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Domingo Germán’s improvements are helping injured Yankees rotation

With better location and a little bit of luck, Domingo Germán has become a more effective starter at an opportune time.

New York Yankees v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images

There seems to be no end in sight for the Yankees when it comes to injuries. Harrison Bader returned from the injured list and has provided a huge spark to the offense, and Luis Severino is set to make some rehab starts before rejoining the team. However, Carlos Rodón’s injury is still as confusing as ever, with no signs of an imminent comeback, and if Frankie Montas is ever a factor in 2023, he won’t be until we’re well into the second half.

The injuries to the pitching staff have required players like Domingo Germán to step up their game and keep the team afloat. He’s had a couple of bumps in the road here and there in 2023, but for the most part, that’s exactly what he’s been doing — most notably in fanning 11 Twins back on April 15th and nearly throwing a Maddux against the Guardians on May 1st.

In 39.1 innings pitched, Germán has a 4.35 ERA and 4.50 FIP, but those results are also attached to a 3.84 xFIP, which is his lowest mark in five big league seasons (excluding his minimal impact 14.1-inning debut in 2017). He’s striking out 28.2 percent of opposing batters, which is also a career-best and, more importantly, 8.7 percentage points higher than his 2022 rate in 72.1 frames. He also has the highest CSW% of his career so far at 32.5 percent.

There is certainly some fortune involved, as Germán’s BABIP sits at .198, which is easily the best in his career, and there’s a .045 gap between his xwOBA (.318) and wOBA (.273). However, there are major legitimate differences in the way his pitches are moving, their locations, and the way they’re generating swings and misses.

Domingo Germán pitch distribution and percentile rankings 2023 (May 8th)
Baseball Savant

The biggest difference comes in Germán’s chase rate and whiff percentage. The 95th-percentile chase rate is 31 points higher than where he was last season, and his whiff percentage is an incredible 49 points higher than it was last season. He’s also significantly lower in barrels and barrel percentage.

It’s important to remember that the season is still young. There is plenty of baseball left to be played and plenty more to be decided as the regular season churns along and players return from injury. However, jumps of this magnitude aren’t something to scoff at, but what’s causing them?

Below is Germán’s pitch arsenal and usage for the 2022 season:

Germán pitch arsenal 2022
Baseball Savant

And here it is for the 2023 campaign:

Domingo Germán pitch arsenal 2023 (May 8th)
Baseball Savant

The biggest difference between these two visuals isn’t the usage distribution of all the pitches, but rather the placement of them. The curveball in 2022 took up tons of the heart of the plate, which, for obvious reasons, isn't the most optimal area to throw a curveball with very little movement vertically and horizontally. There are also the locations of the changeup and sinker, which have been more precise as well, focused on the bottom left part of the zone, thrown in to righties and away from lefties. Even the four-seam fastball is being placed in a great position on the edge of the strike zone.

Continuing to look further at the differences in metrics, below is Germán’s swing take profile from the 2022 season:

Domingo Germán Swing Take Profile 2022
Baseball Savant

And below is his swing take profile from Baseball Savant for the 2023 season so far:

Domingo Germán Swing Take Profile 2023 (May 8th)
Baseball Savant

It appears that everything is on track to be about the same as it was in 2022, except for the run value in the heart of the plate. Going from a plus-three run value to a minus-three run value (differential of six) is quite an improvement coming from having an almost identical take run value in 2023 that he had in almost double the innings in 2022 and a minus-one swing run value in that area compared to a plus-seven.

If there’s anything to take out of this dive into Germán’s numbers, it’s that he’s had improvements in some significant areas, particularly with the location of his pitches, but there should still be some caution. The likelihood of him keeping the BABIP and differential between his expected numbers and regular numbers is low. Still, there’s something to be said about his ability to get through the first inning or two, locate his pitches in the correct areas depending on the kind of hitter he’s facing, and stay away from the heart of the plate with his curveball.

We’re seeing the kind of pitcher the Yankees rotation has needed at the bottom for a while. Of course, the hope is that Germán’s first few outings aren’t a mirage, but it’s nice to see another pitcher contributing after the bottom half of the rotation (including Germán) had a rough start to the season.