The KC Royals trading veteran Ryan Yarbrough to the Los Angeles Dodgers was one of the team's least impactful moves, at the time. Now, Yarbrough is an elite pitcher for the Dodgers entering the postseason push.
This KC Royals trade made sense, but now Ryan Yarbrough is a different beast.
Yarbrough came to Los Angeles on a hot streak, but he looks like a different pitcher. He is setting multiple career highs, including his first two career saves and a 3.12 ERA, 3.57 FIP, and 9.35 K/9. The Dodgers use the 31-year-old lefty sparingly, but he averages 3 2/3 innings per appearance.
This is a stark contrast to his workload in Kansas City. Yarbrough pitched at least 5 2/3 innings in his final four starts with the Royals. Granted, that came at a time when the team needed a starter.
Those four starts built Yarbrough's trade value immensely, showing he can provide pitching help in a litany of ways. Three of those starts were quality starts against AL Central opponents.
Yarbrough is under team control from 2024 as well, making the Dodgers look like very savvy investors this season. The Royals were surely not contending in 2024 but could look foolish as they search for rotational and bullpen help this offseason.
What is different?
There are two pitch selection choices that stand out immediately, First, Yarbrough's changeup use dropped immediately once he became a Dodger. He threw a changeup of 23.1 % against batters in July. Once August rolled around, that dropped by a shocking 9.3%. The change is not surprising in hindsight, considering Yarbrough's changeup is historically his worst pitch.
His changeup is not doing better while being used less, but the Dodgers are maximizing Yarbrough's better pitches. His sinker remains the primary pitch, even though opposing batters are teeing off on it. In September 2023, Yarbrough is allowing a .409 batting average and .500 slugging on that pitch.
The 95.7 average exit velocity does not sound like much, but it is a sharp rise compared to Yarbrough's normal average exit velocity. His 85.4 MPH average exit velocity and 29.2% hard-hit rate both rank in the league's 97th percentile. Yarbrough thrives on soft contact, so batters teeing off on the sinker is not a great sign.
Note the rise in Yarbrough using his cutter since joining the Dodgers. It is his best pitch this year, according to Baseball Savant's run value. It is not a put-away pitch for him, but still one he can rely on locating when behind in the count. He throws the pitch 47.6% when the batter is ahead in the count and 35.9% to start a plate appearance.
The differences between the Yarbrough in Kansas City and the one in Los Angeles are fairly simple. More of his best pitch, and less of his worst. It is frustrating to see such an immediate change seemingly happen from one organization to another. All that matters now is Yarbrough is on a serious pennant contender and helps the team in a big way. Hopefully, the trade return for Yarbrough makes this seem like a better trade for the Royals. Right now, it is hard to see past how much better Yarbrough has been in a Dodgers uniform.