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Questions About Andrew Heaney’s Fit Linger After Disastrous Yankees Debut

Heaney has a tendency to give up home runs, fly balls and hard contact. Those traits, much to the lefty’s peril, were on display Monday in Heaney’s Bronx introduction.

The Yankees filled obvious needs ahead of the trade deadline with the additions of Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo. New York was desperate for left-handed bats and strong defenders who could provide flexibility on both sides of the ball. The sluggers offered the team two ideal matches.

Andrew Heaney’s fit with the Yankees is not as clear, though.

Acquired from the Angels for minor league righties Janson Junk and Elvis Peguero, Heaney has stuff, command and advanced metrics that say he is better than the 4.57 career ERA he brought to the Bronx. But Heaney is prone to home runs, fly balls and hard contact. Now he calls Yankee Stadium home.

Andrew Heaney Bit By Home Run Ball in Yankees Debut

Those traits and that ballpark combined for an unprecedented dud of a debut on Monday: Heaney became the first pitcher in Yankees history to allow four long balls in his first outing with the team, per MLB.com’s Sarah Langs. The Orioles teed off against the 30-year-old, tagging him for four solo shots and seven hard-hit balls over four innings in a 7-1 win. Heaney allowed six hits and struck out four as his 2021 ERA climbed to 5.42.

The damage would have been worse if not for a leaping catch by Gallo.

“Usually, I say solo homers don’t beat you, but you give up four of them in four innings, that’s probably gonna do it,” Heaney said after the game. “It’s just frustrating to put the team in a hole like that and not really give us a chance to win there.

“I wish I could have done better.”

The reality is that home runs have always hurt Heaney. He has now allowed 20 dingers in 19 starts this season and has averaged over 1.5 HR/9 over his eight-year career. Following the conclusion of Monday’s loss, Heaney now has a 43.4% Fly Ball rate and a 17.4% Home Run to Fly Ball rate this season. His Hard Hit rate is 42.2%. Those percentages are all among the 20 highest in baseball among pitchers who have thrown at least 90 innings, according to FanGraphs.

Yet Heaney also has a 4.40 xERA, a 3.90 xFIP, a 3.73 SIERA, a 1.2 fWAR, a 27.9 K% and a 20.5 K-BB% this year. The spin rate and movement on his fastball are also top-notch. That all says that he has drastically underperformed—and surely played a larger part in the Yankees’ evaluations of the hurler than his ERA.

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One of Heaney’s biggest problems is that he throws his heater, which has a 59.7% usage rate, down the heart of the plate a lot:

Yankees SP Andrew Heaney heat map

So pitch execution and usage are two ways New York will tinker with Heaney; the pitcher admitted as much after coming over from the Angels. Aaron Boone also suggested that the Yankees could make adjustments to Heaney’s delivery. With such changes, Heaney’s surface numbers could better correspond to his underlying metrics—and give the Yankees a real weapon down the stretch.

But the hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium will add to that challenge, and there’s also a mental aspect to making such changes mid-season. The Yankees can’t just press a button that says “analytics” and suddenly transform Heaney into a different pitcher. Heaney’s presumed transition will take time, which is why it’s important not to judge the trade after one bad start—though questions about the move remain.

If nothing else, Heaney will give the Yankees depth, a veteran who can eat some innings. That ability became more important after the trade than it was at the time of it, as Domingo Germán (shoulder inflammation) and Gerrit Cole (COVID-19) have since found themselves on the shelf. 

Heaney could also provide flexibility and creativity should New York’s sidelined pitchers, including Luis Severino and Corey Kluber, all find themselves on the roster at the same time in the future.

However, the Yankees believe they’re getting more than that. They see an arm with untapped potential. Time will tell if they can tap into it.

“We feel like this is a guy that can really pitch and has a chance to be a really good starter for us,” Boone said before Monday’s loss. “We’re really excited that we were able to get him and add him to the mix.”

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Follow Gary Phillips on Twitter (@GaryHPhillips). Be sure to bookmark Inside The Pinstripes and check back daily for news, analysis and more.