Matt Blake hints at Yankees pivoting toward a hybrid rotation

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The 2023 season saw the Yankees’ fifth rotation slot going to either journeymen or bullpen talents. While many view it as forced on the team due to injuries to key pitchers, this emerged as a key experiment for the Yankees. Their pitching coach Matt Blake has now hinted at the continuation of this hybrid pitching model.

“You can create more value by having more guys that can give you ‘length.’ It doesn’t necessarily need to be labeled starter or reliever, but stretching guys out and having hybrid roles will probably be a trend,” the Yankees’ pitching coach told Joel Sherman. “A few teams basically ran two-, three-man rotations last year with a bunch of flex guys picking up the innings in different fashions. We used three or four of those types of hybrid roles at different points throughout the year. It allows you to utilize your personnel a little more creatively if done right.”

Certainly, bullpen games might, in certain scenarios, be the most strategically effective way to navigate nine innings for the Yankees. A pitcher confronting the lineup for the third time in a game inherently faces diminished success odds. But baseball used to encompass an element of uncertainty. It has revolved around the notion that a pitcher should be fatigued, should be struggling, and the team play is fast replacing the individual heroes, who are aplenty in the Yankees’ history.

Driven by a quest for ruthless efficiency, the concept of “having five starters” has already given way to “having an ace with no restrictions, two or three individuals who must be replaced at the slightest sign of trouble, and a fifth amalgamation of several quick-trigger arms.” According to Yankees pitching coach Matt Blake, the leash may be getting shorter even for the mid-rotation pitchers across the league.

Yankees are fast adapting to the change

Blake, in a conversation with Joel Sherman this week, indicated that Yankees fans should anticipate more players in the mold of Jhony Brito or Randy Vasquez emerging across the league in the future. These are individuals capable of handling three innings in relief but are also capable of starting and delivering four innings. While flexibility and adaptability have always been valued throughout the history of the game, planning to start the season with a group of pitchers whose maximum outing is four innings still doesn’t sound ideal—even if it’s technically optimized by the latest advancements in sports analytics.

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Blake suggested that exploring potential relief candidates who could transition into starting roles makes sense for the Yankees. He highlighted the opportunity to increase value within the team by having more players capable of providing extended innings. Instead of strictly defining roles as starters or relievers, the Yankees pitching coach emphasized the concept of stretching out players and adopting hybrid roles, a trend likely to emerge. Blake pointed out that several teams operated with condensed rotations supplemented by flexible players who handled innings in varied ways. He mentioned employing similar hybrid roles intermittently throughout the year, indicating that when executed effectively, such an approach enables a more creative utilization of the team’s personnel.

In the latter part of 2023, the Yankees accommodated Michael King‘s request to join the rotation, where he successfully extended his pitch count to 100. While this situation differs somewhat, aiming for a patchwork, two-starter rotation, as exemplified by the Diamondbacks, shouldn’t be the aspiration. Arizona’s bullpen and rotation faced challenges in both the regular season and October, falling short against the Rangers, albeit lasting longer in the postseason than anticipated.

In essence, the Yankees must keep pace with industry trends, but isn’t it preferable for them to set the trends rather than consistently playing catch-up?

What do you think? Leave your comment below.

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