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Blue Jays bolster ‘pen with Kirby Yates

Two seasons ago, Yates was arguably baseball’s best reliever.

Arizona Diamondbacks v San Diego Padres Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images

After being linked to just about every top free agent, the Blue Jays finally landed a whopper. They also signed Kirby Yates, who, like George Springer, is extremely good.

Before getting their top target of the offseason, the Blue Jays signed Yates to a one-year deal worth a guaranteed $5.5 million with $4.5 million in performance incentives. This is a far cry from what Liam Hendriks got from the White Sox which was a three-year, $54 million deal. When Yates has been healthy, his numbers have been on par with what Hendriks has put up.

After struggling to establish himself with the Rays and Yankees, Yates was excellent in three full seasons with the Padres. Since the Padres claimed him from the Angels off waivers, Yates has maintained a 161 ERA+ in 183 23 innings.

Yates only threw 4 23 innings in 2020 after dealing with bone chips in his throwing elbow, so he was unable to follow up his stellar campaign the year before. In 2019, Yates had an argument for being baseball’s best reliever. He was certainly the best in the National League where he finished ninth in Cy Young voting. In 60 23 innings, he struck out 41.6 percent of batters while walking only 5.3 percent. Among relievers, he ranked first in FIP and ERA and finished second in xFIP and SIERA.

Let’s see how he fared in Baseball Savant’s percentile ranking.

Baseball Savant

Seems good!

Yates is a pretty clear upgrade for Toronto’s bullpen. As a group, Blue Jay relievers ranked 15th in the majors in FIP. This year, the team will be without Anthony Bass, who tied for the team lead in innings in 2020, and Ken Giles. Giles, who is now a free agent, had a career year in 2019, but hardly pitched last season and underwent Tommy John surgery in October.

Rafael Dolis and Jordan Romano were the two best remaining incumbent options, and each are coming off nice seasons. The pair struck out 31.0 and 36.8 percent of batters respectively, but neither possess Yates’s control.

Though he’s spent most of his career as a starter, Tyler Chatwood could work out of the bullpen. The walk issues that plagued him in 2018 have gone, and he threw competent innings the past two seasons for the Cubs.

Signing George Springer vastly improved the Jays’ roster, but they were looking pretty good with just Yates in the mix. Getting one of the best bats in the league doesn’t do a team any good if there’s no one to hold the lead.

Kenny Kelly is the managing editor of Beyond the Box Score.