Yankees bullpen reloads with priority on grounder-inducing strategy to restore elite form

Yankees bullpen star Clay Holmes
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Sara Molnick
Thursday February 8, 2024

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Last season, the Yankees sputtered offensively (25th in runs scored), leaving everyone asking, “Where were the runs?” But their pitching staff wasn’t a complete strikeout. While not exactly lights-out, the bullpen held its own, ranking 16th in WAR. However, key departures like Wandy Peralta, Michael King, and others raised concerns about replicating that success in 2024.

But fear not, Yankee fans! The pinstripes haven’t abandoned their winning formula: inducing ground balls, and lots of them. This philosophy, championed by pitching coach Matt Blake, explains their recent acquisition of Victor Gonzalez and Caleb Ferguson – two left-handed ground ball specialists pried away from the Dodgers.

Yankees bullpen strategy is focused on ground balls

Staying true to their philosophy, the Yankees targeted ground-ball specialists like Victor Gonzalez and Caleb Ferguson from the Dodgers.

These aren’t your average hurlers. They’re ground ball wizards, conjuring up weak dribblers and lazy fly balls like rabbits from a hat. Remember 2022? The Yankees led the majors in ground-ball rate (50.6%), maintaining a dominant 49.1% in 2023 and finishing fifth in WAR. Now, picture Gonzalez and Ferguson joining forces with Clay Holmes and Ian Hamilton, both top-15 ground-ball artists from last season. This fearsome foursome could turn opposing lineups into a sea of frustrated pop-ups, considering the average bullpen generates a measly 43% ground-ball rate.

victor-gonzalez-new-york-yankees
Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports

“They’ve had success with this type of pitcher before,” says a National League scout, his voice laced with respect for the Yankees. “Expect them to keep rolling and maybe even thrive under the Yankees’ system, where they know how to maximize potential.”

Gonzalez and Ferguson join established ground-ball specialists Clay Holmes and Ian Hamilton, who ranked top-15 among relievers last season. Hamilton even reached a career-best 55.1% in his debut year, followed closely by Jonathan Loaisiga (54.7%).

And the obsession with ground balls doesn’t stop there. Take Matt Krook, a depth piece whose minor league numbers scream “ground ball machine” with rates exceeding 60%. Even non-roster invitee Yerry de los Santos boasts a respectable 51.8% rate. The message is clear: the Yankees value ground balls like diamonds in the rough.

But why this unwavering dedication to grounders? The answer lies in minimizing damage. Fly balls translate to potential home runs, doubles, and extra bases – nightmares for any pitching staff. Ground balls, on the other hand, offer more control. Infielders can gobble them up, turning potential rallies into harmless outs.

The 2023 Yankees bullpen.
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Pitching coach Matt Blake has become a maestro of this ground ball symphony. Look no further than the success stories of Hamilton, Holmes, Peralta, and Luetge – pitchers who, under his tutelage, transformed into ground ball maestros. Their success speaks volumes about the effectiveness of this philosophy.

Of course, offense remains a concern. But with their ground ball-gobbling bullpen returning stronger than ever, the Yankees might just buy their struggling hitters some much-needed breathing room. Imagine this: a batter connects, but instead of soaring over the fence, the ball dribbles harmlessly towards first base. A sigh of relief washes over the Yankee faithful as the out is recorded. Repeat this scenario enough times, and you have a recipe for success, even with a less-than-explosive offense.

Even depth arms like Matt Krook (49.1% in 2023 minors) and Yerry de los Santos (51.8% Triple-A in 2023) add to the ground-ball focus.

This philosophy, spearheaded by pitching coach Matt Blake, has seen success with rejuvenating relievers like Hamilton, Holmes, Peralta, and Lucas Luetge. Can Gonzalez and Ferguson add to this legacy? The Yankees hope so, as they aim to maintain their bullpen’s strength in 2024.

So, while the rest of the baseball world might chase strikeouts and high-velocity heat, the Yankees march to the beat of a different drum. Their bullpen, armed with shovels and an insatiable appetite for ground balls, stands ready to silence doubters and continue their reign as the kings of pop-ups and weak dribblers. Get ready, opposing hitters, you’re about to enter a ground ball graveyard, Yankee Stadium style.

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