The Triple-A season ended this past weekend, and with rosters having expanded for September, the Yankees are adding two more arms to the active roster. The Yankees’ top prospect, Justus Sheffield, has received the call to the Bronx for the first time, and Domingo German will be back with the club after spending a good chunk of the first half in the starting rotation.
We’ve already covered the exciting element Sheffield could add to the bullpen in his first taste of the majors. What has been less discussed is the potential German has in relief. German was shaky as a starter for the Yankees, but his raw stuff and iffy command have long made scouts wonder if he could be a capable reliever. The Yankees should explore German’s potential in that role down the stretch.
German’s overall season at the major-league level has been a mixed bag. He tossed 82 innings in 19 appearances, 13 of them starts. He posted a stellar 10.4 K/9 rate, but an unsightly 5.68 ERA. His control wasn’t great, as he walked 3.5 batters per nine, and a tendency to give up a few too many homers helped inflate his ERA.
His numbers, however, are much more impressive as a reliever. Dating back to last season, German has tossed 29.2 innings in relief. His ERA stands at 3.34, and he’s held opposing batters to a .223/.323/.356 slash line. His control has still been poor out of the bullpen, as he’s walked 16 batters, but he’s also run an 11.2 K/9 rate.
Compare that to his numbers as a starter this year: a 6.18 ERA, and a .239/.314/.485 slash line. The samples are small, and we should expect any pitcher to perform better during short outings rather than as a starter, but we already have some proof of concept that German could be effective out of the bullpen.
There’s only a couple weeks remaining in the season, but among the Yankees’ objectives, other than winning as many games as possible and securing the first Wild Card, should be to continue to gather some information on players like German, or Jonathan Loaisiga, who profile as possible impact contributors in relief. German has shown the ability to perform well as a reliever, and expanded 40-man rosters give him another chance to showcase that ability.
The idea that German could dominate in relief makes intuitive sense. German showed premium velocity on his four-seam fastball as a starter, sitting right at 95 mph per Brooks baseball. His velocity plays up even more as a reliever. He sat closer to 97 mph in 2017, when he was used exclusively out of the bullpen, even averaging nearly 98 mph on certain days.
German would also be able to cull his arsenal in relief. Most scouting reports cite German’s curveball as his primary out pitch, while pegging his changeup as a more average offering. That’s held up in games so far. German has dazzled hitters with his curve, holding them to a .184 batting average and .344 slugging percentage this season, as well as a .200 average and .350 slugging last season, per Statcast. Compare that to his change, which has been tattooed for a .544 slugging in 2018 and a .608 slugging in 2017.
Perhaps German would be at his best in relief, allowed to air it out, and to focus on his fastball and curve. Imagine the 26-year-old right-hander sitting 96 to 97 mph on his heater, and dropping knee-buckling curves without having to worry about turning over a lineup multiple times or mixing in his weaker pitches as hitters learned his repertoire.
Envision German attacking hitters exclusively with his best stuff, such as he does here, blowing a fastball by Willy Adames:
Or here, burying a devastating hook on Jason Kipnis:
Pitchers like Dellin Betances have shown precisely how dominating they can be with a strong two-pitch combo out of the Yankee bullpen. Someone like German is unlikely to ever ascend to Betances’ heights as a long-term, imposing late-inning presence, but the blueprint is there.
Maybe German will be buried on the depth chart over the season’s final stages. Maybe he will struggle with rust, having missed much of the second half with an elbow injury. Perhaps German will end up in the rotation again at some point in the future. Now, though, the Yankees would do well to see what he can do in short stints. All the tools are there for German to be a formidable relief arm, it’s just up to the Yankees, and himself, to make it happen.