4. Ryan Yarbrough
Ryan Yarbrough finished fifth in Rookie of the Year voting in 2018 going 16-6 with 147.1 IP, 1.29 WHIP, 3.1 BB9, and a 3.91 ERA.
Yarbrough’s rookie season was an interesting, one to say the least. Despite winning 16 games he only started six. He assumed the role of the “bulk guy” (as he put it).
The Rays employed the “opener strategy” in which they began the game with a relief pitcher and followed him up with a long-relief pitcher, before handing the game over to the backend of the bullpen.
Yarbrough would often be the guy to come in second and deliver a lead to the backend guys. This would put Yarbrough in a position to earn the Win.
Yarbrough was an integral part of the success of the opener strategy and is also a reason the Rays appear to be abandoning it. Their philosophy was rather than sending out an innings-eating starting pitcher to provide low-quality results, they utilized a series of relievers stacked on top of each other.
Yarbrough was so effective in his role that he has evidently earned the trust of the front office as a starter. Last season he earned eight more starts than he did the previous year.
Yarbrough ranked in the 100th percentile in average exit velocity among pitchers in 2019, according to Statcast. He also ranked in the 99th percentile in hard-hit percentage. Yarbrough keeps hitters well-off balance with his cutter/changeup/sinker combination, with the cutter being his primary weapon at 36.3%.
His fastest average pitch is his sinker at 88.1 mph with an average vertical break of 24 inches. Yarbrough used his four-seamer 0.1% of the time in 2019.
Heading into 2020, Yarbrough is currently slated for a fourth or fifth rotation spot with the Rays. With the vast amount of starting pitching talent in the Rays’ organization, it appears there is no need for the opener this year, and that can be attributed in large part to Ryan Yarbrough’s emergence.