Yankees sign interesting veteran reliever to MiLB deal

matt bowman, yankees
Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher Matt Bowman (67) throws a pitch during a Cincinnati Reds instrasquad scrimmage game at Great American Ball Park in downtown Cincinnati on Thursday, July 16, 2020. Cincinnati Reds Summer Training

The mark of a good organization is their ability to compile depth at the MiLB levels, and the Yankees added veteran RHP Matt Bowman, who’s had his career derailed due to multiple elbow injuries in his career. A 31-year-old reliever, Bowman’s spent his career with the New York Mets, St. Louis Cardinals, and Cincinnati Reds while spending the last couple of years rehabbing with the New York Yankees. A groundball specialist, Bowman relies upon generating soft contact in the form of groundballs to get his outs (56.6% GB%) which fits the Yankees’ philosophy as an organization. This could be an indication he’s finally healthy, which could make for an interesting dark horse to make the bullpen.

Unique Four-Seam Fastball

While classified as a “four-seam fastball,” Matt Bowman generates a ton of horizontal run and vertical drop on the pitch, which makes it great for keeping the ball on the ground. Averaging 92.5 MPH on his fastball, it relies on strong movement instead of velocity, giving it the ideal profiles to make it a pitch he can bury down-and-away to left-handed batters and jam right-handed batters down and in. His fastball was used 37.9% of the time, and batters had just a .315 wOBA against the pitch, giving him a -2 Run-Value on it.

His pitch mix doesn’t rely on spin as much as it does seam-shifted wake, which is movement caused by how airflow reacts with the seams of the baseball. His four-seam fastball’s characteristics helped induce soft contact, which resulted in an 85.5 MPH Exit Velocity against and a mere 29.3% Hard Hit%. It’s not the typical power fastball with carry that plays up in the zone, but it’s certainly an effective pitch that stands out from other fastballs and can be devastating if he doesn’t lose much velocity or movement on the pitch. Having a strong groundball pitch aligns with what the Yankees like to do as an organization, and he’s a strong BABIP suppressor.

Strong BABIP Suppression

When we look at Matt Bowman’s cutter, splitter, and slider (which we’ll talk more about in a second), we see that Bowman should be able to generate BABIPs below the league average of .300 with ease. Cutters are natural BABIP suppressors, generating soft contact and lower xBAs on batted balls allowed due to the profile of the pitch, which aims to jam batters. His cutter sits at a pretty high velocity for a cutter (93.5 MPH) and generates 6.3″ of sweep, making it a high-whiff pitch in 2019 at a 31.5% Whiff%/

He can really light up the radar gun with his cutter, which is interesting because his four-seam fastball typically sits at lower velocities, and it generates more horizontal sweep than his slider despite it being thrown significantly harder. This is a pitch we should see Bowman feature more in 2022 as it held batters to just a .139 wOBA and was his best pitch according to Run-Value at -3. It’s truly a unique cutter due to its high velocity and strong sweep, and for pitchers being unique is the goal.

His splitter is his go-to weapon against left-handed batters due to its sharp drop and ability to generate groundballs. RHPs tend to prioritize vertical drop against lefties due to vertical drop correlating more with success against LHHs than horizontal movement, and his splitter drops like a curveball. With over 40″ of vertical drop, it does a great job of getting whiffs (25.5%) though you’d like to see the ball on the ground more against that pitch. With a .293 wOBA against, both the cutter and splitter work in tandem to keep batters from having pitches they can do much damage against.

Matt Bowman has plenty of movement profiles, but he hasn’t pitched since the sweeper revolution we’ve seen take over the pitching world, and he could be a perfect sweeper candidate.

Can the Yankees Improve Matt Bowman?

Bowman’s slider is a gyro slider, generating 4.9″ of horizontal sweep at 89.3 MPH, but with just a 5% Whiff% could we see him improve the pitch to generate more swings and misses? Bowman already shows he can supinate, which is the rotation of the wrist that helps you get around a baseball. That’s how he throws hard cutters with lots of horizontal break, and he could play off of that to throw a sweeper for 2023. Sweepers tend to perform better in Stuff+ due to the added movement, even though it sacrifices velocity, and for good reason. The Yankees have shown a willingness to change pitchers from a gyro to a sweeping slider, and Bowman could be another example.

Clay Holmes and Michael King both are notable arms in the Yankees’ organization that developed sweeping sliders over the last two years, and both have become some of baseball’s best relievers. While Matt Bowman doesn’t have the velocity of either King or Holmes, he could take a leap into being a quality MLB reliever next season if healthy. The Yankees seem to love groundball pitchers, and Bowman is one of the best in that regard.

The better comparison here could be with Clay Holmes, who used a gyro slider for his entire career and is more of a groundball pitcher than King is, and his sweeper became an elite pitch in 2022. Sweeping sliders prioritize that horizontal action instead of the hard drop of a gyro slider, making it devastating for right-handed batters to face a right-handed pitcher who has one. Righties and lefties have the same wOBA against Bowman of .288, so improving his splits against righties could serve to greatly benefit him, just like Clay Holmes.

yankees, Clay Holmes
Sep 11, 2022; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees pitcher Clay Holmes (35) delivers a pitch against the Tampa Bay Rays during the ninth inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

This isn’t to say the Yankees have another Clay Holmes, that would be silly and an unfounded comparison, but it is to say that the Yankees know their stuff with sliders. Generating that strong sweeping movement is one of the best things the Yankees have done with Clay Holmes, and we could see that with Bowman as well. Matt Blake highly values the sweeper, and Bowman could just be another example of this organization’s shift to what is, on paper, a better slider for generating whiffs at a high level.

matt blake, New York Yankees

He’s already proven to be a solid MLB reliever as well, as he has a 3.67 FIP and 3.86 SIERA in his career, and perhaps 2023 is finally the year he’s healthy and able to show off what he can do in Spring Training or at AAA and get a shot at the Big Leagues with the Yankees.

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