The Yankees bullpen has been incredible this year. To repurpose some stats from an earlier article, here is where they ranked in some important stats recently:
A major reason the bullpen has been so good has been the return of Tommy Kahnle. Last year was a lost season for him as he spent most of the year either injured or toiling away in AAA. This year, he has more than returned to form and has been the best pitcher out of the bullpen. Let’s take a look at how he has been doing it.
First, here is his Statcast profile:
You can see he has elite fastball velocity, an incredible K%, and great predictive stats with super high xwOBA, xBA, and xSLG. What that means is he has been awesome and we can expect it to continue. What’s interesting this year about Kahnle is how often he is throwing his pitches compared to the past.
In his breakout 2017 campaign, he threw over 60% fastballs and only 22% changeups. This year, those numbers are drastically different.
He throws his changeup over 50% of the time and his fastball just under 50%. That represents a huge change from previous seasons. That changeup has been incredible, and here’s some video for ya:
That video should honestly be removed from Twitter for inappropriate content. That changeup is so good he got 2 swing and misses in that at-bat on pitches right down the middle. In fact, the whiff rate on his changeup this year is 49.6%! That means basically half the time batters swing at his changeup they miss. And in the chart above, you can see he throws his changeup in the zone a lot, which means batters can’t even make contact in the zone. It’s ridiculous and so cool to see.
What else has changed?
In short, not much. I wanted to look at how Kahnle’s pitches have changed to see why he is effective again, and basically there have been no changes since 2017 except for the pitch usage differences.
Here is pitch movement by season:
There’s a little more movement on the changeup and a little less movement on the fastball but nothing overly drastic in there. What is interesting is Kahnle’s release point over time. Here is his horizontal release point for the past 3 seasons:
You can see how there was an abrupt change in 2018 and now in 2019 he has returned to basically his 2017 release slot. For further confirmation, here is the vertical release point:
Once again, more or less back to the 2017 release point but with a lower release point on the four-seamer which helps disguise the changeup.
As you can see, Kahnle has become dominant again this season by doing two things. First, he refound his release point by going back to where it was in 2017. He was hurt most of 2018 which can explain why there was a shift. When players are injured, they have to compensate somehow. Last year, Kahnle’s release point was higher and further to the left which did not work for him. This year, he is healthy and throwing the ball from the right angle for him.
The second big shift is increasing his changeup usage. Although Kahnle has a great fastball, it does not have the highest spin rate. Batters can hit 100mph no problem if the spin rate isn’t great, and you can see how Kahnle shifted to using his changeup more with great results. That changeup is arguably one of the best pitches in all of baseball this season. Let’s hope Kahnle and the Yankees can ride that changeup all the way to a parade and we can all get to do this: