Kirby Yates has been a great story for the Tampa Bay Rays. A former non-drafted free agent, the undersized righty dominated every step of the way in the minors, ultimately making his big league debut for the Rays this year. He has always had tempered expectations because his stuff isn’t spectacular and he struggles against lefties at points, but he still has found a way to be a successful relief pitcher. All of that said, Yates might be falling out of favor with the Rays.
After making 14 appearances is August, Yates has made just 2 so far in September. Even Steve Geltz, a September call-up, has been given more chances, as he’s pitched in 5 games this month. Less playing time is merited in Yates’ case, as he has pitched to a 8.10 ERA over his last 8 outings, and having extra arms with expanded rosters ensures he doesn’t have to pitch just to eat a few innings. Overall, Yates has done a decent job for the Rays this season in middle relief, throwing to a 3.41 ERA, but lately the Rays have not trusted him.
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Yates biggest problem in the long-run is going to be getting left-handers out. So far this season lefties are hitting .267/.421/.500 against him. He is valuable enough in middle relief thanks to his ability to pitch well against righties (they have a .248/.278/.352 line against him this year), but his upside is limited. The fear was that Yates wouldn’t be passable against lefties and would turn into more of a righty-specialist that comes on to get a key out or two when needed. So far, he has not done much to change that prognosis. Yates can still be a decent big league reliever in that role, but the Rays have plenty of guys who can get both left-handers and right-handers out, and thus they are favoring those players to a guy like Yates.
Whether Kirby Yates has a future with the Rays bullpen after this season remains to be seen, but lately the Rays have shown little trust in him despite being in a non-contending season. He already has limited upside thanks to his struggles against lefties, and to compound that he has not been pitching well as of late. Yates still can be a big league reliever, but the Rays are favoring guys like Geltz to him, and that doesn’t bode well for his future. We will have to wait and see if his lack of appearances in September truly means something or if there is another underlying cause, but right now it looks like other pitchers are getting chances ahead of Yates as the Rays figure out their bullpen for next season.