Is Ian Hamilton going to be the next Yankee’s elite closer?

Yankees closer Ian Hamilton has his first career save against the Rays on May 6, 2023 at Tropicana Field.

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Ian Hamilton‘s path to becoming a dependable arm in the New York Yankees’ bullpen has been arduous, He had stints with four different organizations, numerous call-ups, long periods in the minors, and bouts with unfortunate accidents. However, with the recent injuries to Lou Trivino, Tommy Kahnle, and Jonathan Loaisiga, Ian Hamilton’s value to the team has become evident.

He has proven himself to be a vital asset and a reliable presence in the bullpen. Ian Hamilton’s ERA is currently at 1.35 after he went six outings without allowing a run.

Ian Hamilton successfully got out of a difficult situation on Monday when he pitched in a game for the first time since achieving his first career save on May 6. He was brought in during the seventh inning to relieve a tough situation where there were already two runners on base with no outs. However, Ian Hamilton managed to force the next hitter to ground out and struck out the following two hitters to prevent the runners from scoring, leaving them stranded at the corners.

“He made some really good pitches in that spot,” manager Aaron Boone said, “and that’s the shutdown inning right there. A couple of 3-2 counts and he just executes a pitch. It’s exciting to see and it’s all we’ve seen, really, since the start of spring training.”

Ian Hamilton got the team through a jam

Yankees' closer Ian Hamilton is pitching against the Rays on May 6, 2023 at Tropicana Field.

In Monday’s game against the Athletics, Yankees manager Aaron Boone made a crucial decision to bring in relief pitcher Ian Hamilton in the top of the seventh inning with the tying run at the plate. This move paid off as Hamilton shut down the A’s, securing a 7-2 victory for the Yankees.

The score was 5-2 in favor of the Yankees while the visitors had players on first and second. Despite never having thrown a two-seam fastball in the big leagues before this year, Ian Hamilton started the inning with this pitch, which resulted in a fielder’s choice groundout. He followed up with a 97mph fastball that resulted in a looking strikeout and then finished off the inning with a swinging strikeout on his signature pitch.

For Ian Hamilton, who has been a part of six different organizations and has faced multiple injuries, this was a big moment. He proved his worth as one of the most reliable arms out of the Yankees’ bullpen and helped secure the win. This is all coming from a 27-year-old player, who was drafted in the 11th round and is now in his sixth club.

Boone expressed his excitement for the team with a grin following their 7-2 win.

“He’s the real deal, the truth,” Nestor Cortes said. “He’s been like a stopper for us. He closed out a game for us the other day in Tampa and hopefully, he can continue to throw up zeroes for us.”

Ian Hamilton’s discovery is a big bonus

The Yankees have a reputation for being a “championship-caliber operation” according to GM Brian Cashman, despite their mediocre record. This is due in part to their ability to discover undervalued players, prospects, and underperforming athletes from other teams, thanks to their team of professional scouts and analysts.

The Yankees have a history of finding and utilizing players who have been overlooked or undervalued by other teams. Some of these players include Luke Voit, Gio Urshela, Mike Tauchman, Clay Holmes, Lucas Luetge, Jose Trevino, and others. These players have been instrumental in helping the Yankees weather injuries to their star players, and in some cases, they have even gone on to become All-Stars.

Among the players discovered by the Yankees this year, including Jake Bauers and Willie Calhoun, Ian Hamilton stands out as a particularly promising prospect. He is also indicative of the team’s improved pitching approach, according to players.

Ian Hamilton of the Yankees is pitching against the Athletics on May 8, 2023, at Yankee Stadium.

To acquire and improve their pitchers, the Yankees follow a process that involves scouts and/or analysts identifying potential acquisitions who are not performing up to their potential and could benefit from modifications to their pitching repertoire. These pitchers are then handed over to the coaching staff who offer suggestions on which pitches to use more and which to use less.

In 2014, the Yankees had their first notable achievement in this regard when they recognized the potential in pitcher Brandon McCarthy, who was playing for the Arizona Diamondbacks at the time. After acquiring him through a trade, the team suggested that McCarthy should use his cutters more, which helped him become successful for the rest of the season.

It took the Yankees several years to refine their communication between scouts, analysts, coaches, and players regarding pitching strategies. While some Yankee pitchers have found the analytics on pitch usage and game-planning helpful, others have been skeptical, feeling that the data lacks a human touch. In comparison to the Houston Astros, the Yankees have been behind in this area.

After pitching coach Matt Blake came to the team in 2020 without any previous MLB coaching experience, he played a role in closing the communication gap between the Yankees’ analysts, coaches, and players. According to pitchers, over the last three seasons, the team’s data on pitch usage has gradually improved to better match their individual strengths and weaknesses.

This year, there is a sense among the team that pitching coach Matt Blake, analyst Zac Fieroh, and Trevino have significantly improved the pitching process. Pitchers like Gerrit Cole have praised their work, and many others have expressed the same sentiment, with the belief that the team’s pitching strategies have noticeably improved in 2023.

The Yankees’ scouts and analysts identified characteristics in Hamilton’s pitches such as spin that made him underrated, leading to his acquisition. General Manager Brian Cashman did not provide further details about the evaluation process in a text exchange but acknowledged that the team liked Ian Hamilton’s qualities.

Ian Hamilton’s baseball career was hindered by a car accident that caused damage to his shoulder, as well as a serious facial injury from a line drive in 2021. He only played in 15 Major League Baseball games before the start of this season, and his earned run average (ERA) was 4.91. However, this year Ian Hamilton has improved significantly with a 1.35 ERA and a 0.85 WHIP while playing for the Yankees. His pitching style indicates that he can maintain this level of success.

Ian Hamilton, like many of his teammates, appreciates the opportunity to learn from Blake, Trevino, and the other specialists.

“It’s a mix between all three of us,” Ian Hamilton said. “Whatever they’re putting down, they have a good feel for the situation.”

The Yankees have assisted Gerrit Cole in 2023 by instructing him on the optimal locations to throw his pitches within the strike zone. Similarly, Ian Hamilton says that Matt Blake, Jose Trevino, and the analysts are helping him with the placement of his pitches, which include a four-seam fastball, a sinker, and a slider aimed away from right-handed batters.

According to Ian Hamilton, the pitching strategy can be illustrated as a sideways triangle when viewed through metrics. Although the plan looks good on paper, the key is to hit the specific spots as intended to execute it successfully.

The Yankees clubhouse is now filled with discussions about how to improve their pitching. Despite the other challenges they face, the combination of scouting, data, and coaching is being utilized to maximize the performance of their depleted pitching staff.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Ian Hamilton was set to pitch in the eighth inning as well, but due to Aaron Hicks hitting a home run that extended the lead from 5-2 to 7-2, Hamilton was no longer needed to pitch.

“I don’t necessarily say, ‘He’s my closer.’ What we are seeing is we have a number of guys back there that we feel we can hand the ball to in that situation,” Boone said. “Obviously we did that with Ian the other day and nothing really changed for him as far as his execution, heartbeat, and conviction. I wouldn’t hesitate to do it moving forward.”

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