Our 2020 Milwaukee Brewers report card series continues with our grading of the team’s other sidearming reliever, Eric Yardley.
While the 2020 Milwaukee Brewers ended up having a handful of high-talent players who turned in disappointing seasons (we’re looking at you, Christian Yelich), they also had some unexpectedly productive seasons from a number of others.
You had Devin Williams who went from prospect to NL Reliever of the Year in just 22 games. You had Daniel Vogelbach who provided a huge spark after joining the team midseason. And you had Jedd Gyorko, who bounced back from and injury-plagued 2019 to be one of the team’s best hitters in 2020.
Another name that can be added to that list is relief pitcher Eric Yardley. The right-handed rookie was claimed by Milwaukee this offseason to relatively little fanfare but ended up getting plenty of work for the team in 2020 when all was said and done.
Of course, when most think of the talented Milwaukee bullpen, the first two pitchers that come to mind are Williams and closer Josh Hader, both of which received high marks in our report card series. So how did Yardley match up in his own 2020 report card?
Eric Yardley 2020 Report Card
When Yardley was claimed off waivers from the Padres last November, few fans, if any at all, likely expected him to become one of the most-used arms in the Brewers’ bullpen, especially considering his limited MLB experience. Yet that is exactly what transpired in 2020.
Yardley appeared in 24 games for the Brewers last season, which was the most of any Milwaukee pitcher. Seeing as he had 10 whole games of MLB experience prior to this season, hence his rookie status, and was still battling for a roster spot in Summer Camp, you’d be forgiven if you didn’t see that one coming.
While Williams and Hader locked down the back end of the Brewer bullpen, Yardley was a steady presence in the middle innings. The righty finished 2020 with an excellent 1.54 ERA and 1.243 WHIP and walked just 10 batters over 23 1/3 innings.
What’s odd is that Yardley does this without being a Statcast darling in any particular area. He had a 19% whiff percentage and 19.6% strikeout rate so he didn’t really miss bats. And he had a 38.8% hard hit percentage and gave up a 88.5 mpg average exit velocity so he didn’t overly limit hard contact either.
What he did do was keep the ball down and in the park. Using a sinker/curveball combo that accounted for 99.3% of his pitches, he finished 2020 with a 61.2% ground ball rate that ranked 10th among qualified MLB relievers per FanGraphs. He also gave up just two homers on the season.
The underlying stats show that Yardley may have outpitched his numbers a bit as his 4.09 FIP would insinuate. However, his small 2019 sample size showed a similar trend (2.31 ERA, 4.16 FIP). In the end, all that matters is that he limited actual runs from scoring.
Though Yardley is already 30, the Brewers are in a good spot with him when it comes to team control. He still has all of his minor league options remaining and isn’t set to become arbitration eligible until 2023.
Yardley may not have been on everyone’s list of obvious 2020 bullpen contributors, but he made himself into one through his performance last season. If he can continue pitching the same way going forward, fans could see him in a Brewer uniform for many seasons to come.