The Dodgers made multiple moves before the trade deadline, acquiring the likes of Kike Hernandez, Amed Rosario, Lance Lynn and Joe Kelly. The most surprising move for the organization was trading for of former Rays and Royals pitcher Ryan Yarbrough on August 1.
The left-hander is the complete opposite of the modern day pitcher. He has an extremely low strikeout rate striking out just 32 batters in 55 ⅓ innings this season. Additionally, his sinker, his fastest pitch, averages out at a measly 86.1 MPH and his spin rates are some of the worst in baseball. But yet, he has a 4.07 ERA this season and the Dodgers trusted him enough to throw him for 4 ⅓ innings against a potent Padres lineup in his debut with the team on Saturday. It is fair to wonder though is if his poor stuff and inability to miss bats is eventually going to catch up to him over the remainder of the season which we will review down below.
Despite having an arsenal that doesn’t strike fear into any lineup, Yarbrough has been one of the best pitchers in baseball at avoiding hard contact since his debut in 2018. In every one his major league seasons, including this one, he’s ranked in the 92nd percentile or better in average exit velocity against and in the 91st percentile or better in hard-hit percentage allowed. He’s able to induce that quality of contact through an extremely deceptive delivery where he hides the ball well and overall looks rather difficult to pick up.
He reminds me a bit of Nestor Cortes Jr. in that department who excelled in 2022 in part due to his deception as a pitcher. When a pitcher is deceptive and more difficult to pick up the velocity isn’t as important because the pitch essentially gets in on the hitter quicker. This is when things like perceived velocity comes into play with Cortes once again being a great example of this.
Nestor Cortes’ fastball plays up. Meaning his 91-94 actually feels like 97. Mix that with him messing with a hitters timing, throwing from diff arm angles, and locating well, he can be very difficult to hit. He showed that today— Andrew McCutchen (@TheCUTCH22) May 9, 2022
Now obviously Yarbrough isn’t hesitating in his delivery or charging his arm slot like Cortes Jr. But, despite him sitting at only 86.9 MPH, his funky delivery likely makes his pitches look a bit more likely 88 or 89 MPH which is why we see so many soft contact swings off of him.
Now, whilst all of that is great, this is still a results-based business and the results haven’t been there in recent years. His ERA+ was below average in both 2021 (79) and 2022 (82), though he’s back up to 108 this season.
But that is where analytics clash. His low strikeout rate and above average fly ball rate percentage inflate his expected metrics, with an xERA of 4.40 or higher and xwOBA of .322 or worse for three years running. However, on the flip side his ability to limit walks and rarely give up hard contact almost reverses those two factors. Sure he’s allowing the ball to be put in play, but batters are hardly ever making solid contact against him.
The Dodgers needed arms and they did that at the deadline in acquiring Kelly, Lynn and Yarborough. None of those guys are going to be difference makers but Yarborough is an intriguing addition. I don’t think the Dodgers should ever use him in big moments but he adds pitching depth which is sorely needed. Yarborough is at best the fifth starter/bulk reliever on this team, however, LA could’ve done worse than acquiring the southpaw.