After yet another stellar performance by Luis Severino out of the New York Yankees’ bullpen, it’s decision-making time.
“Stellar” might not be the word to describe Luis Severino’s one shutout inning of relief in last night’s New York Yankees’ loss to the Baltimore Orioles.
However, it was a glimpse of what we should see from the former “future ace” for the remainder of the season.
With a scoreless frame on Friday night, Severino now has dealt 9.1 innings of shutout ball with 11 strikeouts and only one hit allowed in four relief appearances this season.
That run circles around his 0-8 record with an ERA of 8.58 including 10 home runs in nine games as a starting pitcher this season.
Is it time that Severino becomes the reliever the Yankees need and not the starter that they want?
Now, for starters, New York has been very stubborn in keeping their former top prospect a starting pitcher. He had severe success in 2015 and when he was demoted three times this season, he started in Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
It also may not be time to give up on the 22-year old. Don’t forget, they didn’t send Dellin Betances to a relief role until he was 25-years old so the man they once deemed the future ace unquestionably has time on his side.
However, all signals point to Severino emerging into a reliever because let’s face it: his arsenal jumps off the page and slaps you in the face as “reliever’s stuff.”
The righty has an electric fastball that can sit in the 96-99 MPH range with a slider that can be devastating at times. His changeup needs a ton of tuning up but he his truly a two-pitch pitcher.
With that, major league hitters will figure out his arsenal quicker than most. In fact, just facing batters more than once this season is the foremost source of Severino’s struggles.
When batters face him for the first time in a game this season, they slash .257/.321/.405 with just two home runs over 80 plate appearances. Hitters also own a mere .190 batting average during his first 25 pitches in a ballgame.
Then, when Severino faces batters for a second time through the order, opponents own a .421/.450/.711 slash line with a 1.161 and just 12 strikeouts in 76 at-bats.
It’s evident that he has, and will, profit exceedingly by coming in for an inning or two and letting his dynamic fastball fly.
Not only that, but he could contribute some sort of assurance to the dismal middle relief unit that has provided the opposite of a sufficient bridge to the back-end of the bullpen.
For those hesitant to give up on Severino as a starter, relive the time Phil Hughes shifted into a bullpen role back in 2009.
In 2008, Hughes struggled mightily after posting a 5-3 record in 13 starts in his rookie year (sound familiar?). In his sophomore season, his 0-4 record along with a 6.62 ERA earned him a demotion along with a brand spanking new role come his third season with New York.
After seven starts in which he gave up 22 runs in 34.2 innings, the Yankees decided to put him in the ‘pen and he thrived once in his new role.
In 44 relief appearances, Hughes maintained a 1.40 ERA over 51.1 innings and held the opposition to a slash line of .172/.228/.228 while only giving up two home runs.
What made this former “future ace” thrive in such a bullpen role? Hughes – who owned an electric fastball with inconsistent support pitches – was able to go all out. Hughes didn’t have to worry about facing a major league lineup once, twice, three times while trying to remain “hard to guess.”
As a side note, that didn’t declare the end of Hughes’ days as a starting pitcher as he would go on to appear in the 2010 All-Star game and win 18 games the following year as a starter.
However, at this moment in time, the adrenaline rush and absence of a need to work at a slow pace naturally will lead Severino to make his fastball even more electric than it is. He has, and will continue to mow down hitters in the heat of the pennant race out of the bullpen.
Back to reality, though. As close as the team is to the postseason, this year is about rebuilding for the future and Severino only has a sample size of 9.1 innings of relief. Until there is an increased sample to determine that the ‘pen is, in fact, the correct option for him, then so be it.
That won’t be for at least three or four years, though.
However, as the article explains, they were thrown back into the starting rotation and went on to become two of the best starting pitchers in their generation. They were also both in the same age range as Severino is now.
One one side, retaining Severino as a starter rotation is the way to go in terms of development and as the Yankees seek to prove last year was not a fluke – they must throw him in the rotation in the wake of Chad Green’s elbow injury despite the fact he may topple along the way.
On the other side, his arsenal and the results of his sophomore season jumps off the page as a pitcher with bullpen-type stuff. That is undeniable.
What do you think? Should the Yankees continue with a bullpen featuring Luis Severino or let him work out his kinks in the rotation? Let your voice be heard in the comments below.
Christian Kouroupakis covers the New York Yankees for ESNY. Interact with him and view his daily work by “liking” his facebook page and follow him on Twitter. All statistics are courtesy of Baseball Reference.com unless otherwise noted. Don’t hesitate to shoot him an email with any questions, criticisms, or concerns.