In a season filled with surprises, Domingo German’s breakout for the Yankees has been the most pleasant. While he always had a penchant for strikeouts, he struggled mightily with the home-run ball and never put any sustained success together. That changed this year in a substantial way.
The Yankees have seen this story before. Several pitchers have come up big for the Yankees early in their careers, but only few have actually panned out in the long-term. Does German have what it takes to develop into a consistent starter, or is he just a flash in the pan, like so many before him?
First, let’s talk about German. As mentioned above, strikeouts are German’s bread and butter. Interestingly though, his strikeout rate in 2019 is the lowest of his brief three-year career (but still above average). To me, that can be viewed as a good thing. As long as he’s still preventing runs, it means he’s finding other ways to get batters out.
Of course, German’s other metrics have improved. His walk rate has dropped significantly, from an untenable 5.65 BB/9 in 2017, to a poor 3.47 BB/9 rate in 2018, and now to a manageable 2.60 figure this year. He’s also cut his home-run rate in half from 2018, which points to marked improvement.
He’s also seen his batting average against and opponent’s BABIP drop big time from last year — opponents are just hitting .184 off him in 2019. While that figure may be a little too low to maintain all season, his 3.12 FIP shows that he’s been an effective pitcher and not just getting by on batted-ball luck.
This reminds me in particular of Luis Severino’s path to becoming a front-line starter. When Severino first came up in 2015, he struck out a lot of batters, but struggled with walks and home runs, and pitched to a notably lower ERA (2.89) than his FIP (4.37). It showed that while there was a lot of potential with Severino, he was pitching over his head a little bit as a rookie.
Severino, however, learned quickly. Once he lowered his walk and home-run rates with better command and a tighter breaking ball, he became a number one starter (please come back soon, Sevy. We miss you.)
It seems German is following this path to success. He has improved his control and put together the consistency that had eluded him in the past.
But we’ve seen this story before, right? After all, Jordan Montgomery was solid in 2017, Michael Pineda looked like a budding ace in 2014, and Ivan Nova was everyone’s favorite rookie in 2011. Why couldn’t German end up like them?
First off, the book is still out on Montgomery because he got hurt. He isn’t really comparable to German anyway because he pitched differently, living and dying with the groundball. German and the others are more strikeout heavy.
But why did Pineda and Nova fail when they had comparable potential to German and Severino? Their metrics just didn’t look nearly as good as German and Severino’s.
Pineda’s 2014 breakout featured all sorts of alarm bells, from a low strikeout rate to unsustainable walk and home-run rates. His performance regressed over time, and he ended up best known as a guy whose ERA exceeded his FIP, which points to under-performing expectations.
As for Nova, he was pretty similar to Pineda during his 2011 season. Not enough strikeouts, too many walks, and the worst FIP of any of the above pitchers. Somehow, he outperformed his peripherals that year and in 2013. The metrics, however, painted him as an average pitcher, and that’s what he has mostly ended up as since.
The difference with German and Severino is clear – their process stats are much stronger and point to long-term success, whereas Pineda and Nova mostly got by for a little bit before the league caught on. German’s high spin rate and chase rate prove that he’s got the stuff to fool hitters, and as long as his command remains as sharp as it has this year, he has future All-Star written all over him.