Dominant Closers: The Kirby Yates Edition

Alex Kielar | June 22, 2019

If someone would have told me before the season that Kirby Yates would have converted 26 of 26 save opportunities to this point in the year, I would have called them crazy. And by the way, 26 saves are tied for the most in Padres history, prior to the All-Star break and was accomplished by Heath Bell in 2011. Yates also has a streak of converting 33 straight saves dating back to last season and has been nearly un-hittable this year. Yates was tabbed the closer last season after the Padres dealt Brad Hand to the Indians.

Part of Yates’ struggles in previous seasons was his high flyball rate (56.2% in 2017), his propensity for allowing home runs (1.91 HR/9) and the fact that 17.6% of his flyballs allowed left the yard. A lot of his success has come from the development of a very impressive splitter in 2018, which produced a 54.4% ground-ball rate and helped him decrease his HR/9 to 0.86 last season.

In 2019, Yates has an insane 45.0% strikeout rate to just 6.7% walk rate (38.3% K-BB) and has only allowed a .164 batting average and one home run in his 32 appearances. He hasn’t given up very hard contact either, only allowing an 87.8 exit velocity on balls in play. His strikeout rate is good for over 15 K/9, and he has been successful at inducing ground-balls with a 46.4% ground-ball rate. He has thrown his fastball 57.1% of the time, and his splitter 42.1% of the time, with his fastball topping off at 94 mph. With his fastball having low velocity, he has still given up a pretty high 37.5% flyball rate, but he has been able to control the zone very well and not give up long flyballs resulting in home runs. His home run to flyball rate is a mere 4.8%, which is seven percent lower than last season.

Yates has also excelled at getting first-pitch strikes with a 63.3 F-Strike%, while also getting batters to swing and miss at pitches with a 17.1 SwStr%. On his 49.4 swing%, he has allowed a career-low 65.3 contact% while throwing 38.5% pitches in the zone. Yates has gotten batters to swing at pitches outside the zone 36.7% of the time and only allowing contact on these pitches 60.7% of the time.

While I don’t believe Yates will continue to keep the same pace, I do think he will be very productive all season. With 26 saves so far this season, he is on pace to break the Padres single-season saves record of 53 put up by Trevor Hoffman in 1998. The MLB single-season all-time saves record is held by Francisco Rodriguez with 62 in 2008, which I don’t see him getting to. He will blow some saves along the way and I predict that he finishes the season with around 45 saves at season’s end. He will for sure be a selection for the All-Star Game and could even get some looks for Cy Young, even as a reliever if he can keep up the solid production.

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