If you scroll to the MLB pitching leaderboard on the 2022 season in ERA- (min. 30 IP), you’ll find something very interesting. Evan Phillips, who broke out with one of the better campaigns in the NL last year, sits second overall with a ridiculous mark of 29.
Do you know who’s number one? Fellow Dodgers right-hander Yency Almonte.
Almonte was one of the worst pitchers in all of baseball in 2021 and got let go by the Colorado Rockies organization. The Dodgers saw something in his arsenal which prompted the front office to give him a minor league deal with a spring training invitation.
Almonte didn’t make the team, and instead started the year on Triple A, but after his name was called in May, the right-hander dazzled with a devastating sinker-slider combo.
Previously more of a four-seam pitcher, with a changeup sneaking his way in there once every 10 pitches, give or take. The Dodgers made one tweak with him, and as Samantha Carlson noted in Almonte’s season review, his slider gained more horizontal movement, a process he had already started late in his tenure with Colorado.
Almonte ended up missing a ton of time late in the season with elbow issues but came back for the playoffs, and his usage then indicated the level of trust the organization had in him, with high-leverage work despite a long absence.
In the 35⅓ innings of work Almonte had in the regular season, he allowed the grand total of 18 hits, and four runs, giving him a 1.02 ERA, and 0.792 WHIP.
Whether it was the high-quality work of Daniel Hudson early in the year, or the breakout performance by Phillips, somewhere in the shuffle, Almonte got a little overlooked in the national stage and is bound to turn some heads with his performance in 2023, especially if he is able to stay healthy throughout the whole year.
The Dodgers enter the year without a designated closer. Many arms could fill that spot, and the team could rotate them in that position like the Rays and other organizations do, but in the pecking order of arms with the stuff to be the ninth-inning guy, Almonte ranks well in that conversation, significantly above names like Alex Vesia (who’s been more volatile, especially in the first half last season), Brusdar Graterol (below average strikeout rate, even more so, for his stuff), and others.
Almonte has shown the type of level he can reach, the organization has shown the faith it has on him in the postseason. The only step left is staying healthy over a full year.