Coming into a spring training in dire need of improvement, New York Yankees starter Luis Severino looks like he has already made a crucial adjustment.
Coming off a rookie season in which the righty went 5-3 with a 2.89 ERA, his title of “future ace” didn’t fit the production, as Sevy went 0-8 with an 8.50 ERA while serving up 11 home runs and 70 hits in 47.2 innings of work across the same amount of starts (11). Additionally, his K/9 ratio also declined from 8.1 to 7.7 while his opponent’s batting average spiked from .229 to .337 as his changeup disappeared from his arsenal.
Then, after a couple demotions, manager Joe Girardi decided to throw the youngster into the bullpen, where he absolutely thrived. In 23.1 innings of relief starting on July 27 against the Houston Astros, he held opponents to a .105/.209/.158 slash line while maintaining a 0.39 ERA and striking out 25.
While many people believe he is destined for a career as a reliever, the Yankees plan on making him pan out as a starting pitcher. Which is the smart move, as all he truly needs to thrive again as a starter is to fine-tune his changeup — a pitch he essentially got rid of last season.
Out of the bullpen, relievers have to go face-to-face with hitters usually just once. His slider and changeup were simply not sharp enough to “fool” major league batters twice.
When batters face Severino (in his career as a starting pitcher) for the first time in a game, they slash .257/.333/.449 but come the second plate appearance, that line spikes to .319/.373/.540.
According to Brook’s Baseball, batters hit .237 off Severino’s fastball, .182 off his changeup and .135 off of his slider when facing him for the first time in 2016. For the third (or more) time, however, batters hit .278 off Severino’s fastball, .500 off his changeup and .313 off his slider.
He then lost faith in the changeup and only threw 9.69 percent of the time a year ago. That was the beginning of his problem, as his fastball wouldn’t clean up the flaws in his arsenal on a consistent basis. To succeed in the majors, you need more than two pitches.
So, this offseason, Severino dropped 10 pounds and turned to Pedro Martinez, a Hall of Famer, three-time Cy Young award winner and eight-time All-Star, to rediscover his changeup. After seeing Severino’s outing during his spring debut, the Yankees should be optimistic about the direction Martinez guided their youngster in.
Severino went two innings and didn’t allow a single hit while striking out one on Sunday against the Toronto Blue Jays, but the result of the outing (the box score) should be thrown out the window as his stockpile of pitches looked quite different than it did in 2016.
What didn’t change, was the blazing fastball. It topped out at 98 mph in the first inning when he got Jarrod Saltalamacchia to pop out on one up in the zone.
Luis Severino retires the Jays in order in the 1st.
— YES Network (@YESNetwork) February 26, 2017
What was incredibly encouraging, however, was Severino’s use of his changeup. During his final inning of work, he struck out Toronto’s outfielder Rowdy Tellez on an 88 mph changeup down and away seconds after showing him a 95 mph fastball.
Severino’s changeup is going to be paramount to his success as a starter, and this is an extremely good sign pic.twitter.com/eZVJGFaQr6
— Ben Diamond (@_BenDiamond) February 26, 2017
Later that same inning while facing Dwight Smith Jr. with two outs, Severino started him off with two fastballs outside the zone at 95 mph, two changeups at 88 and 89 mph for strikes then got him to ground out on another fastball.
It’s only two innings into his 2017 campaign, but the Yankees have to love seeing a crisp variety from Severino and that promise after an abysmal sophomore campaign.
“Right now, I want to be a starter,” Severino said according to the New York Post. “All my life I’ve been a starter. I like it.”
The Yankees will like it too, as their rotation’s status — that contains zero stability behind ace Masahiro Tanaka — would be more attractive than what it is now: a big, fat question mark.