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Domingo Germán’s ceiling has been raised by a simple adjustment

Germán’s mixed results belie his impressively improved breaking ball.

MLB: Cleveland Guardians at New York Yankees Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Domingo Germán’s curveball is his most frequently used pitch and arguably his best. Because the 30-year-old right-hander throws it around 40 percent of the time, he has to be able to get righties and lefties out with it, and he has made major strides in this endeavor in 2023, ensuring its viability to both types of hitters.

Yankees fans have seen Germán oscillate between bad, serviceable, and dominant, and back to bad again. He’s been in a rhythm over his last few starts, and his 8.1 dominant innings against the Guardians on May 1st were electric. There’s a solid case that he should’ve received a chance to close it out, but one thing’s for sure: his curveball has been consistently good. His command has also improved considerably, as noted by my colleagues.

Last year, opposing hitters slugged .375 against the curveball. Germán changed the pitch considerably in both shape and velocity since then, and opposing hitters are slugging .257 so far this year. The batting average against on the pitch dropped from .219 to .143. Not only is he limiting extra-base hits, the tighter pitch shape allows him more control, and his WHIP against lefties has gone down dramatically from 1.24 to 0.91.

The sample sizes are closer than you might think — Germán threw 403 curveballs in 2022 and is already up to 241 this year. He threw 72.1 innings last year and is already up to 45 in 2023, so the sample size is large enough to matter.

Germán flattened out the pattern of his curveball slightly, adding almost two full miles per hour, from 81 mph to 82.9 mph. He also cut down on the vertical movement, from 45 inches to 38.4 inches.

This change is quantified best against lefties: with its new shape, the pitch doesn’t hang in the zone as long and doesn’t allow lefties to hook around it and elevate. Allowing a lefty to elevate anything to the pull side is a dicey proposition at best. Instead, they rush to catch up to the higher velo and the decreased arc, swinging over it.

This pitch to fan Luke Raley on May 6th was thrown at 83 mph with 37.2 inches of downward break. Raley rushes his hands through the zone to get to the higher velo, and instead of having a hump in it, the pitch dives down more quickly and Raley can’t get his barrel under it.

Compare this with a curveball Omar Narváez hit for a line-drive double in late 2022, sending Aaron Judge to retrieve it in the corner. This one was 80.6 mph and had 46.8 inches of downward break.

The concept is the same — get the lefty to swing over the breaking ball bearing down and in. Narváez gets his hands around it and is able to elevate to the pull side. It doesn’t bear down and in as much as it floats down and in. More movement on a curveball isn’t necessarily a good thing!

Gerrit Cole actually made a similar adjustment between 2019 and 2020, suggesting it may be a Matt Blake favorite. The ace shaved five inches of verticality off his curveball during that offseason, from 55.6 inches to 50.9 inches, and threw it harder, going from 82.6 mph to 83.4 mph on the pitch.

Germán is also a guy whose tunneling has never been super deceptive. He releases his curveball from a significantly higher slot — pretty abnormal for a curveball-primary righty with non-funky mechanics.

The slower, more vertical curveball contributed to hitters seeing the ball sooner and better out of his hand. The toned down curveball looks like a fastball for longer. When hitters see the higher slot and a bigger hump in the breaking ball, they can ID it immediately and start their swing or lay off.

Germán has legitimate momentum heading into the second quarter of the season for the Yankees. As it becomes evident they’ll need him as a starter for quite a while, his decent performance this year with definite room for improvement goes a long way to assuage the many starting rotation concerns.