Not The Weekly Mailbag – The Yankees Make a Move (UPDATED 4/3/96, 1:47 p.m.)
David Hale Throwing a Change-Up. Photo Courtesy of Kim Klement, USA TODAY Sports
I know that many of you come to SSTN on Friday mornings looking for the Weekly Mailbag, Unfortunately, as we sit through multiple weeks without baseball, the questions in the SSTN mailbox are drying up. Moving forward, I will post a mailbag each Friday that I have enough questions to put one together. For those Fridays that there are not enough questions, I’ll post something else Yankees or baseball related, called “Not the Weekly Mailbag”. By all means though, if you have a question you want answered, please keep writing to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com. The possibility exists that even if I don’t have enough for a full mailbag, I may still answer whatever questions I have as part of another “Not the Weekly Mailbag” piece.
This is not to say that I haven’t gotten any emails at SSTNReadermail@gmail.com. Some of our regular readers have reached out with some great emails that have brought a smile to my face as we navigate through difficult times. I want to give a special shout-out to one of those readers, “Bill,” who sent me a picture of himself wearing a Yankee-themed facemask that his wife made for him (for privacy reasons, I have not posted the picture, but I assure you, the facemask is awesome). First of all, I think it’s great that so many people who are talented knitters and crocheters have taken up the cause to make facemasks to help public health, but the Yankee facemask got me all kinds of excited…in fact, I’ve put in an order for one of my own with my wife!
With all of that said, we actually have a bit of Yankee news to discuss! Prior to MLB’s roster freeze (you know, the one that should have been agreed to well over a week ago), the Yankees slipped in one last move: David Hale, competing for a spot in the Yankee bullpen, was released. The move comes as a surprise, given the fact that the Yankees seemed high enough on Hale to continually turn to him when another pitcher was needed. Muddying the waters further is the fact that Hale was in camp on a minor league deal, so the move doesn’t even clear up a precious 40-man roster spot. Before we get into the Yankees’ motivations, let’s take a look at just what Hale had become as a pitcher.
Prior to 2018, David Hale was a classic story of a AAAA pitcher – a more than solid option for the AAA staff, but not quite enough to make him a mainstay on the MLB roster. In fact, in a 2 year span, Hale spent time with the Braves, Rockies, Twins, and in 2018, he had two separate stints with the Yankees around a stint with the Hanwha Eagles in the Korean Baseball Organization. However, something happened for Hale during his time with the Yankees: both his velocity and his spin rate increased.
David Hale Average Velocity by Year, Courtesy of Baseball Savant
David Hale Average Spin Rate by Year, Courtesy of Baseball Savant
Prior to signing with the Yankees, Hale had shown diminishing velocity in his MLB appearances, and his fastball spin rate was well below the league average. The most impressive gains were seen in his fastball velocity. Hale’s velocity jumped from 90.4 MPH in 2016, to 91.2 MPH in 2018, and all the way up to 93.6 MPH in 2019.
It would be one thing if those gains hadn’t shown any impact with regards to Hale’s on the field performance, but Hale turned in a very solid 2019 season for the Yankees, pitching to a 3.11 ERA and 0.8 bWAR in 37.2 innings. Many of us, myself included, thought that Hale had a shot to be a mainstay in the Yankee bullpen in 2020.
However, there are signs that Hale’s performance from last season were something of an illusion. Hale’s spin rates on his fastball and curveball, while greatly improved from his rookie campaign in Atlanta, still represented just middling and well below-average marks, respectively. This is reflected in the fact that Hale struck out just 5.5 batters per 9 innings in 2019, far beneath typical expectations for a bullpen arm, even if walks are kept in check.
Still, this seems like an odd time for the Yankees to release Hale. I can’t help but wonder if he sustained an injury of which we are not yet publicly aware, or if his performance (velocity, spin rate, etc.) had declined markedly during Spring Training. Again, Hale doesn’t count against the 40-man roster, so I’m not sure why the Yankees felt compelled to release him prior to the roster freeze. In any case, I wish Hale the best – I still hold out hope that he can be a decent bullpen arm for an MLB team, whenever baseball returns.
UPDATE FROM THE NY POST – David Hale bombarded with texts Yankees cut him after contract issue