As great as Domingo German has been for the Yankees this season, his potential innings limit has cast a small shadow over his brilliance. Although he may be the Yankees’ most tantalizing pitcher when he’s right, there was speculation that German might be watered-down in the playoffs due to an expected career-high in innings pitched.
However, that narrative has been squashed. Brian Cashman said on Thursday that there will be no innings limit for German in the postseason, and he will be used like any other starter. This decision may seem somewhat controversial given the rash of injuries the Yankees have sustained this season, but it’s the only choice the team could have made.
First, let’s look at German’s workload. He’s already thrown 116 innings, and his career high is 123.1 innings, which he threw in the minors in 2014. Inauspiciously, German needed Tommy John surgery in April of the very next season. German likely has six or seven turns through the rotation left, and if he throws an average of five-and-a-half innings over that stretch, that can add up to about 35 innings, bringing his season total to a robust 150.
That would easily be a career-high workload for German, and that’s not even accounting for the playoffs, which could add anywhere from 10-30 more innings. By the time the season is completely over, German could potentially throw in excess of 175 innings, which would be a marked increase in workload.
Is that a bad thing, though? Some New York-area fans are probably scarred from the last few instances of a team stretching out a young arm to chase championship dreams. The Mets’ Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard each threw over 200 innings in 2015, and they both dealt with injuries in the following years.
One doesn’t need to look too deep into the Yankees’ own history to find a young starter that was pushed hard, only to later face injuries. Could Luis Severino’s health issues in 2019 be tied to his 400-plus innings thrown from 2017-2018, for example?
However, these examples are viewed as reasons to limit pitchers’ innings primarily because none of these years ended in a World Series victory for the Mets or the Yankees. In the end, those pitchers were pushed in an effort that didn’t result in a championship. That doesn’t mean that the Yankees should be too conservative with German in 2019, though.
The 2019 Yankees have a very realistic chance of going to the World Series. They wouldn’t be pushing German for nothing – every inning he pitches that could have instead went to a breaking-down veteran or host of Triple-A bullpenners directly helps the Yankees because he is clearly superior to the alternative.
Let’s put it this way: if you think German should have his innings limited, who do you propose should start Games 2 and 6 of a playoff series? J.A. Happ? CC Sabathia? A bullpen game? The current version of Luis Severino, who still hasn’t thrown a single pitch since October 2018 and is a question mark at the moment? There just aren’t any better options than German. The second that Brian Cashman passed on adding more starting pitching at the trade deadline, he pushed his chips labeled “Domingo German” into the center of the table.
Furthermore, if the Yankees were to limit German’s innings, they’d not only make the team worse, but German might not even gain that much from it. You can only coddle a pitcher so much – if German doesn’t throw 180 innings this year, are we going to have this same conversation next season when he approaches an arbitrary innings limit? How much worse would a 170-inning workload be for German compared to, say, a 140-inning workload?
There’s another point to be made regarding the value of pitchers in general. With pitchers throwing harder than ever and putting more stress on their arms, their rate of injury has increased in recent years. German, a pitcher with an already-lengthy injury history at age-27, will stand a chance to get injured next year no matter what the Yankees do with his innings. Should the Yankees shut him down, only for him to get hurt next year any way, it would be the ultimate double-whammy for both player and club.
Luckily, it seems as though the Yankees’ management has realized this. There is not enough depth on the active roster to withstand the loss of German this season, and there isn’t enough assurance that resting German (and suffering that subsequent talent drop-off) would even result in significantly better health in 2020 and beyond. The 2019 Yankees are a win-now team. Pitching Domingo German more often helps the team win more ballgames. The more ballgames the team wins, the more likely the season ends with a championship parade. It’s that simple.