The Rangers announced the signing of right-hander Kirby Yates to a one-year deal. It’s reportedly a $4.5MM guarantee for the Beverly Hills Sports Council client.
Yates, 37 in March, had something of a bounceback year in 2023, at least from a health perspective. Over the 2020-2022 seasons, he only tossed 11 1/3 total innings due to elbow injuries, requiring Tommy John surgery in March of 2021. He then signed a two-year deal with Atlanta, with that club knowing he wouldn’t be a big factor in 2022.
He was healthy enough to make 61 appearances in 2023 with a 3.28 earned run average, though the underlying metrics were less encouraging. His 31.5% strikeout rate was still very strong but he also walked 14.6% of batters faced. A low batting average on balls in play of .211 and a high strand rate of 85.4% helped to keep runs off the board, which is why his 4.63 FIP and 3.90 SIERA were a bit less bullish on his performance. Atlanta let him go by choosing a $1.25MM buyout rather than a $5.75MM salary on a club option for 2024.
But prior to his lengthy injury woes, Yates was one of the best pitchers in the league for a time. In 2018, he posted an ERA of 2.14 with the Padres, pairing a 36% strikeout rate with a 6.8% walk rate. He was even better in 2019, getting his ERA down to 1.19 as he struck out 41.6% of batters and walked just 5.3%, racking up 41 saves in that season.
Yates obviously wasn’t back to that level in 2023 and it’s probably not fair to expect he ever will be, given his age. But he was still getting plenty of strikeouts in 2023 and his 93.6mph fastball velocity was essentially all the way back to his pre-injury form, as he was at 93.9mph in 2018 and 93.5mph in 2019. Perhaps now that he is further removed from his surgery, his control will improve. It’s perhaps notable that he had an 18.5% walk rate through June 7 but a 12.3% rate from that point on, showing at least some signs of improvement.
Despite winning the World Series in 2023, the bullpen was an obvious weak spot for the Rangers. Collectively, their relievers had an ERA of 4.77 on the year, which placed them 24th in the league. Midseason pickups Aroldis Chapman and Chris Stratton reached free agency after the playoffs, along with one-year signee Will Smith. If Yates is in decent form next year, he can help them make up for those losses.