A look inside the unexpected revival of the Yankees best reliever


At this time last season, Tommy Kahnle had a 6.14 ERA and was rehabbing a nagging shoulder injury he suffered just six games into his 2018 campaign. He would appear in two more games for the Yankees in late May before being sent down to triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre for most of the summer. All in all, Kahnle’s disastrous season ended with him posting a 6.56 ERA and 1.63 WHIP in 24 games for New York. It was a far cry from the 2.70 ERA he put up in 32 games for the Yankees in 2017 after coming over in a trade from the White Sox. It would have been easy for the team to give up on the 29-year-old and make him the forgotten man of their stacked bullpen, but they gave him one more chance and now they’re reaping the rewards.

Photo Credit: Robert Sabo

We’re 43 games into the 2019 season and Tommy Kahnle has been the Yankees best reliever so far. Not former all-stars Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances or Zack Britton, but the man who spent most of last year in the International League. To date, Kahnle has appeared in 20 games, pitching to a 1.06 ERA (fourth best among qualified American League relievers), 0.82 WHIP and logging 24 strikeouts in 17 innings (12.71 K/9). Moreover, he’s allowed only two earned runs in those 20 appearances, both coming back on April 10 at Houston. And in 17 of those 20 outings, the Latham, New York native hasn’t given up a hit or run. This includes a stretch of 11 consecutive outings in which Kahnle didn’t allow a hit or run, something that has only been done two other times in MLB history.

So, what changed for the right-hander? For one, the 2010 fifth round pick has had much better control. After walking 5.79 batters per nine innings last year, that number is down to 3.18 in 2019. In addition, he’s keeping the ball in the ballpark. His ground ball rate has gone up from 35.5% to 62.2%, which has led to a drop in home runs per nine of 1.16 to 0.53. Lastly, his stuff is once again electric. Kahnle’s average fastball velocity is 96.2 MPH, which is a full mile per hour faster than last season, and his chase rate has risen from 28.2% to 32.6% in a year’s time. His hard hit rate is also an elite 27.8 percent. Look just about anywhere and you’ll find improvement for the big righty.

Photo Credit: Elsa/Getty Images

Now, Kahnle’s best work for the 2019 squad has been his effectiveness against left-handed hitters. The Yankees don’t have a true lefty-specialist between Chapman serving as the team’s closer and Britton's usage as a true setup man (has faced just 14 lefties all year). As for Kahnle, lefties are an incredible 1-26 (.038 batting average) against him with 17 strikeouts. That type of dominance is nothing short of remarkable, and it stems from his power changeup that breaks from left to right and is almost unhittable for batters on the left side of the plate. That becomes especially true when Kahnle is able to command his fastball and has the confidence to use it the way he has so far this season.



In a year where Dellin Betances hasn’t appeared in a game yet, Chad Green has a 13.97 ERA and Jonathan Holder has been inconsistent, someone needed to step up in the middle of the Yankees bullpen. That someone has been Tommy Kahnle. As it is, New York is 14th in MLB in bullpen ERA at 4.07. Imagine what that number would be without the resurgence of Kahnle, who is a big reason the Yankees enter play on May 18 with a half-game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East despite their laundry list of injuries. If Kahnle can continue pitching more like his 2017 self, and in some ways even better than that, New York’s bullpen is going to be in very good shape.

All stats presented in this article courtesy of Fangraphs, Baseball Reference and Statcast

Article by: Jake Graziano

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