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Yankees 2021 Season Preview: Deivi García

After an encouraging rookie debut, Deivi García will look to take the next step in his progression as a big league starting pitcher.

Miami Marlins v New York Yankees Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The Yankees’ pitching staff faces a stern test this season. Despite having a pool of up to nine pitchers to fill out the staff, this group features some of the highest variance and risk of any front five in baseball. Between pitchers returning from injury and innings limits for the younger arms, a lot needs to break in the Yankees’ favor. One such pitcher on whom the Yankees are relying to hit his top percentile outcome is Deivi García.

2020 Stats: 34.1 IP, 4.98 ERA, 4.15 FIP, 4.63 xFIP, 8.65 K/9, 1.57 BB/9, 1.19 WHIP, 0.8 fWAR

2021 FanGraphs Depth Chart Projections: 102 IP, 4.64 ERA, 4.73 FIP, 9.86 K/9, 3.97 BB/9, 1.38 WHIP, 1.5 fWAR

García dazzled in his debut, striking out six without surrendering a walk in a no-decision against the Mets. This stinginess in issuing free passes carried on throughout the season, with García walking only six batters in 34.1 innings. This was quite a pleasant surprise for a pitcher who averaged almost 4.5 walks per nine across three levels in the minors in 2019.

The projections are not quite sold on this newfound command, as they forecast Deivi’s walk rate to more than double in 2021. Still, Depth Charts is counting on a significant jump in innings for a youngster with limited professional mileage who is also battling it out for the fifth spot in the rotation.

Like with the majority of pitchers, García’s effectiveness begins with the fastball. Despite the ability to rear back and touch 97 mph, the 91.9 mph average velocity alone is not enough to overpower hitters. Instead, García needs to rely on deception and late-riding life at the top of the strike zone to keep hitters off balance.

Of all Yankees starting pitchers from both last season and 2021, Deivi achieves the greatest extension towards the plate upon release. This is especially impressive, given that he is the shortest starter on staff and is one of the shortest starting pitchers in MLB at 5’9”. García releases the baseball about three inches closer to the plate than the average MLB pitcher, giving the hitter a fraction less time to identify the pitch.

(Shout-out to Josh for inspiring me to visualize this.)

This deception is magnified in combination with a high active spin four-seamer that achieves elite rising action despite its below-average spin rate. Of 409 qualified pitchers, García’s fastball exhibited the 13th-most vertical movement in 2020. His four-seamer achieved 2.8 inches more rise than average, an impressive feat for a 21-year-old.

For García to consistently retire opposing hitters, he will have to rely on more than just his fastball.

During Deivi’s rapid ascent through the minors, the curveball became his calling-card, a big looping overhand breaker whose 15+ mph differential off the fastball wrought havoc on hitters’ timing. The stuff carried over into the majors, as it registered in the 92nd percentile in vertical drop, and 71st percentile in spin rate. Curiously, the curve was only García’s third-most used pitch, being thrown less than 15 percent of the time. Hopefully, this is because García was developing his other two secondary offerings rather than having lost confidence in the curve.

That García was able to incorporate the changeup and slider for a combined quarter of the time is an encouraging sign, as major league starting pitchers frequently need a complete arsenal to record volume outs. The off-speed was actually García’s best pitch, with opposing batters managing only a .244 expected wOBA and 79.4 mph average exit velocity against.

The slider is more of a work in progress, but García flashed some nasty ones to record swings-and-misses. It did induce the highest whiff rate of any of his pitches at 40 percent, which is why I believed the pitch would be the X-factor for his success back in September and now. Neither change nor slider was touted in his early prospect days, so it is a sign of growth that García is making a conscious effort to mature into a four-pitch pitcher.

The major hurdle for García this season is workload. He has thrown a grand total of 328 professional innings, with his single-season high water mark of 111.1 coming in 2019. Last season was a year that should have seen a 20-year-old García build up his arm strength and stretch his innings capacity. Instead, the 2020 COVID pandemic shortened his workload to only 34.1 innings, leaving the Yankees with greater uncertainty as to how far they can push their young pitcher in 2021.

Throw this inexperience on top of the growing concern around baseball about innings limits following the shortened season and it’s hard to see García getting a fifth starter’s normal share of games. The Yankees may even abandon the idea of a tradition five-man rotation, instead opting for perhaps a six-man staff, a rotating fifth starter slot, a healthy dose of openers and bullpen games, or a combination of the three. This could work to García’s benefit, allowing him a slightly reduced workload to aid the ramping up from an abbreviated year.

2021 is a big year for Deivi García. It will go a long way in determining how he makes the jump to full-time MLB starter. Asking him to be a stable presence in a rotation filled with uncertainty is a tall task to place on his young shoulders. Still, a 22-year-old who can handle the big league stage and workload is a rare commodity, and I anticipate that the Yankees will give him plenty opportunity to shine.