’ll see that some breaking balls are being labeled as sweepers, and the reason for that is sliders have deviated into two categories: sweepers and gyros. We will focus on the gyro slider, a pitch that focuses on bullet-like spin that prioritizes velocity and vertical deception instead of larger sweeping break.

Ian Hamilton gets the requisite bullet spin we’re looking for, with a low spin efficiency that relies on seam-shifted wake instead of spin-induced movement. Seam-shifted wake is simply movement generated by how airflows react with the seams, something we typically see with sliders and cutters, but we also see this with changeups. This is where the fusion of these two pitches can come in, as both rely less on spin, and both pitches benefit most from vertical separation off of a fastball. The distinct difference comes in horizontal movement, as we typically see changeups run arm side with movement and sliders break glove-side, but for Hamilton, we see his slambio do both:

We see that his “sliders” hover around the 0 line with horizontal break but have an even distribution of pitches that break glove-side and arm-side. We also see that it gets over 10″ of vertical separation off of his four-seam fastball, which has good velocity but poor shape. He’ll mix in some sinkers for groundballs, but this unique pitch mix creates some interesting outcomes on the mound. On one hand, Hamilton can play off of that vertical separation to generate chases out of the strike zone, which typically comes from establishing a high eye level with his four-seamer and then throwing a slambio down and away or down and into illicit a swing based on a hitter’s swing tendencies.

His ability to manipulate the horizontal break on these pitches is handy as well since it makes his slambio capable of running away or into a batter’s swing path based on their handedness, the situation, and of course, their ability to handle certain movement profiles. For example, Anthony Volpe at the MiLB level handled breaking pitches better than offspeed pitches, so to a hitter like him, manipulating the shape of said slambio to go down and it could be advantageous, whereas for a hitter like Giancarlo Stanton, prioritizing down and away movement could lead to more whiffs.

Hamilton tossed 9 scoreless innings in Spring Training, and while he only struck out 6 batters, the Yankees were impressed by his pitch mix and movement profiles enough to keep him around. On the surface, Hamilton didn’t “impress” with overwhelming velocity or incredible strikeout numbers, but having one pitch that is as unique as his could go a long way toward his success. Yesterday, we saw him strike out two batters with zero walks and a 50% groundball rate, and while he did give up three hits, it was a lot of soft contact, as the Phillies averaged just 86.6 MPH on batted balls off of Hamilton.

Stuff+ reflects the idea that this pitch is nasty, with a 117 Stuff+ on the pitch and a 111 Stuff+ on the outing as a whole. Ultimately, having a pitch that other pitchers don’t have creates individuality in a pitch that makes it harder to hit. Batters won’t see a pitch like that from other pitchers, and thus their only in-game experience against the pitch would have to come from Hamilton himself. It’s hard to make any judgments with that small of a sample size, but the Yankees could have found a diamond in the rough here.

Yankees Continue to Add Young Depth

To the shock of some, Ian Hamilton is just 27 years old. While he’s now in his 4th organization, there’s still plenty of baseball left for Hamilton if he’s able to stay healthy. The Yankees have six years of control on Hamilton, who could carve a nice role for himself in this bullpen if he continues to get success with his slambio. His four-seam fastball doesn’t get incredible ride, but he manipulates its shape to get some sinking action or more backspin, depending on what he’s trying to do with said fastball.

We saw him spin some fastballs with over 2,400 RPMs of spin and just 13 inches of drop, but on the other hand, we saw fastballs with 20 inches of drop and 15 inches of run. Hamilton thrives off of an ability to make small adjustments to the shapes of his offerings, so what seems like just a four-seam/slider mix on paper is actually a four-pitch mix that can create serious deception. He could see some more action as the season progresses, but there is one massive caveat for his tenure in New York.

ian hamilton, yankees
Mar 11, 2023; Bradenton, Florida, USA; New York Yankees pitcher Ian Hamilton (71) throws a pitch against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the fourth inning at LECOM Park. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Ian Hamilton can opt out of his contract on April 4th, which is today, meaning if he feels as if there are greater opportunities in other places, he could elect free agency. It’s also possible he sticks with the roster, but it’s not out of the cards for Hamilton to try to earn a more secure roster spot elsewhere. One thing Hamilton does have going for him in New York is that the Yankees are pretty aggressive with moving pitchers up the depth chart, so if Hamilton has a strong month of April. He could potentially feature in high-leverage outings late in ball games.

With that said, if the Yankees are able to keep Ian Hamilton around, there’s some serious upside to his game and what he can provide. Anyone with a unique pitch is going to become a commodity, and Hamtilon’s quickly made himself an intriguing X-Factor in this bullpen. While pitching isn’t an issue for the Yankees, you can never have too much of it. You never know, it wasn’t too long ago that the likes of Wandy Peralta and Clay Holmes were just flyers the Yankees picked up mid-season. This isn’t to say that the Yankees should expect a sub-3 ERA in high leverage, it’s just to point out just how quickly the narrative around a reliever can change.

The Yankees have the extensive track record with depth arms necessary to have faith in their abilities to put together a bullpen from what seems like scraps or castaways, and Ian Hamilton could join that long list of “scrubs” turned quality MLB relievers. The slambio is a serious weapon for the Yankees, and Ian Hamilton looks to build off of what was a strong first outing.