Following the signing of Gerrit Cole, there may not be a spot within the starting rotation for when Domingo German returns from suspension.
Before the conclusion of this past season, Domingo German was placed on MLB’s administrative leave. Currently, the New York Yankees and German are waiting to hear from the league regarding his suspension for next season.
According to a New York Post report from Nov. 8, German’s case was in the final stages and could be resolved within a “matter of weeks.” However, it has been over a month since that article was published and there’s still no official suspension from the commissioner’s office.
While the 27-year-old has already spent 18 games on the league’s administrative leave (last nine regular season, nine postseason games), German was also paid during those final nine regular-season games. Meaning, in order for those nine games to count towards his suspension, the right-hander would likely need to pay back that portion of his $577.5K 2019 salary.
Whenever German returns, he may be forced to pitch from out of the bullpen through next season. Along with the Dominican righty, the Yankees have J.A. Happ and Jordan Montgomery as options for the fifth spot within their rotation.
For the sake of this article, let’s say that general manager Brian Cashman is successful with trading away Happ and his $17 million salary for next season. In doing so, that leaves just Montgomery and German to battle for that final spot.
With German likely to begin serving his suspension at the start of next season, Montgomery will likely serve as the fifth starter to begin the season. While he’s likely to open the season in the rotation, Montgomery will have a lot to prove in 2020.
The 26-year-old has spent the past two seasons recovering from his Tommy John surgery. Since his procedure back in June of the 2018 season, Montgomery has pitched a combined 7.2 innings across three different levels, including four innings with the Yankees in 2019.
This past season, the soon-to-be 27-year-old made a pair of appearances with the Yankees. During his four innings of work, Montgomery faced 19 batters and recorded a 6.75 ERA, 3.96 FIP, 3.20 xFIP, 1.75 WHIP, .368 OPP AVG, 26.3% strikeout rate and a 0.1 fWAR as well.
Prior to his TJ surgery, Montgomery was positioned within the middle of the Yankees’ rotation. Now, he has an opportunity to provide his team with quality results from the bottom of their rotation.
During his breakout 2017 season, Montgomery threw 155.1 innings and generated a 3.88 ERA, 4.07 FIP, 4.45 xFIP, 1.23 WHIP, .235 OPP AVG, 22.2% strikeout rate, 7.9% walk rate and a 2.6 fWAR. The right-hander also produced just an 11.2% HR/FB rate and a 26.5% hard-hit rate during the 2017 season. Based on his 9.7 HR/FB rate and a 28.4% hard-hit rate from 2018, Montgomery should be able to replicate these impressive numbers during next season.
Montgomery’s style of pitching should also match up extremely well at the bottom of the Yankees’ pitching rotation. Gerrit Cole, Luis Severino, and James Paxton all feature 95-plus mph fastballs as their primary pitches. Only Masahiro Tanaka and Montgomery utilize breaking balls and offspeed pitches as their primary weapons.
Over the last two seasons, Tanaka’s slider has been his most effective pitch and the one he’s thrown the most out of all six of his pitches. As for Montgomery, his curveball generated a strikeout rate above 40% in each of his first two seasons in the majors (2017 and 2018), while also serving as his most utilized pitch as well.
Before his injury in 2018, Montgomery’s curveball induced a .147 AVG, .141 xAVG, .235 SLG, .240 xSLG and a .178 wOBA. After returning from his rehab assignment, Montgomery threw his curveball 30.5% and produced a .200 AVG, .369 xAVG .400 SLG, .884 xSLG, .247 wOBA, 20.0% strikeout rate and a 36.4% whiff rate over his four innings of work.
Even though his 2019 season concluded earlier than expected, German played a vital role for the Yankees. In place of Severino, German completed 143 innings and created a 4.03 ERA, 4.72 FIP, 4.22 xFIP, 1.15 WHIP, .227 OPP AVG, 25.8% strikeout rate, 6.6% walk rate and a 2.0 fWAR.
Despite German’s impressive performance during this past season, Montgomery is a better fit for the rotation. Preventing home runs and hard-hit balls became a serious issue for German during this past season. The right-hander allowed an 18.8% HR/FB rate and a concerning 41.2% hard-hit rate in 2019.
Compared to Montgomery’s 9.7% HR/FB rate and a 28.4% hard-hit rate from the 2018 season, German just surrenders far too much hard contact, especially for a pitcher who plays in Yankee Stadium.
If moved to the bullpen, German would become the new “long man” for the Yankees, becoming a spot starter and someone who could throw multiple innings out of the bullpen as well.
With both Tanaka and Paxton slated to become free agents after next season, German’s transition into the bullpen would likely last just one season. However, if Montgomery struggles, or suffers another significant injury, German could slide right back into the rotation.
With that being said, all signs are pointing towards a spectacular comeback season for Montgomery in 2020.