Domingo Germán’s 2021 campaign began on the wrong foot. In his first two starts, he lasted only a combined seven innings, allowing seven earned runs and four home runs over the two outings. After the second outing, he was sent to what was then the alternate site in Scranton to see if his pitching could be straightened out a bit. Due to a Yankees schedule at the time that didn’t require a fifth starter for almost two weeks, Germán likely would have been sent down anyway to get some innings, but his performances sure didn’t give the decision-makers a tough one to make.
Over the course of Germán’s nine starts since returning to the rotation on April 22nd, he’s still been susceptible to giving up the long ball. For the season, among 57 American League pitchers who’ve thrown a minimum of 50 innings, Germán has the 54th-worst home run percentage, surrendering a long ball to exactly five percent of the batters he’s faced.
Yet despite the proclivity for giving up home runs, Germán has flown under the radar to become the Yankees’ second-best starting pitcher, and a better-than-league average starter in the AL. He hasn’t thrown a no-hitter, and he hasn’t notched any double-digit strikeout games to grab news headlines, but he’s been a model of consistently good outings.
Since his return on April 22nd against Cleveland, here’s what Germán has done: Nine starts, throwing between five innings and seven innings in each, and allowing no more than three runs in any of them. Over the nine games, he’s thrown 53.2 innings, with a 48/10 strikeout to walk ratio, and a 2.35 ERA, while allowing only 38 hits over that span. Germán has held opponents to a .195/.238/.359 slash line over that stretch, all three of those numbers coming in at well-below league average.
For the season, among the 57 AL pitchers who’ve thrown a minimum of 50 innings, Germán ranks 17th in bWAR (1.4), and 13th in ERA+ (131) according to Baseball Reference, while coming in at 14th in WARP (0.9) and 13th in DRA- (90) according to Baseball Prospectus. Simply put, he’s having a very good season.
You may be curious how Germán has been able to remain that dependable while allowing so many home runs, and as Occam’s razor would suggest, the answer is an extremely low walk rate. His 4.5 percent walk rate is fifth-best in the AL among pitchers with a minimum of 50 innings. The scarcity of bases on balls has helped keep his pitch counts down and given his team length — he’s averaged only 87 pitches over his last 9 starts despite completing between 5 and 7 innings in each, and has yet to record a triple-digit pitch count. Far more importantly, the low walk total has allowed him to minimize damage and keep his team in games, regardless of a few long balls.
Consider that in Germán’s last nine starts, he’s given up 8 home runs in 53.2 innings, yielding a grand total of 10 runs – 6 of the homers were solo shots, and the other 2 came with a sole runner on base. As a result, Germán has been a pitcher who has avoided big innings and given his team a reasonable chance to win the game in each start, even when not at his best.
Of course, defense plays a big part in run prevention, but ultimately, the brunt of the responsibility falls on the pitcher, and Germán quite obviously doesn’t exactly have the defense of the early-‘70s Orioles behind him. Runs allowed in and of themselves don’t tell the entire story either, but as we touched on a few minutes ago, a deep dive into advanced metrics would show Germán’s numbers have been good in that regard as well. The bottom line is that if you throw between five and seven innings while allowing three or fewer runs — as Germán has in nine consecutive starts — you’re giving your team a chance to win a lot of games.
Can Germán maintain his success while continuing to be susceptible to the long ball? As long as he continues to limit his walk rate to avoid big innings, then yes. Fans of a certain age may remember hearing about Robin Roberts’ proclivity for allowing a ton of home runs, yet still being one of the best of his era and an eventual Hall of Famer. Longtime Yankee fans may remember fellow Cooperstown honoree Catfish Hunter, who like Roberts, had a higher than league average home run percentage for his career, but a lower-than-league average walk rate also being one of the best pitchers of his era. Perfect game artist David Wells is another example of a pitcher who had a higher than average home run allowed rate, but a lower than average walk rate, who had a great career.
I’m certainly not suggesting that we start engraving a plaque for Germán after a good seven-week stretch. It’s worth remembering, however, that when the season started, the Yankees’ rotation was “Gerrit Cole, and then what?”
Germán has met the challenge and been a Yankee who’s stepped up, proving to be a valuable part of the solution.