According to the team’s transaction log, the Cubs have added 31-year-old righty Eric Yardley on a minors deal as they continue looking for bullpen depth even during the lockout. Yardley, who has a submarine-style delivery, spent most of his professional career in the Padres organization and made his MLB debut in 2019. He was designated for assignment later that year and was picked up by the Brewers, for whom he made 41 appearances over the last two seasons.
The righty went unclaimed after being placed on outright waivers in (The Hunt for Red) October and he elected to become a minor league free agent, hence the ability to work out a deal despite the labor freeze. The Cubs have always liked having a little deception in the bullpen and Yardley certainly offers that, but he ran into some serious trouble last season and will need to get back to his old form in order to get another shot at the bigs.
Looking back on his stats from the minors, it’s a little surprising that he didn’t a chance much earlier in his career. His minor-league ERA is 2.93 over 451.2 innings in 338 appearances and he posted a 2.31 ERA across 11.2 innings with San Diego as a rookie. He then had a 1.54 ERA over 23.1 innings for Milwaukee in the abbreviated 2020 season, generating grounders at a 61.2% clip.
Last year, however, was a disaster as Yardley had a 6.75 ERA in 18.2 innings that included just five strikeouts and 10 walks. That came from losing any and all effectiveness on the slider that made up over 20% of his offerings, a usage that was down significantly from previous seasons. When you see that he was getting a mere 3.8% swinging-strike rate, lowest in MLB, you can understand why he might not like the pitch as much.
While I suppose it’s possible to wonder if Yardley suffered from a case of the yips, his Triple-A numbers were solid last year and he’s been really good for most of his nine seasons as a pro. He’s never going to be a big strikeout guy even if he settles back in, but that career 61% grounder rate is somewhere around 65% if you count his work in the minors. Between that and the extreme change of pace he offers from what otherwise figures to be a pretty hard-throwing bullpen, perhaps Yardley can be effective again.
He’s also pitched well at Wrigley in five career appearances, going 1-0 with no runs allowed on three hits with three strikeouts and one walk. Too bad he can’t just pitch against his new team every time out, huh?
Maybe it’s just the general pessimism causing me to grasp for hope wherever I find it, but I like the idea of going from Justin Steele to Scott Effross to Manny Rodriguez to Yardley to Rowan Wick. It’s akin to the Rays’ strategy of basically having an octopus pitching staff in terms of all the different arm angles they can throw out there.