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Kirby Yates would give the Dodgers bullpen another different look

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LA reportedly has “significant interest” in free agent RHP

MLB: JUL 06 Padres at Dodgers Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Blake Treinen returning to the Dodgers on a two-year deal brings back one of manager Dave Roberts’ most trusted relievers. The bullpen has dominated the Dodgers’ offseason moves to date, and they might not be done adding.

The Dodgers have “significant interest” in former Padres closer Kirby Yates, per Jorge Castillo of the Los Angeles Times. Yates would fit a pattern somewhat this year for the Dodgers.

Yates has been dominant recently, ever since joining the Padres, basically. He had a 1.19 ERA with 101 strikeouts and only 13 walks in 60⅔ innings in 2019.

From 2017-19, Yates ranked second in ERA (2.40) among all pitchers with at least 100 innings, was fourth in FIP (2.56) and fifth in strikeout rate (38.5 percent). During that same period, a pair of new Dodgers were also in the top 10 in strikeout rate — Corey Knebel fourth (40.2 percent) and Tommy Kahnle 10th (35 percent).

Knebel missed all of 2019 after Tommy John surgery and was traded by the Brewers at the December 2 tender deadline. Kahnle had Tommy John surgery in August and is expected to miss all or most of 2021, but is signed through 2022. Yates had elbow surgery in August as well, but it an arthroscopic procedure to remove bone chips.

“Realistically this is the first real issue I’ve had with my elbow in 14 years, since I had Tommy John surgery. It was a pretty good run,” Yates told reporters in August. “I feel really good. I’m very, very optimistic after having the surgery.

“Everything is very positive that Dr. Meister’s been telling me so far. He said he really liked the way my elbow looked. That’s a positive for me. You go in there 14 years after Tommy John, you’re a little nervous about what they might find, but everything went very well.”

That Tommy John surgery for Yates was in 2006 as a freshman at Yavapai College in Arizona, and caused him to miss the 2007 season. Yates, who was drafted out of high school in the 26th round in 2005 by the Red Sox but did not sign, signed as an undrafted free agent with the Rays in 2009.

In seven big league seasons the right-hander, who turns 34 in March, has a 3.54 ERA, a 3.39 FIP and 33.9-percent strikeout rate in 291 games, all in relief.

On Dec. 31, Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune reported that the Padres were interested in re-signing Yates but there would be competition. “According to industry sources,” Acee wrote, “he is likely looking at a deal laden with incentives that guarantees him upwards of $5 million a year.”

What Yates would bring to the Dodgers, if they should sign him, is a different look in a bullpen looking for diversification.

Since the beginning of 2018, Yates has basically been a two-pitch pitcher, throwing his fastball 57 percent of the time and his split-fingered pitch 38.4 percent of the time. The splitter was Yates’ best out pitch, with a 30.3-percent put-away rate the last three years, holding batters to a .169 batting average and .224 slugging percentage in at-bats that end with the pitch. In 2019, Yates had the best split-fingered pitch by run value among all pitchers by both Baseball Savant and FanGraphs.

The Dodgers don’t have a splitter in their current bullpen, unless they wanted to move Tony Gonsolin away from starting duties.

Here’s a look at the current Dodgers bullpen, and every pitch each reliever threw at least 10 percent of the time since the start of 2019.

Dodgers bullpen by pitch types

Pitcher Fastball Sinker Curve Slider Change Cutter
Pitcher Fastball Sinker Curve Slider Change Cutter
Kenley Jansen 17.7% 11.4% 69.7%
Blake Treinen 17.7% 47.8% 17.0% 15.9%
Corey Knebel 62.4% 33.8%
Joe Kelly 25.4% 22.5% 40.4% 10.4%
Brusdar Graterol 61.6% 29.4%
Victor Gonzalez 10.3% 52.4% 35.9%
Dylan Floro 45.1% 29.2%
Adam Kolarek 73.3%
Scott Alexander 85.6% 11.7%
Source: Baseball Savant

This list is somewhat fluid, and could change year to year. Kenley Jansen doubled his slider usage last year, for instance. Joe Kelly threw his curve 63 percent of the time in 2020 after 36.5 percent in 2019, halved his fastball usage, and completely ditched his changeup. Dylan Floro reintroduced his changeup last year, throwing it 21.6 percent of the time, and just ask Randy Arozarena how effective it was.

Adding Knebel gives the Dodgers another curve-thrower in the bullpen to go with Kelly, and adds a steady diet of four-seam fastballs to a bullpen filled with turbo sinkers. Kahnle probably won’t pitch this season, but when he’s ready his 51.2-percent changeup usage since 2019 will give the Dodgers another different look.

Not everyone is going to return to form from injury. But adding enough pitchers who were recently very good — in addition to the minor league deals for Brandon Morrow and potentially Jimmy Nelson — increases the chances that some of these risks will pay off for the Dodgers.