Yankees sign RHP James Norwood to MiLB deal for 2023

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May 9, 2022; Seattle, Washington, USA; Philadelphia Phillies relief pitcher James Norwood (49) throws against the Seattle Mariners during the ninth inning at T-Mobile Park. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

While a lot of the hype surrounding the Yankees centers around their pursuit of Carlos Rodon, their still trying to add depth to the organization. We’ve seen the Yankees convert pitchers with high velocity or elite stuff into quality MLB arms, and RHP James Norwood looks to join this long list. The Yankees already have a loaded bullpen after the addition of Tommy Kahnle, but injuries will always sneak up on a team when they least expect it. James Norwood hasn’t found much MLB success with a career 5.48 ERA, but his velocity and stuff are enticing and gives upside for the Yankees to try to unlock.

James Norwood Has a Gross Splitter

The best pitch James Norwood throws is his Splitter, a pitch that is thrown at 90.7 MPH with a whopping 11.2″ of Horizontal Break and 4.5″ of Induced Vertical Break. This means not only does he get a ton of run, but he also gets a lot of vertical separation from his fastball with 5.9 MPH of velocity separation. Typically the mark you want to surpass is 10″ of Vertical Separation, and Norwood’s Splitter has 11.1″ of Vertical Separation off of his fastball. This is what allowed it to generate a 42.7% Whiff% and .242 xwOBA at 40.8% Usage, meaning it’s effective at high volume.

At a 117.2 Stuff+, Norwood’s Splitter is his best pitch in terms of movement, velocity, spin, and other factors. With such a strong pitch in his arsenal, it’s no wonder why the Yankees were interested in bringing him into the organization. It’s a pitch that emphasizes whiffs, and it’s also remarkably unique since not many pitchers can command a quality Splitter. This pitch can definitely be classified as an elite pitch, and it’s a huge reason why he struck out nearly 26% of batters faced in a lost season for him in 2022.

A lot of the success of his Splitter is based on how it works off of his fastball, but his fastball is the pitch that needs work.

Can the Yankees Unlock His Fastball?

James Norwood’s Four-Seam Fastball works well with his Splitter, but the location of the fastball seems to be what gets him into trouble. It’s stuck in the “dead zone” in terms of vertical movement, as with 15.6″ of Induced Vertical Break, it’s right around the league average of 16″ of IVBs for a four-seam fastball. While it does generate great velocity (96.6 MPH), and it does get a lot more horizontal break than most FFs at 12.0″, it’s a pitch that needs work. Batters hit .355 with a .581 SLG against his FF, and the way to help this could be moving away from the 1:30 Spin Axis he’s on right now with the fastball.

If he’s closer to 12:00 for his spin axis, it’ll promote more vertical break and increase the separation he gets vertically off of his Splitter, but that’s easier said than done. Giving him a sinker would hurt the efficiency of his Splitter, so perhaps it’s a matter of just improving command of his FF instead of changing the shape of it. Stuff+ grades it out as an above-average pitch (103.2), so it should perform better than the results have shown, but there is room to improve the shape of said pitch.

The Yankees take flyers all the time for pitching, with arms like Lucas Luetge and Nestor Cortes playing massive roles for them after signing MiLB deals originally.

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Oct 1, 2022; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher Nestor Cortes (65) pitches in the first inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

James Norwood most likely doesn’t find much time in the bullpen due to the depth the Yankees have, but they’re adding to their insurance in case of any major injuries. They’re a factory for quality MLB relievers, and there’s a reason pitchers take MiLB deals to pitch in this organization. Maybe this is just another signing we forget about, or perhaps this is one of those signings we praise the organization for during the season.

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