After a brutal 2018, Tommy Kahnle is much improved

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Last year, what could go wrong did go wrong for Tommy Kahnle. In case you forgot, or blotted it from your memory, here’s a quick summary:

  • Shoulder tendinitis sent him to the (then called) disabled list in April.
  • Compared to 2017, he lost nearly 3 MPH on his fastball.
  • He was optioned to Triple-A twice: once in June, and again in early August.
  • He finished the season with an ERA of 6.56 in the majors. Although his results in Triple-A were better (4.01 ERA), they didn’t provide much hope.

2018 snowballed into a disastrous campaign for the righty reliever who was so dominant for the White Sox and Bombers in 2017.

Before this season, it was difficult to expect much from Kahnle. Not only wasit a mystery if his blazing fastball would return, but there was also no way to know if he could be effective without it. Fortunately for the Yankees, Kahnle once again resembles an excellent late inning relief option out of the bullpen.

Aside from the London Series, which we should probably just ignore, Kahnle hasn’t allowed a run since June 20th. Overall, in 36.1 innings this year, he owns a 2.97 ERA and 3.49 FIP. That may not seem dominant, but there’s more than meets the eye.

No, Kahnle’s velocity isn’t all the way back this season, but it’s improved over last year. He’s still down from his peak in 2017 (97.8 MPH), but the 96.4 MPH average this year is a good jump from 95.1 MPH last season.

Even though he may not have the same fastball as he did in 2017, nor the same results in terms of ERA and FIP, there are a handful of metrics in Kahnle’s favor this season:

Statistic20172019
ERA2.592.97
FIP1.833.49
xBA0.2040.194
xwOBA0.2540.253
LOB%78.381.1
HR/FB%7.523.1
K%37.535.1
Whiff%33.435.4
BB%6.68.1
GB%41.850.0

The thing that stands out most is his contact profile: he’s generating far more groundballs and better expected statistics compared to 2017. But oddly, he’s already surrendered six homers this year, one short of his career worst. That could be a product of bad luck, as his HR/FB rate is astronomical. As a result, it’s damaged his ERA and FIP. And really, other than the dingers, Kahnle looks awfully similar to the guy he was a couple years ago.

So, what’s allowed Kahnle to get back on track in 2019? Before anything else, Kahnle’s healthy. In a great piece for The Athletic, Lindsey Adler spoke with Kahnle about what went wrong and some of the changes he made (subs. required). Without giving too much away, there’s one eye opening excerpt:

Over the winter Kahnle changed his habits. He told his wife, Veronica, that he was going to start eating the healthy food she likes to eat. He gave up most of his late-night video game snacks. But most notably, he gave up the five Red Bulls he drank every day for the past five years.

Five Red Bulls! Certainly, a healthier lifestyle has been a difference maker in 2019. Another interesting observation from Adler’s article was that Kahnle’s minor league teammates believed he was throwing over the top more than usual (they were right based on the below).

The upper right-most dot was Kahnle’s release point on fastballs last year. The middle is 2017, and as you may have guessed, the left-most one is this year. So, Kahnle’s teammates were clearly on to something. It’s quite possible that he altered his release point to compensate for pain.

There have been countless injuries this season, so it’s nice to see good health leading to Kahnle’s resurgence. Moreover, his comeback has given the Yankees’ bullpen a much needed shot in the arm. Dellin Betances has yet to throw a pitch this year, Chad Green was bad earlier this year, and Jonathan Holder is now in the minors. Not that Kahnle could fill all of those shoes, but he’s unquestionably mitigated some of the problems the team has encountered.

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1 Comment

  1. pat

    Not trying to single out Tommy Tightpants, but it’s absolutely insane these guys need to be told to not drink 5 Rebulls a day or eat crappy food late at night, lol.

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