What a difference a year makes? Kirby Yates entered 2020 drafts as one of the pre-eminent relievers to target in the top tier. Then fell victim to the truncated season last year, appearing in only six games logging 4.1 innings with two saves before undergoing season-ending surgery in August removing bone chips from his right elbow. When perusing his numbers from 2020 it comes with bloated ratio statistics in both ERA (12.46) and WHIP (2.54).

Using a bit of investment advice in an attempt to properly value Yates in upcoming drafts and auctions, the term opportunity cost may help shed light on it. His direct cost climbs after signing a one-year deal with Toronto adding a much needed veteran presence at the backend of their bullpen. Weighing his past results coming off surgery and his path to saves versus his peers could make targeting Yates appealing. Of course, at the expense of what?

In order to set the environment, throwing out the results from 2020 makes sense. Dialing back to 2019 on Statcast first, Yates allowed 122 batted ball events, five barrels (4.1 percent), an 86.9 MPH average exit velocity and a 36.1 hard hit rate. His expected statistics jump off the page with a .174 expected batting average (xBA), .229 expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA) and 2.18 expected ERA (xERA). He also owned a robust 41.6 strikeout percentage versus a 5.3 walk rate over 60.2 innings of work. Here's a pitch plot displaying his swinging strikes:

Delving deeper into his results, here's Yates’ breakdown by pitch using the Statast data and indicators of performance:

?      Yates Four-Seam Fastball: 57 percent usage, .180 xBA, .252 xwOBA, 34.9 whiff percentage, 43.9 K%, 28.2 put away percent

?      Yates Split-Finger: 42.1 percent usage, .169 xBA, .210 xwOBA, 34.4 whiff percentage, 43.9 K%, 30 put away percent

Overall, Yates’ whiff percentage of 34.6 is perfectly aligned with his breakout total from 2018. He also recorded a 48.4 ground ball percentage with his arsenal in 2019 fueling his continued success. Here are Yates’ percentile rankings in some key categories for top tier closers:

?      xwOBA - 100th percentile

?      xBA - 99th percentile

?      Strikeout percentage (K%) - 99th percentile

?      Whiff percentage - 92nd percentile

?      xERA - 100th percentile

Before exploring his projection for 2021, expanding his sample size to the 2018 and 2019 seasons encapsulates his effectiveness as a reliever in these two seasons. During his 123.2 innings within this time frame, Yates went 5-8 with 53 saves in 57 chances recording a 191:30 K:BB, 1.67 ERA, 2.14 SIERA and 0.91 WHIP for the Padres. Beneath these numbers, Yates notched a 38.7 strikeout percentage, 6.1 percent walk rate, 16.2 swinging strike percentage, 68.2 contact percent allowed, 75 Z-Contact (in the strike zone) percentage and 36.8 O-Swing (outside the strike zone) percentage. Pretty, pretty good. Once again, for some clarity, here are Yates’ ranks among all qualified relievers between these two seasons:

?      ERA - 1st

?      WHIP - 2nd

?      K-BB% and SIERA - 3rd

?      Z-Contact - 4th lowest

?      Strikeouts - 5th

?      Swinging Strike Percentage (SwStr%) - 7th

Although Yates only ranked 12th in total saves, he recorded his first save of 2018 in June and took over as the closer for San Diego after the Brad Hand trade to Cleveland on July 19th of 2018. If one searches relievers from July 19, 2018 through the end of 2019, Yates moves into first in saves (51), one ahead of Roberto Osuna . It's a volatile trade, being a closer.

Following up on Yates repertoire on Brooks Baseball, he also flashed top tier results with his two pitches. On Brooks, a pitcher's pitch can be searched by year to yield his swinging strike percentage and ground ball rate by each offering. Here are Yates’ results from 2019 using these both categories:

?      Yates Four-Seam Fastball: 16.4 SwStr%, 26.4 GB%

?      Yates Split-Finger: 18.5 SwStr%, 68.1 GB%

For a visual of this, check out the tweet below:


Due in part to a lost 2020 campaign, trying to figure out a projection for Yates comes with some apprehension until his velocity can be seen in spring training. As of now, only Steamer attempts to project his outcomes with saves included for the upcoming season:

?      Yates’ 2021 Steamer projection: 3-3, 27 saves, 60 IP, 76:21 K:BB, 3.70 ERA, 1.19 WHIP

Understanding Yates underwent an arthroscopic procedure, removing bone chips only in his elbow should allow him to rebound in the upcoming season. Does some inherent risk apply? Sure. However, ignoring his dominance in the previous two seasons could be a mistake. Both THE BAT (13.2) and ZiPS (13.8) project a much better strikeouts per nine rate than Steamer (11.4), so there's hope for a better season than indicated in this one projection set.

There are also reports the Blue Jays favor a fluid high leverage situation like American League East rival Tampa Bay, but when Yates closed out games for the Durham Bulls in 2015, his manager was Charlie Montoya. Part of the reason Yates chose Toronto over other offers, the chance to play for Montoya again. Even if Toronto shares some high leverage moments, if Yates proves healthy, he should receive the majority share of saves in this bullpen. There are incentives in his contract for performance, so Yates can rebuild his market with health and closing out big games for a team with playoff aspirations.

Circling back to the opportunity cost questions above, Yates falling to the second or third tier in terms of average draft position creates a unique buy low chance on a proven reliever with his cost depressed by injury. Yates needs to be monitored closely in spring outings, but if his fastball velocity returns and his splitter remains nasty, he's going to be worth the risk. Especially compared to some of his peers in 2021.

UPDATE - sad trombone...

Unfortunately, it appears Yates will miss the 2021 season, plan accordingly:

Statistical Credits:





THE BAT courtesy of Derek Carty