Pittsburgh Pirates sign pitcher Domingo German

At long last, the Pirates have added another starting pitcher
Jul 18, 2023; Anaheim, California, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher Domingo German (0) reacts
Jul 18, 2023; Anaheim, California, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher Domingo German (0) reacts / Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

On the heels of their reported deal with center fielder Michael A. Taylor, the Pirates have signed starting pitcher Domingo German, as first reported by Mike Rodriguez:

Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette confirmed this report and added that it's a minor league deal.

The right-hander, 31, had spent the entirety of his six-year MLB career with the Yankees. He has a career 4.41 ERA and posted a mark of 4.56 across 108.2 innings with the Yankees in 2023. Despite the middling numbers, he managed to pitch the 24th perfect game in MLB history on Jun. 28 and - should he end up suiting up for the Pirates - would join Hall-of-Famer Jim Bunning as the only players to play for the Pirates and also have pitched a perfect game.

German's curveball has been his primary offering since he became a starting pitcher in his second season. The pitch was excellent in 2023, with hitters batting just .174 and slugging .344 against the pitch while whiffing on just under 40 percent of swings.

His fastball velocity has decreased steadily from 96.3 MPH as a rookie to 92.3 MPH last year. He gets elite spin on the pitch, with 95th-percentile spin on his fastball in 2023 and finishing in at least the 89th percentile in every season of his career.

That didn't help him last year, however, as opposing batters clubbed the pitch to the tune of a .321 average, .741 slugging percentage, and a 49.3 percent hard-hit rate. With a Run Value of minus-five, it was among the least-effective four-seam fastballs in the sport.

German is an interesting case in that a lot of his peripherals are strong, aside from one glaring weakness. His strikeout and walk rates are both above average, both in 2023 and throughout the majority of his career. He struck out over a quarter of the batters he faced last year and walked just 7.7 percent in 2023. For his career, he has allowed fewer than eight hits per nine innings, fewer than three walks per nine, and approximately nine and a half strikeouts per nine.

His problem is, and always has been, the long ball. His flyball rate is consistently over the league average of 24 percent, and too many of those flyballs have wound up leaving the yard. Of the 128 pitchers with at least 500 innings pitched since 2017, his rate of home runs per nine innings (1.62) is the seventh-highest, and his home runs per flyball rate (15.8 percent) is the 12th-highest.

But that could make the Pirates a better fit for German than most other clubs. According to Statcast Park Factors, which use a three-year rolling sample size, Yankee Stadium is the third-easiest ballpark in which to homer, whereas PNC Park's homer score is the second-lowest. Also according to Statcast, of the 94 home runs he has allowed in his entire MLB career, only 71 of them would have been homers in Pittsburgh.

While this deal seems to make a lot of sense for the Pirates from a baseball perspective, there's an elephant in the room, and it's larger than most elephants.

German comes with a laundry list of off-the-field issues. In 2019, German became intoxicated and slapped his girlfriend while at a team charity event. He served an 81-game suspension under MLB's domestic violence policy after the league concluded its investigation.

Then last summer, German was placed on the restricted list and submitted to treatment for alcohol abuse after an episode in the Yankees' clubhouse. This took place just over a month after he pitched a perfect game. His placement on the restricted list lasted through the rest of the season, and he was outrighted off of the roster at the start of the offseason.

The concerns here are more than significant, due to both the serious nature of the offenses as well as the amount of incidents that have occurred. But according to Pirates beat writer Alex Stumpf, the team did their homework and then some before finalizing this deal:

This was not the first or the second time that the Pirates had been connected to German this offseason. They clearly exercised due diligence and seemed content with their findings. Whether or not he ever steps on a pitching mound again, what's most important is that he learns from - and shows genuine remorse for - his mistakes and casts the demons that have plagued him.