The “Battle” for the 5th Spot

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Entering spring training, the most prominent role to be defined in the Yankees’ 26-man Roster was the fifth Starter in the rotation. This “competition” allows us to analyze and write a few words about the candidates. So, lets do just that!

The Candidates

What seemed to be a four horse race at the beginning of the spring has sadly lost an interesting competitor. Clarke Schmidt, one of the most prominent pitching prospects in the Yankees system, has gone down with a common extensor strain in his elbow that will shut him down 3-4 weeks.

Also, I’m not considering Mike King or Nick Nelson in this exercise for different reasons. King because of the lack of a reliable secondary offering, and Nelson because of his lack of control (Career MiLB 4.8 BB/9). Also I think Nelson’s stuff plays up a lot in the bullpen and he could be a weapon there.

That leaves us with (ordered alphabetically by their last name): Jhoulys Chacín, Deivi García and Domingo Germán. Let’s see what the projection system’s tell us about those three players regarding their WAR:

SystemChacínGarcíaGermán
PECOTA-0.11.41.3
FGDC0.21.21.0
Steamer0.11.11.1
ZiPS1.12.12.1
Projections via FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus

The projections tell a clear story of two similarly productive pitchers (García and Germán), and an underdog (Chacín). With that in mind, let’s go under the hood for any further evidence on who should win the job.

Jhoulys Chacín

The veteran of the group, and the underdog from the projection systems. The book on Chacín hasn’t changed too much, mostly depending on a low velocity sinker (Averaging around 91 mph steadily since his debut) that he uses around 30 to 40 percent of his pitches. And a low velocity breaking ball (approx. 80 mph average since 2017) that oscillates around average in terms of spin rate MLB percentile rankings.

Chacín’s 2019 Statcast Percentile Rankings via Baseball Savant

Looking at his 2019 (He only pitched 5 inning in 2020) Statcast percentile rankings, we can see that those are… yeah, not good at all. Not striking out many people while allowing hard hits and walks is really not what you want. If we couple that with his decreasing groundball rate on his sinker, from 62.8% in 2017 to 45.7% in 2019, the outlook indeed doesn’t look great.

My quick take on Chacín:

This quickly became a two horse race.

Deivi García

The kid of the group, and the one that has everyone cheering for him. Deivi is a really curious case of a pitcher, in the minors he was a really high strikeouts and walks guy (Career 12.7 K/9 and 3.8 BB/9). In his 35.1 innings with the Yankees both stats significantly decreased, with 8.5 K/9 and 1.5BB/9 rates in 2020 (counting his postseason inning).

There are reasons to believe his improved control is real. At the Alternate Site, Deivi changed to the first base side of the rubber as pointed out by Derek in his season review. While it may be too soon to say he is a true talent <2 BB/9 pitcher in MLB (very few are!), it is probable that there is some improvement from his MILB numbers.

Deivi’s game revolves around his deception, and a few interesting Statcast metrics as well. Given that there is no metric for the first one, let’s take a look at the second one:

García’s 2020 Statcast Percentile Rankings via Baseball Savant

First of all we can see the solid Curveball spin rate, this pitch has a lot of promise and even if it wasn’t his best pitch in 2020 it has the potential to be special. His best pitch in 2020 by run values was, quite amazingly, his below average velocity and spin rate 4-Seamer. This is explained mainly from his 98% active spin , the big brother of spin rate and explained by TangoTiger as:

… Active Spin %, that represents the proportion of the total spin that is not a football spiral spin.(*) Equivalently, Active Spin % represents the proportion of the total spin that leads to some amount of movement.

Tangotiger

So, in simpler words, this represents how much movement that spin is creating. For 4-seamers this creates the rising illusion that typically makes it harder to hit. In Deivi’s case, his 98% value ranks him 11th in pitchers that threw at least 300 4-seamers in 2020, sandwiched right behind Gerrit Cole (<3) and in front of Shane Bieber (Some nice names huh?).

Taking those Statcast metrics into account it is not difficult to foresee better strikeout numbers from Deivi in 2021, or more in line with his MiLB numbers at least. And if he manages to keep his better control as well, he could be quite a pitcher.

My quick take on García:

I’m not ready to say he is pretty good yet, there is a scenario where his control regresses and his fastball doesn’t play up after MLB hitters have seen it a few times. But there is definitely potential here that we will surely see this year with the Yankees, exciting stuff!

Domingo Germán

Necessary caveat: I’m going to focus on Germán the pitcher here, the off the field domestic violence allegations have been covered extensively both on the blog and on the podcast, where we have given our opinion on the subject.

The most controversial candidate is the 28 year-old Dominican hurler. Germán has shown flashes of being a pretty good pitcher, and seemed to be having a breakout season in 2019 before it being cut short.

Taking a look at his Statcast values for 2019 it’s easy to see what the Yankees like about Germán:

Germán’s Career Statcast Percentile Rankings via Baseball Savant

Domingo has an elite fastball spin rate coupled with above average velocity, he also adds a curveball with solid spin rates and a power changeup (87 mph average) that moved 23% more than the average changeup in 2019. Seeing the stuff he has it’s no wonder why Germán’s strikeout and whiff percentages have always been solid, and he has also shown the ability to suppress barrels in 2018, the question here (at least on the field) is whether he can keep his walks in check like he did in 2019.

Ignoring the obvious elephant in the room here, the on the field potential for Germán is quite high. Domingo has already shown to be effective before, posting a 2.1 WAR season in 143 innings in 2019 according to Baseball Reference. He also has shown three above average pitches in his arsenal (4-seamer, curveball and changeup) in 2019 according to Baseball Savant, a good omen for that production being sustainable.

My quick take on Germán:

Domingo is the most ready to take the last spot in the rotation and contribute immediately. He also has potential to show better results than seasons before.

Final Thoughts

As Derek mentioned in his thoughts post, the 5th spot seems to be Germán’s job to lose (hence the “Battle” in the title). And while he might have the most accolades in MLB for the moment, there are two competent young guys in García and Schmidt that will surely push hard for a spot. This also allows the Yankees to control the amount of innings for the young guys given their low amount of inning in seasons before.

This quality depth shows a remarkable job done by the Yankees to accumulate a number of above average starters. And given the nature of the season, we will probably see all of these guys. Ok… maybe not Chacín.

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2 Comments

  1. Troy

    Good article. Really, it is not much of a competition. If German is pitching well and has it together it is his spot to lose. Deivi can be ready to be the first man up and work his way into the rotation at points over the season while continuing to develop.

    I saw him (Garcia) pitch for SWB in 2018 and it was pretty bad. Last year was good but a little development and a few less innings are probably best for him long term.

    Also, while Wins are not considered like they once were (and should not be), they also are not nothing. German won 18 games in 2019. He kept his team in the game and got in at least 5 innings those 18 times. With the Yankee lineup, that is all you can ask of a #5 starter.

    • Mungo

      They’re going to need to figure out a plan that allows them to maximize use of all their arms. Starting with German in the rotation with Garcia (and soon Schmidt) in AAA is the likely way to do it. I suppose if German still has an option they could send him down, but it still makes more sense to go with German as he’s had the most success in the majors and was able to churn out 140+ innings on the MLB level.

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