Yankees turn Mets’ bullpen trash into their treasure

MLB: New York Yankees at Kansas City Royals
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

When the New York Yankees claimed right-handed relief pitcher Michael Tonkin off waivers, they took on a player who had struggled significantly earlier in the season, posting a 5.14 ERA with the Mets and a disheartening 9.00 ERA with the Minnesota Twins.

Yankees’ Surprising Pickup: Michael Tonkin’s Resurgence

This move, which might have seemed minor at the time, has turned out to be a stroke of brilliance for the Yankees. Through a slight adjustment in his pitch usage, the 34-year-old veteran has transformed into an essential piece of the Yankees’ bullpen.

Tonkin’s Transformation and Impact

Since joining the Yankees, Tonkin has been nothing short of spectacular. Over 20.1 innings, he has achieved an impressive 0.89 ERA and a 2.31 FIP, with a 68.4% left-on-base rate and a 54.5% ground ball rate.

“It’s good to get in a groove and get comfortable and be in a position where I feel like I’m not scared that I’m gonna get tapped on the shoulder after every game,” Tonkin said. “All that kind of helps.”

Remarkably, he has reduced his walks per nine and has not surrendered a home run during his tenure with the Bombers. His standout performance continued into a recent game against the Kansas City Royals, where he secured a save by striking out two batters in one inning, effectively lowering his ERA to 2.45.

Jun 5, 2024; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees relief pitcher Michael Tonkin (50) throws the ball to first base for an out during the ninth inning against the Minnesota Twins at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 5, 2024; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees relief pitcher Michael Tonkin (50) throws the ball to first base for an out during the ninth inning against the Minnesota Twins at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

“He likes the fire,” Boone said. “He likes the competition. … He’s got guts. He’s fearless out there and really, really competitive. He’s fit in well in that room and I trust giving him the ball.”

Under the guidance of Pitching Coach Matt Blake, Tonkin has shifted his focus toward his slider, which has become his primary pitch, reducing his sinker usage by about 9%.

This strategy has paid dividends, as his slider is now holding batters to a .067 average and his sinker to a .111 average. His slider, averaging 83.2 mph, produces 10% more vertical movement than the average pitcher and has a deceptive gyro shape that mimics a fastball before breaking out of the zone. Meanwhile, his sinker may lack some movement compared to others but compensates with a speed of 92.8 mph and challenging dual movement that confounds hitters.

As the Yankees’ bullpen has experienced some instability, Tonkin has emerged as a reliable asset in high-pressure situations. With Clay Holmes needing rest after pitching in three of the last four games, Manager Aaron Boone confidently called upon Tonkin. His continued excellence not only solidifies his role within the team but also positions him favorably for potential contract discussions if he maintains this high level of performance.

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