For the Yankees fans watching the game against the Red Sox on the 12th of August, they found something that has become somewhat of an oddity. The Yankees started Domingo Germán, and he pitched well. Over six innings, he allowed just one earned run on five hits and two walks. Weirdly, he only recorded four strikeouts in this outing. Overall, his performance on Saturday was very good, even if the Yankees ending up losing the game. It was certainly not his fault.
And this game does not stand on its own. His last three starts have been effective. In those starts, he has pitched for 16. innings with just four earned runs to go with 15 hits and five walks. On the slightly less positive side of things is that he has only eight strikeouts in those games. Germán has been pitching well as of lately, but has he done enough to stick as the fifth starter for the Yankees when Clarke Schmidt has been working on getting ready to start in the minors (and looking like a bona fide pitcher)?
What has he done to make him a more effective starter? One answer could be that he is getting lucky, but that seems like a lazy answer to the question (and probably somewhat inaccurate as well). Part of the explanation might come from a change in his pitch usage.
Since the turn of August, Germán has been relying more heavily upon his four-seam fastball. As a consequence, he has been using his changeup and curve less. His sinker remains his least favored option, but he is using his changeup nearly as infrequently as the sinker. This increased reliance on the four-seam fastball seems to have come with slightly better command and control of the zone. This can be seen in the fastball location from two different games. The one on the left is from the 12th of August against the Red Sox, while the one on the right comes from the 21st of July against the Astros.
The image on the left was in the game where he allowed only one earned run. In contrast, the tracked pitches on the right show the game against the Astros where he allowed 5 earned runs over three innings. The differences between the locations of his four-seam fastball are fairly minute. However, Germán has been able to throw his fastball more consistently in and around the zone.
Even more importantly, the pitches are grouped more closely together in comparison to the pitching performance on the right. This would seem to indicate that he is getting more consistent with his ability to locate the fastball as he spends more time on the field. This can be further be seen in the expected slugging percentage associate with his various offerings.
His expected slugging percentage makes sense in the context that he has been locating his four-seam fastball more effectively in recent games. The control and command that he has shown on this pitch seems to have made it more difficult for hitters to square up this pitch. As a result, his expected slugging in his last start on his four seam fastball was only .287 which is very good. This might show that he could pitch effectively if he retains his ability to command and control this pitch.
Due to the still small sample size on Germán’s performance this season, it is hard to extrapolate too much. Apart from the absolute clunker in his first game back from the injured list against the Houston Astros, he has been a fairly decent pitcher. Don’t get me wrong, he has not been fantastic, but he has done enough not to be a major detriment to success.
This does not preclude the Yankees from deciding to go with Clarke Schmidt as a starter. They have been stretching him out in the minors. In his last start, Schmidt pitched six scoreless innings with 11 strikeouts. While this does come with the caveat that it occurred in the minor leagues, it does indicate that the Yankees have been preparing him as an option going forward. With how well Schmidt has pitched in the minors, I am not sure that the slightly better command of Germán’s fastball presents enough upside to use him over Schmidt. The low strikeout totals are particularly concerning in that they indicate that hitters have not been entirely fooled by his pitches. With that in mind, the Yankees can probably get away with Germán plying his trade at the back of the rotation, but Schmidt looms as a stronger option.