The importance of having quality pitching cannot go overstated. Any time a pitcher can shut down the opposing offense for six or seven innings, at this point in time, is a blessing for a most teams. The search for the next ace never stops for any organization, as teams often try to stockpile as many players capable of pitching into games as they can, like the Astros, or Nationals.
However dominant pitchers come to be, whether we see a heavily touted prospect burst onto the scene, or an experienced veteran pitcher who hones their craft into something great, it’s always exciting to watch the emergence as it happens. Luis Severino comes to mind as the most recent Yankee to come into his own and reach a new, elite level of performance. During the first half of 2018 he was arguably the best in the American League, (though the second left much to be desired).
Like Severino, there are pitchers improving themselves, cementing themselves among the league’s upper echelon. Just here in New York the Yankees have seen Domingo German take leaps toward harnessing his own potential this year. Let’s take a look at the pitchers across the league that have most taken this tact, and come into their own in 2019:
Giolito was one of the most anticipated pitching prospects in the game when he came up through the Nationals farm system, but after throwing just 21.1 major league innings with Washington in 2016, the organization decided to use him as a trade chip for Adam Eaton. Giolito put together a full season last year for the White Sox, but it didn’t look anything like we expected. He finished the season with an ERA of 6.13 and an overall WAR of -0.1.
In 2019, Giolito finally fulfilled expectations. In 75 innings so far, Giolito has been one of the sharpest pitchers in the game, pitching to a 2.28 ERA with the highest K/9 rate of his career at 10.7.
The glaring change has been the production of his four-seam fastball. The current expected slugging on his fastball per Statcast is .322, while in all his previous seasons he wasn’t able to keep his expected slugging on the pitch under .500. The four-seam fastball accounts for 54.5% of his pitches, though he’s found success with his secondary pitches as well. His slider has a whiff rate of 50%, and his changeup is currently eleventh in the league in exit velocity against at 82.2 mph.
Compared to Giolito, Castillo didn’t have nearly as much difficulty over the two previous seasons, but what they do have in common in 2019 is the presence of a tremendous changeup. Castillo has always used his changeup frequently, and has ramped up its usage even more this year, in contrast with his fastball, which has seen its usage dive. He’s used his four-seam fastball 33.9% of the time, and the changeup a startling 30.9%. Compare that to when he first came into the league and used those pitches 46.6% and 22.5% of the time, respectively.
Castillo’s K/9 of 10.7 is the highest of his career, though much of his success has derived from his ability to generate groundballs. Castillo is first among pitchers with more than 70 innings in terms of groundball rate at a sky-high 59.8. He’s been able to get balls on the ground with his whole arsenal, as according to Statcast, all of his four pitches have generated low, single-digit launch angles. That changeup that he’s relied on has posted an average launch angle of three, with a whiff rate of 50%. Like Giolito, Castillo has produced some of the league’s weakest contact with his change, as he comes in seventh with an average exit velocity against his changeup at 81.0 mph.
And now we get to German. He was seen as the first depth piece for the rotation in case anyone were to get injured before the season, and he ended up in the rotation from the start. Not only did he impress, but he was the most consistent and productive Yankee pitcher until an injury started affecting him since his start in Kansas City. Before that game, German pitched to a 2.60 ERA over 55.1 innings, going 9-1 in the process.
Both Giolito and Castillo use their fastball the most, but German’s success has come from his curveball, as he has decided to use it slightly more than his four-seamer. Even with his struggles after facing the Royals, his curveball currently has a expected batting average of .191, and an expected slugging of .245. Hopefully his hip injury doesn’t put him on the sideline for too long, as the Yankees need him back as they wait for Severino and Montgomery’s return, and with the previous health issues of CC Sabathia, James Paxton, and Masahiro Tanaka always lingering in the background.
The Yankees have received some unexpected performances in their infield and outfield as they battled through injuries, and German has been no exception in the rotation. As the rest of the roster starts to trickle back, you have to imagine German could see himself in the bullpen at some point in the second half, considering his potential innings limit. Nevertheless, German has showed us a glimpse of what he is capable of, and Yankee fans should be excited.