07 November 2017

What Is a Jimmy Yacabonis?

Joe Reisel's Archives

Jimmy Yacabonis was named to the International League team for the 2017 AAA All-Star game. Photo courtesy of Les Treagus / Norfolk Tides.

Recently, the authors of - and guest contributors to - Camden Depot have provided their opinions on what the Orioles should do this offseason. Every contributor acknowledged that the Orioles need pitching. While the need for starting pitchers is huge and obvious, many commentators (not necessarily on Camden Depot) have speculated that the Orioles could try to meet that need by trading from their bullpen. It is noteworthy to me that none of the commenters have suggested using pitchers from their AAA Norfolk team on the 2018 major-league team, except that Alec Asher and Gabriel Ynoa might be desperation options as long relievers/fifth starters if nothing else works.

Although it's noteworthy, it's really not surprising. The 2017 Norfolk Tides were not a good AAA team and their run prevention was also not good, finishing ninth in the fourteen-team International League despite playing in a pitcher's park. And many of the Norfolk pitchers were expressly acquired by the Orioles to serve as depth options, ready to be promoted if the Orioles needed a long man in the bullpen or if they were hoping to catch lightning in a bottle. While the Orioles did catch a bolt labeled "Richard Bleier" in a bottle, pitchers such as Damien Magnifico, Jordan Kipper, Paul Fry, and Andrew Faulkner were only of interest in our end-of-season game of "Name Those Tides."

But I do wonder if the in-organization options for the Orioles staff are being written off too quickly. There were four Tides pitchers who were considered at least moderate prospects before 2017 and/or pitched reasonably well for the 2017 Tides. It's at least conceivable that - well, I don't know if the fans I'm thinking of would be considered casual or sophisticated - some fans might wonder if relief pitchers Jimmy Yacabonis and Stefan Crichton, or starting pitchers Chris Lee and Jayson Aquino, could play for the 2017 Tides. Over the next couple of months, I'll be looking at these four pitchers based on my observations/data collection from my 2017 work. (Newcomers - I work for the Tides as a Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM) datacaster and for Baseball Information Solutions (BIS) as a minor league scorer.) First up - Jimmy Yacabonis.

Jimmy Yacabonis was the Orioles' 13th-round draft pick in 2013 out of St. Joseph's University. Although he had control problems, he pitched effectively while rising through the Orioles system - except in the Advanced-A Carolina League (Frederick); he spent parts of three seasons there and so only got to AAA in 2017, at age 25. His 2017 was, at least at the most elementary level, quite successful. With Norfolk, Yacabonis pitched 61 1/3 innings in 41 appearances, with a 1.32 ERA (and no unearned runs); a 0.95 WHIP; and no home runs allowed. In a couple of stints with the Orioles, Yacabonis pitched 20 2/3 innings in 14 appearances, with a 4.35 ERA (again with no unearned runs) and only two home runs allowed. Looking at those stats, he looks like a pitcher who could help in a bullpen role, and has even shown the ability to pitch more than one inning in an appearance.

Of course, those are his most favorable statistics, and other aspects of his performance raise doubts. With Norfolk, Yacabonis walked 28 batters and struck out only 48, unimpressive totals for a relief pitcher. He was even worse in his time with the Orioles, walking 14 while striking out only 8. His WHIP in his 20 2/3 innings with Baltimore was 1.55. It is possible - maybe even probable - that his overall effectiveness was a product of luck, rather than ability.

I saw 14 of Yacabonis' Norfolk appearances, and will look more closely at his performance to see a little more clearly what he is. First, his basic performance data:

Date
Opp
BFP
IP
H
R
ER
W
K
Apr 10
GWI
6
2
0
0
0
0
2
Apr 15
CHA
4
1
0
0
0
1
0
Apr 26 (1)
BUF
3
1
0
0
0
0
0
May 06
DUR
5
1
2
0
0
0
2
May 07
DUR
6
1 1/3
1
0
0
1
0
May 20
CHA
11
2 2/3
0
1
1
3
3
May 31
PAW
4
1
1
0
0
1
0
Jun 03
ROC
8
1 1/3
1
0
0
3
1
Jun 18
LOU
7
1 1/3
2
1
1
2
0
Jun 28
LOU
7
2 1/3
0
0
0
2
0
Jul 27
SWB
7
2
0
0
0
1
3
Aug 19
TOL
6
2
0
0
0
0
3
Aug 22
CHA
3
1
0
0
0
0
0

That's a pretty solid line with a couple of red flags. In 20 innings, he allowed 2 runs (0.90 RA) on only 7 base hits. He pitched at least one complete inning in all 14 outings and at least two in 6. On the negative side, he walked 12 in those 20 innings and struck out only 14. This does appear to be a representative sample of his work, as his rates are completely in line with his full-season rates.

Next, a look at the results of Yacabonis' pitches:

Ball
135
Callled Strike
63
Swinging Strike
20
Foul
48
In Play
54

Although the Ball total may appear high, it's really in line with the counts of most Norfolk pitchers (at least the ones I looked at previously.) What's more distinctive is that batters swung at fewer of Yacabonis' pitches than they did at the pitches of most other pitchers - it's not radically out of line, but the percentage of swings is at the low end. I see two possible reasons for this - either it's known that Yacabonis doesn't have good control, so batters don't swing; or Yacabonis has a deceptive delivery and batters don't see the ball well. (Or both.)

The most interesting data is below, which is the number of pitches Yacabonis threw at different ball-strike counts:

0-0
81
1-0
43
0-1
31
2-0
16
1-1
33
0-2
18
3-0
5
2-1
19
1-2
26
3-1
9
2-2
27
3-2
12

The interesting thing is that over half the time Yacabonis pitched a ball on the first pitch. It's been established that pitchers are more effective when they have an 0-1 count, as opposed to a 1-0 count, after the first pitch. It does seem that, if he does fall behind 1-0, he doesn't have much trouble throwing the second pitch for a strike - he only had 16 2-0 counts.

So, after all this, I still don't know what to make of Jimmy Yacabonis. That he was effective in AAA is undoubted. It's still not clear whether he'll be able to be effective as a major-league pitcher. In general, I believe that a pitcher who's been effective at a level deserves a real chance at the next level, and Yacabonis fits that criteria. But his lack of control, his lack of strikeouts, and his inability to throw strike one give me pause. I can understand why the Orioles, in 2018, would rather use a pitcher with better predictors of success even if that pitcher was less effective than Jimmy Yacabonis.


6 comments:

Unknown said...

All the tide guys seem to walk a lot. Is there any evidence it is a coaching problem? This was an interesting article and I look forward to more, but it doesn't seem that Yacabonis has any place in a good bullpen.
You mentioned Chris Lee, who has been terrible. Every time I read about him, I remember that he was kept in lieu of Andrew Triggs, who was waived and immediately became a solid Oakland rotation piece before an injury.
It will be interesting to read your commentary on Lee, I hope he won't be another bad decision.

Unknown said...

Sounds like some kind of sour drink you would be served poolside in Aruba.

btwrestler119 said...

Yacabonis has a fastball with plus velocity and plus movement. He has a good enough (45 fringe average) slider. His mechanics get out of sync routinely and he needs to do a better job of repeating his delivery. He's never going to have above average command, but he needs to be around the plate if he's going to stick in the majors.

Anonymous said...

hopefully, he's a future O'Day. He could probably learn a lot from being in the pen with Darren.

vilnius b. said...

Elisabeth: I take umbrage with what you said about Yacabonis's name. JK.
I'm of Lithuanian descent and his name is almost certainly Lithuanian, even if it's possible that his family was his for generations and they lost touch with their roots.
The one common mistake is that the J in Lithuanian is pronounced like a Y; therefore, it's quite possible that somewhere in his past his name was spelled Jacabonis.
Remember Johnny Unitas? My father used to laugh whenever he saw his name on TV. Jonaitis---as he told me---is a very common name in Lithuania.

vilnius b. said...

Please excuse the typo: I meant here for his in the part just before *for generations.*