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Where Deivi García needs to improve for the Yankees in 2021

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García will need to do a better job of keeping the ball in the park moving forward.

Toronto Blue Jays v New York Yankees Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Deivi García’s surprising ascent into the Yankees’ rotation in 2020 was one of the year’s best stories. The team needed starters (and still does), and García capably filled the void, flashing dominance at times and generally performing better than his 4.98 ERA and bitterly short postseason would indicate.

García is an interesting pitcher to analyze. He’s just 5’9” and a wiry 163 pounds, but he still averages 92 mph and has hit as high as 96 mph at times in the minors. He generates a healthy degree of vertical drop on his curveball, and his changeup has blossomed into an offering that can take care of lefties. He really doesn’t blow guys away, but his stuff is still hard to hit because of its spin.

That wicked curve of his is well above average in spin rate, and while his fastball doesn’t have an exceptionally high amount of spin, it has an extremely high 94.6 percent “active spin” rate. This means that very little of García’s spin is wasted; it all manifests as movement on his heater.

This helps explain why, although García’s spin rate on his fastball is relatively low, it moves more than average both horizontally and vertically. To simplify, García’s fastball has a lot of life to it, and is hard for a hitter to track. The active spin rate explains pitches like this, where Jorge Alfaro swings actively late on just a 91 mph pitch:

Seeing this movement, it’s interesting that García didn't get more whiffs last year. He had a decent 8.65 K/9, but that figure was always above 11 in the minors. Obviously, big league hitters are better than minor leaguers, but García’s plate discipline data seems to suggest that there could be room for more strikeouts moving forward.

Opponents chased Garcia’s pitches more than average last year, but even when they chased, they made contact. The MLB average chase rate is 28.2 percent, and a 59.4 percent “chase contact” rate. García was getting hitters to chase on 33.7 percent of their swings, which is good, but they made contact on 73.6 percent of those chases. When a hitter leaves the zone on a swing, the pitcher expects more whiffs than García induced. His 22.8 percent whiff rate was slightly subpar, but that number could climb based on García’s history of swings-and-misses in the minors, as well as his encouraging spin numbers. He’ll need to convert more of those chases into whiffs to become more effective moving forward.

One other interesting note on García’s stats is his rather high launch angle. The MLB average launch angle is 11.9 degrees. Off García though, it was 23.4 degrees, which led to a low ground ball rate and plenty of home runs (1.57 HR/9). To quote old pal Joe Girardi, ”It’s not what you want.”

García likes to live up in the zone with his fastball, and that sometimes burns him. However, his fastball spin also leads to batters getting under the ball more often than usual, which led to a pop-up percentage almost twice the MLB average. García’s fastball is a double-edged sword – its deceptive nature helps him get some swings and misses, but it’s still just 92 mph and is susceptible to getting launched when it’s up in the zone and flat. His high launch angle wouldn’t be a problem if his exit velocity wasn’t also high. Be it through location or varying his pitch mix, García will have to find a way to generate more soft contact if he’s going to remain a fly ball pitcher at Yankee Stadium.

Deivi García showed plenty of promise for the Yankees in 2020. His improved control and ability to go deep into games were unexpected surprises in his development, and he has a clear path for becoming even better in 2021. For García to take the next step, he needs to find a way to generate whiffs at the level he did in the minors, and potentially lower his launch angle to compensate for the increase in homers. All of these metrics have also only come while evaluating six MLB starts, so there’s absolutely a “small sample size” element in play, too.

Next season will be huge for García’s development. Will he bloom into a No. 2 or 3 starter, or plateau as a back-of-the-rotation arm? How he navigates these challenges in 2021 will undoubtedly have a say in his future as a big leaguer.