Kirby Yates

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Kirby Kali Yates

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Biographical Information[edit]

Relief pitcher Kirby Yates began playing in the Tampa Bay Rays system in 2009.

He was originally drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 26th round of the 2005 amateur draft, two picks after Jordy Mercer, but did not sign. He missed the 2007 season of college due to Tommy John surgery. He was then signed by scout Jayson Durocher as an undrafted free agent by the Rays in 2009.

With the Princeton Rays in 2009, he was 0-1 with four saves and a 2.39 ERA, striking out a whopping 49 in 26 1/3 IP. He split 2010 between the Bowling Green Hot Rods (3-6, 5 Sv, 3.30, 97 K in 90 IP) and Charlotte Stone Crabs (3 R in 5 1/3 IP) before a right shoulder strain cut his season short in mid-August; he had surgery that offseason. In 2011, he missed the first two months while recuperating. He wound up pitching very well for the GCL Rays (0-1, 3 R in 6 2/3 IP) and Charlotte (2-0, 2 Sv, 1.62, 45 K, 22 BB in 33 1/3 IP). His .128 average allowed for Charlotte was the second-lowest by a Florida State League hurler with 30+ IP since 2005; Diego Moreno was at .105 in 2010.

He was healthy for the Montgomery Biscuits in 2012 and went 4-2 with 16 saves, a 2.65 ERA and 94 K in 68 IP over 50 games, though he walked 39. He tied Justin Freeman and Evan Marshall for 6th in the Southern League in saves, tied for 6th in games pitched and had the best K rate of any reliever. Among Rays minor leaguers, he tied Chris Rearick for third in pitching appearances and was 4th in saves. He then had two saves and a 2.45 ERA for the Phoenix Desert Dogs of the Arizona Fall League. In '13, Kirby remained sharp (3-2, 20 Sv, 1.90 ERA, .175 opponent average, 93 K in 61 2/3 IP), now in AAA for the Durham Bulls. On May 5, he combined with Jake Odorizzi, Frank De Los Santos and Jeff Beliveau on a no-hitter versus the Pawtucket Red Sox. He replaced De Los Santos with two outs in the 8th and got the next out. In the 9th, though, he walked Ryan Lavarnway and Mark Hamilton. Ryan Dent bunted the runners over. Brandon Snyder hit a shot to the wall but Rich Thompson made a great over-the-shoulder catch; the sacrifice fly cut the lead to 2-1. Beliveau then relieved and got Jeremy Hazelbaker to preserve it. For the year, Yates tied Michael Crotta and Ryan Buchter for third in the 2013 IL in games pitched, behind Wirfin Obispo and Anthony Carter, and tied Preston Guilmet for third in saves (after Jairo Asencio and Carter). He tied C.J. Riefenhauser for second in the Tampa Bay farm system in games pitched (behind Juan Sandoval) and led in saves, one ahead of Sandoval.

From 2009 to 2013, he had a career ERA of 2.59 with 384 strikeouts in 291 1/3 innings. He made his major league debut with the Rays in 2014 after being dominating in 21 games with Durham, where his ERA was 0.36 in 25 innings. His first major league outing was on June 17th, and he pitched 37 times in relief, going 0-2 with 1 save and an ERA of 3.75 in 36 innings. It was a good start, but he took a step back in 2015, when his ERA ballooned to 7.97 in 20 games, and he was back in the minors for part of the year, including a rehabilitation assignment in the Florida State League. Following the season, he changed teams twice, first being purchased by the Cleveland Indians on November 25th, and then by the New York Yankees on January 8, 2016. He made the team out of spring training, but was on a shuttle between New Yankee Stadium and the AAA affiliate the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, ending up making 41 appearances in the majors and 14 in AAA. He excelled at the lower level, going 0-1, 1.62 with 4 saves, but found the going tougher in the Bronx, where he was 2-1, 5.23. He did record 50 strikeouts in 41 1/3 innings.

Following the 2016 season, Kirby was on the move again, first being claimed off waivers by the Los Angeles Angels just as the season ended. He appeared in just one game for them in 2017, giving up 2 runs in 1 inning of work, before being placed on waivers again. On April 26th, he was claimed by the San Diego Padres, and finally found a team that wanted to give him an extended opportunity to show his stuff. He pitched in 61 games the rest of the way as one of the key members of the bullpen, logging 55 2/3 innings and going 4-5, 3.72 with 1 save. Midway through the 2018 season, after the trade of Brad Hand to the Cleveland Indians, he became the team's new closer and ended up with 12 saves to go along with a record of 5-3, 2.14 in 65 games. In 63 innings, he gave up just 41 hits and struck out 90 batters against just 17 walks. At age 31, he had finally arrived.

2019 was his dream season. He shares a birth date with Hyun-Jin Ryu, and both were first-time All-Stars in 2019, Ryu as the game's starting pitcher and Yates as a reliever. He went 0-5 that year but his ERA was a minuscule 1.19 and he led the National League with 41 saves. His numbers were dominating all around, with just 41 hits and 13 walks allowed in 60 2/3 innings, for a WHIP of 0.890, paired with 101 strikeouts. But the Padres were a weak team during that time, although they showed some signs of promise with a generation of young players coming up who looked like they would soon be part of a winning team. That winning season arrived in the Coronavirus-shortened 2020 season, but unfortunately Kirby wasn't around much to enjoy the new-found winning ways as injuries limited him to just 6 games and 4 1/3 innings, after which he had to have surgery to remove bone chips from his pitching elbow. He saved a couple of games, but was also charged with a loss and gave up 6 runs on 7 hits and 4 walks, ending up with an ERA of 12.46. The Padres went out and obtained Trevor Rosenthal in a trade to serve as their closer down the stretch and into the postseason as Yates sat on the sidelines.

He became a free agent after the 2020 season and on January 20, 2021, signed as a free agent with the Toronto Blue Jays. The deal was for one year and $5.5 million. The Jays were, like the Padres, an up-and-coming team who had made the expanded postseason in 2020 in spite of losing their closer, Ken Giles. Giles was now gone and the job was there for the taking for Kirby, but after starting spring training on a strong note, he was sidelined by an arm injury on March 22nd that was expected to force him to miss multiple weeks of action. The following day, GM Ross Atkins had even more sobering news, stating that Yates would likely require Tommy John surgery and as a consequence would miss the entire season. So the Jays got nothing for their investment, and their bullpen was a sore point during the whole season, costing them a return to the postseason. For his part, Yates made out like a bandit, since as a free agent again after the missed season, he was able to sign a two-year deal with the Atlanta Braves worth $8.25 million. His base salary was ony $1 million for the first of these two seasons, given the uncertainty regarding when he would be able to return to the mound following the previous year's surgery.

He is the brother of Tyler Yates.

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • NL All-Star (2019)
  • NL Saves Leader (2019)
  • 30 Saves Seasons: 1 (2019)
  • 40 Saves Seasons: 1 (2019)

Sources[edit]

Further Reading[edit]

  • Paul Casella: "Braves sign Yates to 2-yr., $8.25 million deal: Contract with right-hander also includes a club option for ‘24", mlb.com, November 29, 2021. [1]
  • AJ Cassavell: "Yates OK with missing out on All-Star Game: Padres' dominant setup man will spend break with newborn son", mlb.com, July 10, 2018. [2]
  • Bob Nightengale: "Padres closer Kirby Yates finds saving grace in San Diego", USA Today, June 14, 2019. [3]

Related Sites[edit]