Tonight, Domingo Germán takes on a different role than he’s been accustomed to this season. Once CC Sabathia’s brief start ends, Germán will take the reigns in relief. Sure, he’s pitched as a reliever before, but not extensively since last season. This year, Germán has started 24 of the 25 games he’s pitched in. But with the postseason beckoning and the rest of the rotation strengthening, Germán could be used differently the rest of the way. For good reason, too.
For most of 2019, Germán was the rotation’s most reliable and effective starter. He’s cooled off a bit as the season’s gone on, however. I’m picking arbitrary endpoints here, but since July 23rd, the 27 year-old has a 5.73 ERA and 6.29 FIP in 48 2/3 innings. Prior to that date, Germán owned a 3.38 ERA and 4.02 FIP through 88 frames. Whether that’s a result of fatigue or better scouting reports catching up to him isn’t certain.
As Germán’s taken a downturn, guys like James Paxton and JA Happ have improved. Plus, Luis Severino’s return is imminent and Masahiro Tanaka has always been reliable in the postseason. That makes for a crowded October rotation, though Happ still isn’t a certainty for a playoff start. The Yankees have floated the idea of using an opener in the postseason, which would likely bump Happ. Whatever route the Yankees go to, Germán likely won’t start. That means it’s time to find out what he can do in relief and/or in short stints.
If the Yankees decide to use an opener, most likely Chad Green, Germán would be a strong candidate for the middle innings. When the Yankees have gone to Green as an opener this season, we’ve seen guys like Nestor Cortes or Luis Cessa trail. Obviously, in the playoffs, the Yankees will use a better pitcher to piggyback Green. That’s where Germán comes in. And based on his numbers, Germán could really thrive in a follower role where he would pitch in no more than two or three innings.
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Germán’s performance drops off significantly once the lineup turns over for the first time. This is a very common phenomenon for all pitchers, but Germán’s swing from the first to second time through is more drastic than most.
Compared to his counterparts, the righty has the 46th largest differential in ERA from the first to second time through the order. That doesn’t sound too remarkable, but when you turn to FIP, he moves up to the 7th biggest difference. And it’s easy to see why: his strikeout and home run rates crater once hitters get a second look. If anything, he’s been lucky to have a 4.32 ERA in the second time through the lineup.
So, what’s driving Germán’s poor results as he goes deeper into games? It’s pretty clear that his arsenal simply isn’t as effective.
Germán’s bread-and-butter is his curveball, but hitters fare better against it the more they see it. Hitters’ whiff rates against it drop from 54 to 41 percent after just one pass through the lineup and even further thereafter. His fastball and changeup are also worse, but not dramatically so.
On the bright side, even though opponents make more contact against his curveball later in games, they aren’t necessarily squaring it up.
However, other teams start to clobber his fastball and changeup after a first look. What’s fascinating is that it’s not as if Domingo loses velocity or movement as his outings progress. The data shows that his fastball speed is remarkably consistent from start to finish as is movement on all pitches. However, it does look like his command starts to waver. Per Brooks Baseball, Germán’s percentage of grooved pitches increases five percent from the first to second TTO.
Clearly, it would behoove the Yankees to use Germán in short outings in October. I’m all for bringing him back as a starter next season, but considering where the Yankees stand right now, they should have Germán let it fly for two or three innings the rest of the way. Paired with an opener like Green would make for a pretty dandy fourth starter, don’t you think?
Now, pitching in relief is a different experience than starting, of course. I’m sure the Yankees will do everything in their power to make sure Germán gets a fresh inning to enter, but there’s no telling what could happen in the heat of a playoff game. For now, let’s see how he comes out of tonight’s outing as he follows Sabathia. It could be a preview of what’s to come next month.