The Atlanta Braves polished off their 12th shutout of the season Tuesday night against the Yankees. With a 5-0 lead they turned to former saves leader Kirby Yates to put the period on it. 12 pitches later, Yates capped off the 12th shutout of the season with a groundball double play off the bat of Aaron Judge, who was once a 12-year-old boy. The DP was the fourth of the night for the Bravos.
Yates is in the midst of a tremendous comeback season in Atlanta. Let's take a quick glance at who he was and what led to him signing with the Braves.
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Kirby Yates' Path to the Atlanta Braves
Kirby Yates has played for five big-league clubs, that's why he's one of our current Braves you need to know for the Immaculate Grid. Yates put his name on the map in 2018 with San Diego when he posted a phenomenal 2.14 ERA and earned a few save opportunities. He ended up with 12 on the season to go with his stellar ERA. He struck out 90 hitters in just 63.0 innings.
In 2019, the closer's crown was placed upon his brow. Yates took his game to a whole new level by slashing his 2018 ERA nearly in half. He finished with a 1.19 ERA and led all of baseball in saves with 41. He struck out even more in '19 with 11 more Ks in just two-thirds more innings (101 Ks, 60.2 IP).
The Padres closer finished ninth in the Cy Young Award voting. That's a very impressive feat for a reliever. In 2018 and 2019 combined, Yates pitched in 123.2 innings, struck out 191 batters, and walked just 30. His total ERA was 1.67 over those two years with a 1.93 FIP. His WHIP was .906 and he had 13.9 strikeouts per nine.
In 2020, he pitched just 4.1 innings before he needed surgery to remove bone chips in his elbow. Tommy John surgery kept him out of the entire 2021 season. So, after two of the greatest years you will see in 2018 and 2019, he pitched a total of 4.1 innings over the next two seasons.
Kirby Yates Signs with Braves
This leads us when Yates signed with the Braves before the 2022 season. The Braves signed Yates to a two-year deal worth $8.25 million. The genius of his contract is that we paid him $1,000,000 in 2022 basically just to finish recovering from Tommy John. We reserved the rights to arguably the best reliever in baseball in '18 and '19 for one million dollars. Smooth move AA. Low risk, high reward.
Yates made just nine appearances for the Braves in 2022, but everyone had their sights set on 2023. Yates made his triumphant full-time return to action this season. After basically missing three seasons since his All-Star 2019. Yates had returned!
Kirby Yates' Bounceback 2023 with Atlanta Braves
He got off to an inauspicious start by giving up earned runs in two of his first three appearances. Kirby Yates finished the first month with a 4.15 ERA. After those first three appearances, Yates held opponents to just four earned runs over his next 17 appearances (2.20 ERA). He finished May with a 3.26 ERA.
By the end of June, his ERA was down to 2.87, which is about where he's been the rest of the year. He is currently sitting on a 2.93 ERA. Since the All-Star break, Yates has a 2.13 ERA with 13 strikeouts in 12.2 innings. He has been a bit wild with 5.5 walks per nine on the season but there is no doubt that he has been effective at limiting damage.
A part of it is his K%. Yates is in the 91st percentile by striking out nearly 31% of the batters he has faced. His 14.6% walk rate is in the bottom three percent of the league. So he's on both ends of the spectrum in regards to walks and strikeouts. Yates relies heavily on his splitter.
Splitter Notes: I attended the Braves/Rays games at the Trop this year. Even from the $10 seats out in leftfield, one of our big takeaways was how nasty Yates' splitter looked!
According to Statcast, Yates' splitter has the third-most vertical movement in the league. Richard Bleier's top-ranked splitter has only been thrown 24 times this season. Second-place Hector Neris' has only registered 228 times. Yates has thrown his 356 times.
Yates has been hit hard and had his issues with command this season, but he is missing bats and has a level of Snit's trust in high-leverage situations. He has earned six wins and two saves out of the pen this year.
After missing most of the past three years, Yates' performance this season has been worth noting. We hope he gets even better as the Braves barrel toward the postseason.