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Yankees rookie Domingo German may have a sequencing problem

The mercurial starter could improve his ERA just by getting better luck when it comes to sequencing.

MLB: New York Yankees at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Domingo German has had a bit of an up-and-down season for the Yankees. Thrust into the spotlight upon Jordan Montgomery’s injury, he immediately impressed with six no-hit innings versus Cleveland. He’s interspersed other flashes of brilliance with some downright shellackings, including his most recent start, when the Rays touched him up for six runs in three innings.

In totality, the bad appears to outweigh the good. German’s ERA sits at 5.40 after his most recent setback. He had been on a nice streak entering this weekend, recording nine or more strikeouts in three straight starts, but his run prevention on the year has simply been lacking.

Yet there might be a pretty straightforward reason behind German’s poor run prevention, and that’s sequencing. A good portion of German’s inflated ERA may be due to the that fact opponents have strung together hits in an unfavorable fashion against German.

Outside of ERA, German’s numbers do look fairly strong. He has struck out over 27% of the batters he’s faced, and walked less than 8%, both figures better than league average. He’s allowed 57 hits in 63 innings. In basic terms of strikeouts, walks, and hits, German has been good.

Overall, opponents are hitting .235 against German. They have an OBP of just .305. They’ve posted a wOBA of .320. All of these figures are befitting of an average starter, maybe a tad better. Pitchers that have posted worse wOBA-against figures than German this year include Cole Hamels, Jose Quintana, and Chris Archer.

On a rate basis, German has been just fine, but he is still allowing runs in bundles. That’s where the influence of sequencing comes in. The order in which opponents have strung together their hits and walks against German has led to more runs than we’d typically expect.

FanGraphs calculates LOB%, which is the percentage of runners that a pitcher strands on base. German’s LOB% is 63% this year, ten points below the league average of 73%. Those ten points represent a chunk of runners that a pitcher with an average LOB% wouldn’t have allowed, likely due to sequencing.

We can see this in action. Against the Astros, German struck out seven and walked two, allowing five hits in 5.2 innings. That’s a pretty solid line, but it led to four runs. In the second inning, German allowed a walk, a groundout, a single, and then a three-run home run, followed by two strikeouts. Those events in reverse order likely only lead to one run, but the order German fell upon led to the maximum number of runs allowed.

In German’s previous start against the Rangers, he registered seven combined hits and walks, but allowed six runs. Now, he lasted just 3.2 innings, and seven combined hits and walks is too much for that short a start, but he again fell victim to a similar sequence. A groundout, single, walk, and homer, followed by two strikeouts, led to three runs, when a more favorable sequence may have yielded just one.

German, of course, isn’t blameless when it comes to bad sequencing. Even if opponents are posting a mediocre overall line, German can influence how that line is assembled and sequenced. If he pitches worse in key spots, that could lead to worse outcomes. Perhaps unsurprisingly, German has allowed a poor .836 OPS with runners in scoring position, and an .803 OPS with men on.

Maybe German’s youth has led to worse performance with men on, and thus unfavorable sequencing. More likely, though, these factors will regress. In general pitchers’ LOB% regress towards the mean, and it’s far too soon to conclude that German is the type of player who won’t be able to pitch out of jams and strand normal rate of runners. It’s fairly easy to envision German stranding a few more runners going forward, and lowering his ERA in the process.

If German pitches a little better in jams and improves his sequences a bit, while maintaining his strikeout and walk numbers, he should be fine. He has the stuff to get major league hitters out, and if you look closely, he’s actually gotten hitters out at a quality rate. He just hasn’t done it in the right order.