After an impressive two-inning, three-strikeout performance out of the ‘pen on Wednesday evening, many Cubs fans were clamoring for more Gonzalez Germen. It’s an understandable desire, with the bullpen short on arms and Brian Schlitter getting more high-leverage outings than many would like, any bright spot will quickly be embraced.
And pitches like this are certainly a bright spot.
It’s not as if this was a rare occasion and Germen just had his changeup working Wednesday night better than ever before. According to Brooks Baseball, since 2007, with a minimum of 200 pitches thrown, Germen has the fifth best whiff per swing rate on his change among relievers at 51.8 percent.
But a deeper dig into the data helps us understand why Germen was not only available for nothing this offseason, but actually shuffled around multiple rosters before finding a home with the Cubs.
In the same span that Germen is getting incredible whiffs on his change, we see that when the opposition does make contact with the pitch, they’re hitting it hard. Germen has allowed a .228 ISO on the pitch, eighth-worst among relievers on changeups since 2007.
Germen also has a nice fastball that touches the mid-90s, but he’s throwing it for balls much more frequently that strikes—last season he has 0.38 called strike-to-ball ratio on his four-seamer, 11th-worst among relievers.
That changeup is a nice pitch, no doubt. But Germen can’t survive on that offering alone. He’s going to need to develop stronger command of his fastball on a more consistent basis. That will keep hitters from sitting on his changeup, which when they actually do make contact with, went a long way in 2014.
And even on the surface, Germen’s past has been more than just a little suspect. After a 2013 in which he showed flashes of promise (despite his decidedly average 3.93 ERA, he did sport s strong 2.90 FIP), Germen struggled mightily in 2014. His ERA ballooned to 4.75, his walk rate remained above 10 percent, and he allowed a staggering 7 home runs in 30 1/3 innings (18.4 percent HR/FB rate). That last number is especially jarring, but it’s also something that can be debated as to whether it will continue to be a trend, considering he allowed just one home run in his 33 1/3 innings the season prior.
The positive is that Germen has a strong pitching coach in Chris Bosio, who surely has been working with Germen to correct the issues he’s had in the past. Bosio has a nice track record, helping the likes of Jake Arrieta, Jason Hammel, Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon, and numerous others all perform at career-best levels. With Bosio’s guidance and a little luck, Germen having a strong season for the Cubs isn’t out of the question. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time a talented, but erratic reliever put together 30-plus innings that didn’t line up anywhere close to his career line.
There’s no doubt the Cubs need more high-leverage options in the bullpen while they await the returns of Neil Ramirez and Justin Grimm. Schlitter does not appear to be that man. Germen may be and likely deserves more of a look. Suggesting he won’t succeed because of past failures would be just as foolhardy as judging him off his lone appearance of the season and assuming the Cubs have found a temporary solution to their recent bullpen woes.