Why was Jhony Brito a positive sign for Yankees fans in 2023 despite the playoff failure?

Jhony Brito, player of the New York Yankees.

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If you were to ask 10 Yankees fans, you’d likely hear the name Jhony Brito among those that have left a positive impression. The New York Yankees entered the 2023 season with high expectations, particularly for their starting rotation, boasting talents like Gerrit Cole and Carlos Rodón. However, injuries quickly altered their plans, thrusting rookie Jhony Brito into the spotlight. As the season unfolded, Brito’s performance raised questions and provided valuable insights for the Yankees.

Despite the Yankees’ dismal performance, including their failure to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2016, fans may find solace in Jhony Brito, as the player provided numerous reasons why he could be a promising addition to their 2024 plans.

Jhony Brito’s stats

In 2023, Jhony Brito’s presence on the field was felt in 25 games, with 13 of those as a starter, demonstrating his versatility. He showcased remarkable endurance, covering 90.1 innings. Brito’s ERA stood at 4.28, translating into an above-average 101 ERA+, a clear highlight. Delving into the advanced metrics, his 4.74 FIP and 4.66 xFIP hinted at factors beyond his control influencing his performance. Brito’s strikeout prowess shone with 7.2 strikeouts per nine innings (K/9), but room for improvement in control was evident with 2.8 walks per nine innings (BB/9). He contributed a solid 0.4 fWAR, cementing even more his value to the Yankees in the 2023 season.

What’s going to happen with Jhony Brito?

Jhony Brito, player of the New York Yankees.

As of now, in 2024, Jhony Brito remains in the first year of pre-arbitration eligibility. Before the 2023 season, Jhony Brito was relatively unknown in the Yankees’ minor league system, ranking 15th on FanGraphs’ top prospects list. He hadn’t received significant attention from other prospect rankings, making his call-up to the big leagues a bit surprising. However, Brito’s performance in Double- and Triple-A in 2022 showcased his potential. He posted a 2.96 ERA with 91 strikeouts and 35 walks in 112.2 innings, catching the Yankees’ attention.

When injuries hit the Yankees’ rotation, Jhony Brito was called up to make his MLB debut. He showed promise early, with a series-clinching victory against the Giants and a win over the Orioles. However, there were growing pains, and he struggled in several starts, failing to complete six innings. After a rough start against the Reds, Brito was sent back to Triple-A to make room for the returning Luis Severino.

Throughout the summer, Brito was on the Scranton shuttle, making spot starts in the big leagues before returning to the minors. His opportunity increased after Nestor Cortes was sidelined with a season-ending injury, and the Yankees decided to transition Brito to the bullpen. This move coincided with the team converting Michael King into a starter, making Brito’s role as a reliever all the more crucial.

Brito’s performance as a reliever exceeded expectations. In nine relief appearances to end the season, he consistently allowed one run or less, often pitching multiple innings. The difference between his performance as a starter and reliever was stark. As a starter, Brito had a 6.32 ERA and allowed 13 home runs in 13 starts. In contrast, he posted a 1.43 ERA as a reliever and limited opponents to one home run in 12 relief outings.

The key to Jhony Brito’s success appeared to be his command. As a reliever, he displayed a greater intent to attack the strike zone. This shift in mindset led to improved results. His strikeout-minus-walk rate (K-BB%) and called-strike-plus-whiff rate (CSW%) both improved significantly in his new role. K-BB% jumped from 7.3 percent as a starter to 19.3 percent as a reliever, while CSW% improved from 26.9 percent to 29.7 percent.

Jhony Brito’s success as a reliever positions him as a potential long man in the Yankees’ bullpen, especially as the real Michael King appears destined for a rotation spot in 2024. Brito’s ability to induce groundballs and reduce walks makes him a valuable asset in this role. With some adjustments to his pitch movement, particularly his sinker’s downward tilt, he could excel in a King-like role for the Yankees in the upcoming season.

Jhony Brito’s unexpected rise in the 2023 season provided valuable insights for the New York Yankees. From being an unknown prospect, he stepped up to contribute as both a starter and reliever, with his success in the latter role opening up new possibilities for the team in 2024.

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