In our Official Offseason Plan we published Friday, Drew Pomeranz featured prominently as a relief target. Even with Aroldis Chapman back aboard for the 2020 season, the Yankees could still pursue another tall left-hander for the bullpen.
Turning 31 in just a few weeks, Pomeranz is a one-time All-Star and now former starter after falling on his face in the rotation for 1.5 years starting in 2018. That came directly after his All-Star campaign in 2016, during which he traded to the Red Sox, and his 3.9 WAR effort in 2017.
Pomeranz was once the No. 5 overall pick by Cleveland back in 2010 and was a consensus top 50 prospect heading in the 2012 season after headlining the package going to Colorado for Ubaldo Jiménez.
After 136 2/3 innings with Colorado, Pomeranz bounced around. He was traded to Oakland, where he turned into an effective reliever. From there, he spent time as a starter with the Padres and Red Sox before joining the Giants on a one-year deal to start the 2019 season. After putting up a 5.68 ERA over 77 2/3 innings, San Francisco put the kibosh on his rotation spot and ultimately jettisoned him.
At the deadline last season, the Giants flipped Pomeranz to the Brewers, who must have seen something in the southpaw when they moved him back to relief. What they got in return were 26 1/3 elite innings out of the bullpen.
Once he got to Milwaukee, Pomeranz flipped his pitch mix. Previously a curveball-first pitcher that shied away from his low-90s fastball, he gained significant velocity in the bullpen, running his fastball into the mid-to-high 90s with a corresponding addition of spin. That allowed him to throw the heater two-thirds of the time and make his curveball his secondary pitch with 10 mph of separation.
The results speak for themselves: Over those 26 1/3 innings, Pomeranz was fourth among relievers with a 46.7 percent strikeout rate and fifth with a 38.9 percent K-BB rate. Batters hit just .181 against him and he became the most valuable member of the Brewers’ bullpen down the stretch — even better than a resurgent Josh Hader.
In October, that meant Pomeranz featured heavily in Milwaukee’s Wild Card strategy, pitching the sixth and seventh innings. He didn’t allow a baserunner and struck out two Nationals to put Washington on the brink of elimination for the first, but not last, time this postseason.
The veteran left-hander still has some warts in his profile. First up, we’re talking about 26 1/3 innings. That’s hardly a worthy sample, even for a reliever. While he displayed a completely changed repertoire in that time, the lack of innings mean that he’s no sure thing, though his previous stay as in the bullpen with the Athletics is a sign of hope.
Even in Milwaukee, Pomeranz suffered from an abundance of home runs. Four of his 16 hits allowed left the ballpark, good for a 21.1 percent HR/FB rate that just about matched his work in San Fran. He was able to keep the damage light with a 92.4 percent strand rate, an elite number that is sure to regress.
Pomeranz still held hitters to a league-average hard-hit rate in 2019 including his stay by the Bay. His fastball spin and strikeout rate were both above the 80th percentile, and he’s able to lay off his lackluster sinker and cutter when in the bullpen.
Big Smooth broke his non-throwing hand in 2014 and remained mostly healthy until dealing with arm issues throughout the 2018 campaign, including a flexor strain and biceps tendonitis. You might recall Pomeranz’s health records becoming a story in 2016, when the Padres dealt him to the Red Sox and gave Boston only partial medical information. That led to a suspension for San Diego GM A.J. Preller.
With Milwaukee, Pomeranz upped his average fastball from 92.1 to 94.3 mph with his speed increasing as his stint continued. He threw the four-seamer 75.2 percent of the time while going to his curveball for almost all of his other pitches, throwing just four cutters and no sinkers with the Brewers.
The fastball is high-spin (2474 rpm) and, as mentioned above, that only went up after his midseason trade. The Brewers had him throw it nearly exclusively at the top of the zone.
The curveball, meanwhile, is lower spin, but Pomeranz gets good separation in velocity with the knuckle curve averaging 82.8 mph. The pitch is mostly straight up and down with little side-to-side movement, and the southpaw directs it towards the bottom of the zone, typically away from lefties and towards the back knee on righties.
FanGraphs’ annual free agent crowdsourcing has Pomeranz coming in around two-years and $12 million overall, while Kiley McDaniel has him slightly higher at 2/$16 million. Jim Bowden of The Athletic pegs him at two years and $10 million, which is about what we had in our offseason plan.
My amateur sleuthing would put Pomeranz in line for a 1-2 year deal in the $4-8 million per season range, which fits what Bowden and FanGraphs had. Yusmeiro Petit’s two-year, $10 million deal with a club option before the 2018 season could be a good comp.
Does he make sense for the Yankees?
Yes. The Yankees are fairly lefty-heavy in their bullpen, but those southpaws are pitchers who can get righties out. Pomeranz can, too. He’s a potential gem, the next in line after Petit, Andrew Miller, Zack Britton and countless others to fail as a reliever before becoming a standout reliever.
His rebirth in the bullpen could be short-lived, but he has the potential to be a cheap, high-leverage reliever that can give the Yankees multiple innings on occasion. New York, however, could look to staff its bullpen with internal options rather than seek an external upgrade this offseason. Passing on Pomeranz, though, could be a mistake.