As we enter the third week of spring training, Yankees fans have plenty of reason for optimism. The lineup has consistently put together productive at-bats. The pitching staff, and in particular the starters, has gradually stretched out, increasing their inning loads with each appearance. Some veteran NRIs have made strong cases for back-end roster spots.
While it is unwise to draw any meaningful conclusions from the counting and rate stat results accrued during spring training, it’s informative to examine how players have looked physically. Last week, my colleague Josh investigated whether Corey Kluber is has recaptured his old form. I’d like to do the same with the pitcher who has arguably looked the sharpest for the Yankees this spring: Domingo Germán.
As with many of the other pitchers vying for spots in the rotation, uncertainty surrounded Germán entering spring. How rusty would he feel following a nearly 18-month layoff from major league action? Would he come into camp with the necessary focus and commitment following his suspension? What chance did he have of finding the tools that made him effective for parts of 2019?
So far, Germán has answered those questions with his play on the fields. Through nine innings across three spring starts, Germán has allowed no runs and only six baserunners to go along with 13 strikeouts. But again, the results aren’t of particular interest. Instead, let’s analyze the process.
First, take a look at Germán’s pitch mix to see how much he resembles the pitcher from 2019:
Germán went primarily fastball-curveball in 2019, with the curve far and away performing best. It was his main strikeout pitch, and carried the best whiff rate (45 percent) and expected wOBA (.243) of his four offerings. What’s curious is that despite these sterling results and an above-average spin rate (66th percentile), the curve actually ranked well below average in its vertical and horizontal movement profile.
Looking at this spring, the increase in changeup usage and corresponding drop in fastball usage jumps off the page. Granted, this might represent a deliberate effort to work on the change before the season starts, and it must be said that we are missing a game’s worth of data. For now at least, it appears Germán is making the transition into a true three-pitch pitcher.
The work has paid off so far, as the changeup, not the curve, is Germán’s most effective pitch at the moment. It has induced the highest whiff rate (50 percent) and lowest average exit velocity (84.9 mph), and is a legitimate strikeout weapon especially against lefties.
The better performance of the changeup comes down to tangible changes Germán has implemented. It has lost about 150 rpm in spin rate relative to 2019, which in the case of the changeup is a good thing. In the simplest terms: the less spin on a change, the more it dives out of the zone. Indeed, Germán’s changeup is exhibiting roughly two more inches of vertical drop this spring than in 2019.
While not as noticeably improved as his changeup, we can still seem some positives regarding Germán’s other pitches. The four-seamer and curveball roughly resemble their respective versions from 2019, and that in itself is a win. There has been a slight uptick on both their spin rates, but nothing extraordinary.
The one concern I did have about the curveball is that despite the marginal increase in spin rate, it is actually breaking about two inches less than in 2019. That’s a worrying sign for a pitch that was already well below average in terms on movement profile. Germán has generated far fewer whiffs on the curve this spring, and is using it more as a get-me-over strike rather than a put-away pitch. Small sample caveats abound, but keep an eye on the extent to which Germán uses his curve as a strikeout offering in the early going.
It goes without saying that starting pitching depth will go a long way towards determining New York’s fate in 2021. With so many pitchers having not thrown significant innings in the last two years, the Yankees cannot expect all of their starters to shoulder a normal full season inning load. They will need major efforts from the starters further down the pecking order. So far, it looks like Domingo Germán is ready to accept that task.