Recently, Yankees star Luis Severino was shut down in March with rotator cuff inflammation. It is currently unknown how long he will be out of MLB action, but ultimately when a starter such as Severino goes down with an injury, the question of depth is brought up. Not only is Severino hurt, but CC Sabathia is aging and isn’t currently 100%, Jordan Montgomery could still be out for all of 2019, and new acquisition James Paxton has a lengthy injury history as well. Throw in the presumed #6 starter Sonny Gray being shipped off to Cincinnati, and it’s fair to question whether or not starting rotation depth is the kryptonite of this Yankees team.
Manager Aaron Boone name dropped Jonathan Loaisiga and Domingo German as possible injury replacements as the season goes on, and it is expected that Luis Cessa gets some time with the big league club as well. All three of them had an ERA over 5 in 2018, even with time in the bullpen, and only Loaisiga can be considered a top prospect. Even without successful run prevention at the top level in past seasons, the 26-year-old German may be the most intriguing, and may even force himself into future rotations with a good showing in 2019.
German posted a 5.57 ERA in his 85.2 MLB innings pitched, with about two-thirds of the games pitched in as a starter. A 5.57 ERA is clearly not good, but how he actually pitched was likely better than how the results ended up. The right-hander had a slightly better than average DRA, a 3.68 SIERA (Skill Interactive Earned Run Average) and a 3.87 scFIP (Statcast Fielding Independent Pitching). He suffered from some bad luck as he only left 65.3% of runners stranded, a statistic that usually corrects itself with more playing time. Additionally, based on batted ball data, xStats only expected 11 home runs to be hit off of him, but 15 actually made it over the wall. Should the luck tilt back in his direction, he should be good enough to fill in for injuries without a major improvement in his command.
German brings together a mid-90s fastball with about average spin with a plus curveball and a sneaky good changeup to draw a ton of whiffs. He throws both a four-seamer and a two-seamer which acts as a sinker, with both being used about an even amount of the time. Prior to the 2018 season, Fangraphs graded his fastball as a future 60-grade pitch and his curveball a future 65. His four-seamer and two-seamer play off each other well, as his four-seamer has been thrown for a strike 55.4% of the time and misses bats in the zone with a 78% Z-Contact rate, while his two-seamer controls contact well, drawing a groundball on over 60% of batted balls, which should help in Yankee Stadium. His curveball and changeup have been especially effective in the MLB, as both have a whiff rate over 18%, and have been thrown for strikes over 40% of the time. While his pitches may lose effectiveness as he moves to the starting rotation full-time in the future, he seems to have the pitches necessary to throw strikes, miss bats, and produce weak contact when needed.
In his short stint up with the big league club, German put those pitches to use to flash his high potential that slipped under the radar as a prospect. Not only did German have an 18.4 K-BB% and a 3.94 xFIP, but those numbers weren’t significantly worse in the few times he went through the lineup a third time. Typically pitchers will do much worse the third time, especially rookies, but German showed some potential to continue to pitch well deep into games. That could prove to be very useful in the future. He had a few starts where he really flashed his potential, such as his first start of the season against Cleveland, a June start against Seattle, and a July start in Toronto.
The underlying metrics of how hitters dealt with each individual pitch places him in good company. He drew 4.4% more swings on balls outside of the zone than league average, while produced 2.6% fewer swings on pitches in the zone, which shows his ability to deceive opponents. He also missed significantly more bats on swings both in and out of the zone compared to just the average pitcher. Most impressively, German had a 14.9 SwStr%. Among pitchers with 80 or more innings pitched in 2018, that ranks 9th in all of baseball, and every other name above 14% can be considered a star. He hasn’t pitched enough to ensure this is all for real, but if there’s any chance he continues to put up these numbers, German could be considered a breakout candidate with the ceiling of a top-of-the-rotation arm.
German’s main complication has always been the command of his pitches. Although that generally improves for young players and he does have multiple pitches he can throw for strikes, it is still an issue. 41.5% of pitches German threw were in a strike zone, compared to 43% for the rest of the league. That might not sound too detrimental, and it’s not, but the issue goes further than just avoiding balls and eventually walks. German threw strikes but also threw a lot of meatballs, which is what lead to his 40.4 FB% and his 17.4 Soft%.
Improvement in that aspect of his game should be noted, however. In fact, there was some sort of improvement in the command of each of his pitches as the season progressed. In the first 2 months of 2018, German had a big problem with hanging changeups up in the zone, but he kept nearly all his changeups down in the zone after the start of June.
In terms of his curveball, German spiked a lot less breaking balls in the dirt and started hitting the outside corner instead.
German also started throwing his four-seam fastball up in the zone more often, which has shown to be effective in drawing weak contact and whiffs.
Ultimately, these improvements are promising for the upcoming season. If German has truly found more command of his pitches and continues to miss bats, his potential is definitely not getting talked about as much as it should. It is understandable why he wasn’t expected to have a spot in the rotation on Opening Day coming into the season due to his track record, but with both a decently high floor and a high ceiling, German could definitely make the most of the opportunity he will get from the Yankees rotation’s misfortune from injuries.