2020 has been a slog for a number of reasons, baseball or otherwise. But one of the better things about this year was Deivi García’s debut. The 21 year-old pitched awfully well down the stretch for the Yankees. His performance almost certainly earned him a spot in the 2021 rotation and beyond.
A much needed shot in the arm
The Yankees didn’t make any moves at the trade deadline to acquire a starting pitcher. Instead, the team summoned García from the Alternate Site for a start against the Mets on August 30th, a doubleheader. He stuck in the rotation for good from there on out.
While the 21 year-old’s 4.98 ERA in six starts looks poor, there’s no question that Deivi was mostly quite good. His 4.15 FIP very respectable, and he really only had one poor performance: his penultimate regular season start at Boston (six runs in three innings).
García was efficient and gave the Yankees’ length. He threw six innings or more in four of his six outings while also completing seven frames twice. His ability to work deep into games was a pleasant surprise as he averaged 4.7 innings per start in the minors last year. Better control seemed to be a difference maker in this instance. Last year, he walked 11.1 percent of hitters faced in time combined at Double-A and Triple-A. This year with the Yankees, Deivi walked only 4.1 percent of batters faced.
It’s also worth noting that the 21 year-old’s performance instant success came after a rough stint in Triple-A last summer. Following his promotion to the level, the righty really struggled with the long ball. He allowed 8 homers in just 40 innings (1.8 per nine) in Scranton and recorded a 5.40 ERA. It seemed like he needed a bit more seasoning. Now, Deivi did give up his fair share of dingers in the majors this year (6 in 34 1/3 innings), but his aforementioned control improvement made a huge difference.
So, the Yankees didn’t acquire a starter via trade like we hoped, but Deivi proved to be a good addition. The Yankees won four of the six games he started (and probably should have won five had Clarke Schmidt not had a rough debut in relief against Baltimore). You know, maybe they should have just treated him like a starter in the playoffs since he turned out to be the starter “acquisition” anyway. Not an opener in Game 2 of the ALDS. No, I’m not mad about that still.
An adjustment on the rubber
Considering his performance in Scranton in ’19 and Clarke Schmidt’s impressive spring and summer camp, I don’t think anyone expected Deivi to get an opportunity in the rotation before Schmidt. But in retrospect, there’s a good reason for his chance coming first. The Athletic’s Lindsey Adler noted an adjustment he made in Scranton this summer:
Like many developing pitchers, García has struggled with consistent command. Across three minor-league levels in 2019, he averaged 4.4 walks per nine innings pitched, though that was a big jump up from his 2.4 walks per nine in 2018. While García was stationed at the Yankees’ minor-league site this season, they decided to adjust his mound positioning to help with his direction toward the plate in his delivery. With cross-body movement, García was struggling to control the ball toward the outer part of the plate. He moved from the third-base side of the rubber to the first-base side, letting him take a more stable route to the plate in his delivery.
It’s pretty easy to spot the adjustment on video, from which I’ve taken the screencaps below.
These screenshots confirm the timing of the move toward first base on the rubber as well. The change must have happened at the Alternate Site because Deivi was still on the third base side during Summer Camp.
It sure looks like this played a huge role in helping García find the plate more often. However, there appears to be a tradeoff here. The righty had a reverse split, likely because right-handed hitters were able to get a better look at his release point with him closer to first base of the rubber. Lefties had a .283 xwOBA against Deivi whereas righties had a .342 mark.
The slider is a work in progress
We’ve heard a lot about Deivi’s curveball as he ascended the minor league ranks. For good reason. Look at this thing:
That is filthy. He deployed his yakker against righties and lefties with plenty of success: a .279 xwOBA against and a 31.4 percent whiff rate. You’d think that would be the only breaking ball needed, but he also worked in a slider a fair amount. Almost exclusively against righties, that is. 45 of the 48 sliders he threw came against right handed hitters.
García’s slider is relatively new. It came about last summer and it certainly shows flashes of excellence. I mean, he did garner a 40 percent whiff rate with the pitch in the majors. It also had a .500 batting average and 1.100 slugging percentage against, but Michael Chavis’s two dingers on hanging sliders on September 26th skew that quite a bit. Keep in mind that Deivi only had 10 at-bats that ended in sliders.
I wonder if Deivi’s slider usage predominantly against righties has to do with his new position on the rubber. It’s pure speculation from an amateur eye on my part, but perhaps its intention is to give righties one more pitch to think about even as they get a better look at his release point.
If not for counteracting his rubber position or his reverse split, wouldn’t he try to throw it to lefties too? Particularly if he could throw it as a put away back foot slider. Though at the same time, given his clear success against lefties by going fastball-curveball-change, I guess he doesn’t need the slider.
In any case, Deivi is far from a finished product and that’s awfully exciting given his early success. It’s also encouraging that he’s willing to make tweaks to get better. Things really came together for him in 2020, and though the slider was just a small part, it should be something to watch going forward.
García is destined for a spot in the rotation when camp breaks in the spring. Right now, he’s arguably the team’s second-best healthy starter behind Gerrit Cole. That’s either an indictment of the team’s depth or a great compliment to Deivi (both can be true!). ZiPS projects García to record a 4.31 ERA and 4.28 FIP in 112 2/3 innings next season, which would be a slightly above-average performance (103 ERA+).
It’s important to note that ZiPS forecasts a 10.4 percent walk rate, similar to what Deivi had in the minors. With that in mind, this overall projection could be low if we believe in Deivi’s adjustment on the rubber making a difference. That’s exciting to think about.
On the flipside, the innings projection is probably not quite what the team would want from its second-best starter. But considering that his career high innings total in the minors was 111 1/3 in 2019 and a mostly lost 2020, it’s going to be difficult to ask for such a big jump in innings. For what it’s worth, the young righty is pitching for Licey in LIDOM this winter in order to get some more work in. But even that won’t be enough to really give him a full workload. How the Yankees handle Deivi next season could be really challenging, particularly if he pitches well.
While I don’t look forward to innings limit discussions next season, I do look forward to watching García progress. He really surprised me this season, particularly after a not so great showing in Scranton in 2019.