When we learned over the weekend that Frankie Montas is due to miss the first of the season with shoulder inflammation, it didn’t create anywhere near the panic that a related announcement might have caused even one year ago. With Gerrit Cole at the top of the rotation, Carlos Rodón’s addition to the staff, Nestor Cortes’ two-year breakout, and Luis Severino’s return to fitness and form, the Yankees rotation projects as one of the best in baseball regardless of who the final starter is. That said, they still need someone to pitch every fifth day.
Because of their impressive ability to develop pitchers in the minors, the Yankees have been active dealing from that reserve of talent, with players like Hayden Wesneski, Ken Waldichuk, JP Sears, and Luis Medina all getting traded last season. This in addition to Luis Gil’s recovery from Tommy John surgery and Deivi García’s precipitous decline in the minors means the Bombers lack a diversity of choices to replace Montas. As such, Chris Kirschner of The Athletic reports the Yankees are likely turn to either Domingo Germán or Clarke Schmidt as their fifth starter, with both men likely to be given an opportunity to win the job with a strong spring training.
Yesterday, Andrés analyzed the case for Clarke Schmidt to be elevated as the fifth starter. He praised Schmidt’s ability to induce whiffs and pointed to his higher ceiling as factors that may entice the Yankees to opt for for the 26 year old over Germán. Today, I would like to argue the other side of the debate, and lay out Germán’s case to be nominated fifth starter over Schmidt.
After the Yankees traded Jordan Montgomery to the Cardinals for Harrison Bader, Germán found himself as the team’s fifth starter. In 15 appearances (14 starts) on the season, he logged a career-best 3.61 ERA, cutting down a tad on his walk and home run rates relative to prior seasons.
Interestingly, Germán got this done without an effective fastball, leaning on his two secondary pitches — curveball and changeup — to navigate outings. The curveball is his most-used pitch, and for good reason, inducing a 38.1 percent whiff rate, while hitters batted under .200 when facing his changeup. However, I was not aware of just how impressive the pair of pitches were in 2022. Among all starting pitchers who feature both a curveball and changeup (min. 100 pitches), Germán is one of only 15 to maintain an xwOBA of under .280 against either pitch.
Germán is a lot like Schmidt in this regard — both try to avoid using their fastball, turning to the softer stuff when they need a strike or a quick out. It’s a curious situation as both sit in the 93rd percentile or better when it comes to fastball spin, but as we know spin rate fails to tell the whole story. Both struggle mightily when it comes to active spin, or the amount of spin that contributes to a pitch’s movement.
The result is a fastball that drops right onto the barrel of the bat, rather than ride above it or sink below it. Perhaps both would be best-served ditching the four-seamer altogether to rely on the sinker as the lone fastball in their arsenals, though I am a firm believer in pitchers who feature both four-seamer and sinker with divergent movement profiles (think Michael King and Alek Manoah for two).
The main argument of Andrés’ analysis revolved around the difference in upside between the two pitchers. Germán is a 30-year-old who has failed to establish himself as anything more than a back-of-the-rotation starter in multiple seasons in the bigs. Schmidt is a 26-year-old former first rounder whose better raw stuff gives him a ceiling as a mid-rotation arm. However, I think now is an important time to distinguish between potential and performance.
David Cone and CC Sabathia among others have talked about how learning how to succeed in a certain role at the big league level is a skill in and of itself. So when it comes to a pitcher covering five or six starts while Montas gets healthy, I want the guy with proven success as a starter in MLB. I want the guy who can make that impact now, not the guy who may or may not become something better somewhere down the line.
Germán’s ERA as a starter is almost half a run lower than Schmidt’s ERA as a starter. He also performed above league average in 2022 when it came to walk rate, chase rate, and barrel rate. Conversely, Schmidt was in and around the bottom quartile of the league in those three metrics. I would rather a pitcher who can limit the length of innings and stay off the barrel to start games. In a similar vein, Germán performed at his best with men on base, often finding that perfect pitch to induce a double play or otherwise weak contact whereas Schmidt appears to wilt the more runners reach. You’re going to have traffic on the base paths as a starter, so give me a starter who can navigate those situations.
None of this is meant to be a knock against Schmidt. He carved out a crucial niche for himself as a multi-inning reliever for the Yankees last season and I would argue he offers greater value to the team in that role to start 2023, particularly with Scott Effross’ absence and Lucas Luetge’s trade to the Braves.
A team never wants to lose a starter to injury, doubly so before the season even begins. However, the Yankees; decisions this winter have built up resilience such that they are perhaps the best-suited team to weather losing a player of Montas’ potential. They have two reliable options in Domingo Germán and Clarke Schmidt to fill that void through the first month — Germán narrowly edges his teammate as the more logical choice.