It’s Domingo in New York.
Domingo Germán came to the Yankees in December 2014 in the same Martin Prado-headlined trade with the Miami Marlins that also yielded the Yankees Nathan Eovaldi. Eovaldi, a known Yankee-killer, has since played for the Rays and currently makes his living within the defending champion Boston Red Sox’s starting rotation, after a postseason that earned him a hearty four-year, $68 million extension this past winter.
However, Germán has had a journey much less eventful than comparable starting pitcher Nathan Eovaldi, as Germán found himself making a home in the Yankees organization. Germán has yet to have that breakout or early career-defining moment like Eovaldi had himself in 2018. Well, for Domingo Germán, it looks like his fate is on the brink of a seismic change.
Germán made his Yankees and major-league debut in June 2017, in which he provided the Yankees with two-plus innings of scoreless relief against the division-rival O’s. Since that Sunday afternoon onslaught against the Birds, Germán had become no stranger to the trip between the Bronx and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
While he was a valued asset within the Marlins system upon his trade to New York and quickly ascended through the Yankees’ minor leagues, his inconsistency, rawness, and contract flexibility always managed to keep him fluctuating between the Yankees and the RailRiders.
He made his early marks on the Yankees organization and fanbase as a journeyman, both between the Bombers and Triple-A and between starting games and appearing out of the bullpen. The Yankees knew that Germán was a starting pitcher, as he was acquired as one, but they were not necessarily convinced of his aptitude at the position from the get-go.
They thought his modus operandi of dynamic stuff and a power fastball paired with uncertainty in his control, command, and ability to pitch late into a game would relegate him to the bullpen long-term.
Germán established a bit more of a starting role in 2018, tallying 14 starts and 21 appearances, recording 85.2 innings pitched. His starts were irregular and relied mostly on circumstances in New York to demand the need for another arm, be it injury, schedule conflicts, or what have you.Nonetheless, he used his opportunities to prove to the coaching staff and front office that he was capable of reaching his seemingly high ceiling, and doing so quite soon. The organization seemed to have faith in the young slinger, proven by the fact that they continued to run him out on the mound, despite his 5.57 ERA and 1.331 WHIP, which left much to be desired.
Now, Germán, on every fifth day, gives Yankees fans and the organization exactly what they had desired. A man whose name caused Yankees fans to scoff last season, initiating conversations on his ability to start, the need for an opener, his propensity to walk batters, his high HR/9 rate, and so forth.
In attempts to discredit his ability and potential, and lead the Yankees to look elsewhere for a solution to their starting pitching woes, many fans and critics overlooked his promise as a starting pitcher.
Domingo Germán has done things to elevate himself from AAAA starter to showing Luis Severino-style potential in just one season. A closer look at some of his 2019 statistics and peripherals will lend a bit of an analytical description to his success, and for those who hate numbers, like myself, here’s more of a practical lens to examine the baseball implications to his early breakout.
To begin quite simply and state the obvious, the goal of toeing the slab every fifth day is to allow as few runs as possible and give your team the best chance to win. Domingo Germán’s 5.57 ERA from 2018 simply would find no place within the Yankees starting rotation come Opening Day 2019.However, an injury to Luis Severino created a need at starting pitcher for the Opening Day roster. Due to an impressive spring and familiarity around the organization, Germán got the nod to fill the void.He has absolutely dazzled in his four starts and five total appearances, posting a 1.75 ERA total and a 1.90 ERA as a starter, good for seventh in all of baseball and third in the American League.
One of Germán’s greatest detractors as a pitcher is his high propensity to walk batters, due to a lack of control on his fastball, in particular. Now, control and command of one’s pitches is not always simply mechanical or naturally gifted, but can be strongly influenced by a pitcher’s mentality.His critics on this front certainly had some substance to these claims, in that his walk rate in 2018 was a staggering 3.5 BB/9, which was actually an improvement from his rate of 5.7 BB/9 in 2017, granted, his 2017 season was a much smaller sample size, but to post a 3.5 BB/9 in the 85.2 innings like he did in 2018 is a means for concern.Yet, to many people’s surprise, Germán has come out of the gate in 2019 walking batters at a far lower rate. His walk rate is down to 2.8 BB/9, which while leaving room for improvement, shows that he has made great strides in managing his control.Further, trends would air on the side of Germán’s defense in this case, as the small sample from his 25.2 innings pitched thus far is weighed down by his opening performance in 2019, in which he surrendered five walks. Since then, he has posted 2, 0, 0, and 1 in each of his subsequent starts.If this trend continues, he could find that walk rate declining at a steady rate. In comparison to his rotation mates, Germán shares his 2.8 BB/9 rate with southpaw J.A. Happ and follows Masahiro Tanaka and James Paxton, whom both share a 2.5 BB/9 clip after five starts each.
As the game trends towards the “strikeout or home run” era, strikeout-heavy pitchers are becoming all the more valuable. Germán is certainly not that pitcher right now, nor do I predict he will be in the future, that will fan 10 to 12 batters per game with strikeouts. Despite this, he possesses an uncanny ability to make hitters miss.
This results from his spin rate, his natural ability to make the breaking ball move, and hitting spots. Germán was among the league leaders in swing-and-miss rate in 2018 for this reason.
Further, in 2019, he has already continued his success in such a regard in that he is getting batters to swing on pitches out of the zone at a 38.5% rate. This is particularly impressive, due to the fact that the league average for hitters in this statistic is 28.5%.
Yes, Germán makes hitters chase out of zone at a 10% higher rate than the league average for hitters.
While he is not necessarily a strikeout specialist, Germán has dazzled thus far in two-strike counts. His 51% K-rate in such counts shows his ability to put batters away when it matters, and also lends itself to his increased focus on control and his swing-and-miss ability. In those same two-strike counts, Germán is keeping opposing batters to a slash line of .078/.145/.118 (.363 OPS).
That will play.
In commanding his pitches better, Germán has also allowed himself to limit the long ball, which he struggled greatly with last season. Having allowed 1.57 HR/9 in 2018, there was a need for improvement. So far, he has limited himself to allowing 0.7 HR/9 and only two total this season.
If he can maintain this, especially in Yankee Stadium, it will prove indispensable to his success.
Although it’s commonly sung that Yankees starting pitchers only need to go five-or-so innings and hand it over to their dominant bullpen, we know this issue has much more nuanced than that, whether it be “who’s hot and who’s not,” which bullpen pitchers are available, and a slew of other factors. More than that, though, it’s just based on the assumption that their starters cannot go six, seven, or eight innings with effectiveness.
Well, Domingo Germán’s performance in 2018 would have backed those claims. In his 14 starts, only five of them were good for six or more innings. While he had the insurance behind him in the bullpen to do that, as just mentioned, it is not out of line to expect more.
So far in 2019, of his four starts, three of them have gone for six or more innings, with the only exception being his first start, in which he allowed five walks and was on a short leash due to it being so early in the season. The ability to add longevity to his starts will undoubtedly make him a much more effective starting pitcher.
More generally, Germán is posting some impressive numbers after his first five appearances, certainly living up to the large expectations placed upon anyone who is the de facto interim replacement to Luis Severino. Joining his 1.75 ERA is a 0.82 WHIP, 9.82 K/9, .143 BAA, and 2.88 FIP on the season. If that weren’t enough, YES Network on Twitter details his success among American League starters:
Domingo German 2019 stats with AL ranks among all starters (min. 20 IP):— YES Network (@YESNetwork) April 24, 2019
🔥 .155 BAA (1st)
🔥 4.94 H/9 (1st)
🔥 .502 Opp. OPS (1st)
🔥 .228 Opp. OBP (2nd)
🔥 .274 Opp. SLG (3rd)
🔥 0.89 WHIP (3rd)
🔥 1.90 ERA (4th)#YANKSonYES pic.twitter.com/FQaNeBngwy
Just three seasons ago began a journey similar to that of Domingo Germán’s. Yankees fans cannot forget calling for Luis Severino, a young power arm, to be sent to the bullpen due to his grave struggles.
Fans said Severino did not have major league control, or the mentality necessary to succeed at the highest level. Until the very next season, when he sprung onto the scene as an ace, finishing third in American League Cy Young voting to Corey Kluber and Chris Sale.
We might be on the cusp of a similar breakout with Domingo Germán. Be warned, it will likely not have the same tantalizing effects that Severino’s rise to the top did. It may take a little bit longer, and it may not be as sexy in nature.
Though, whether we like it or not, Domingo Germán is here to stay, and here to be a starting pitcher in this league’s upper echelon.
JP Hadley and Max Wildstein contributed to the research done for this article.