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Domingo Germán is now pitching to contact

The right-hander is challenging hitters in the strike zone more than ever before.

New York Yankees v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

Yankees’ starter Domingo Germán lost most of the season while rehabbing a shoulder problem that appeared early in the year, during the lockout. But he returned to the rotation in July, and when Jordan Montgomery was surprisingly sent to St. Louis, Germán became an important arm at the back of the staff. After nearly two months with the team, it’s a good time to look at what he is doing.

His surface numbers look good so far, with a strong 3.12 ERA in 49 innings. However, there is more to pitching than just ERA, and Germán’s FIP is 4.32, about the same as last year (4.31 in 98.1 frames). Notably, his strikeout rate has collapsed from 23.9 percent last year to 15.9 percent in 2022. That’s a curious difference; Germán went from striking out batters at an above average level, to doing so at a rate befitting bygone eras.

Let’s remember that while Germán’s control has been good for most of his career, his command usually betrays him in certain situations. Perhaps in an effort to take advantage of the Yankees’ improved defense, and an impressive movement profile on his breaking pitches, the organization appears to be encouraging the right-hander to pitch to contact instead of looking for strikeouts.

The Yankees may have their fair share of offensive issues, but at some point in September, they could have Josh Donaldson at third, Oswald Peraza (or Isiah Kiner-Falefa) at short, DJ LeMahieu at second, Anthony Rizzo at first, Aaron Judge in right field, and Harrison Bader in center, not to mention Jose Trevino as the catcher. That’s a really strong defensive team, the kind that allows the Yankees to encourage a pitcher like Germán to pitch to contact.

Clearly, the right-hander is missing fewer bats than ever before: not only has his strikeout rate plummeted, but so did has swinging strike rate, now at 9.5 percent in 2022, after oscillating between 13 and 15 percent from 2018 and 2021. Importantly, he also increased his zone rate from 40.1 percent last year to 44.1 percent in 2022, by far a career high.

It appears that the Yankees realized that his stuff is not overpowering, but it’s good enough for him to induce relatively weak contact if he works within the zone. While he isn’t among the league leaders in preventing overall hard contact, he is in the 65th percentile in barrel percentage, per Statcast. Thus far, Germán has been able to keep hitters from making the ideal kind of contact, hard and on a line.

Granted, there are also a few other factors that may be contributing to Germán’s diminished strikeout tally. For example, he has lost some velocity on his four-seamer: he is averaging 92.8 mph this season, after checking in at 93.4 mph in 2019-2021. But he also appears to be throwing more strikes and challenging hitters to make contact.

His horizontal and vertical movement profiles haven’t suffered much in comparison to last year, with his changeup, sinker, and four-seamer looking pretty similar by both vertical and horizontal movement:

Baseball Savant

With that said, it’s hard to explain the whiff rate of his curveball dropping from 42 percent to 32.3 percent and his changeup’s falling from 31.6 percent to 16.3 percent (!) other than looking at the zone he is now looking to attack.

Last year, he went for the kill with his changeup:

This year, he is throwing it more in the zone and using it early in the count often:

Here, you can see he is throwing more strikes in 2022 while targeting the lower part of the strike zone, letting the movement of his breaking stuff forcing hitters to just miss on ideal contact:

Baseball Savant

He threw more balls last year, and his heatmap looks a bit more varied when it comes to the location of his strikes:

Whether this is a sustainable strategy will likely be dictated by more than just Germán’s own performance from this point forward. With such a low strikeout rate, he will likely depend on a strong defensive performance to make it. Luckily, the Yankees have multiple standout defenders. We’ll see if they can help Germán succeed even without the whiffs.