Luis Severino
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The New York Yankees should definitely extend Luis Severino, but the young righty needs to prove he deserves one first.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” opens Charles Dickens’ classic work A Tale of Two Cities. Nothing better describes New York Yankees hurler Luis Severino’s 2018 season.

Severino, who was a bona fide ace in going 14-6 with a 2.98 ERA in 2017, was a different pitcher last year. His numbers were overall good, but there were times when he just didn’t look like himself. It truly was a scenario reminiscent of Jekyll & Hyde and fans were justifiably frustrated.

Now, the situation has changed. Severino is eligible for salary arbitration for the first time in his career. The Yankees, meanwhile, agreed on figures with all arbitration-eligible players.

That is all eligible players except Luis Severino. Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported the hard-throwing right-hander asked for $5.25 million in 2019, with New York countering with $4.4 million.

This brings the conversation to my main query: Why not just extend him? Severino is a great fit in New York and is the shutdown ace fans have wanted for years, and he clearly performs well in that role. Cutting out arbitration years and then some ahead of his free agency in 2023 seems like the right move.

But is that move right for the Yankees? Let’s crunch some numbers and find out!

A tale of two seasons

Watching Luis Severino before and after the All-Star Break, last year was certainly an experience. Imagine watching Ghostbusters followed immediately by Ghostbusters II. You have a classic followed by something that, despite a few belly laughs, just isn’t as good.

Here, let me contextualize. Severino was 19-8 with a 3.39 ERA in 32 starts in 2018. He posted a 1.14 WHIP and struck out 220 hitters in 191.1 innings. Taken at face value, that looks like a pretty good season, and it was. Severino made his second consecutive American League All-Star team and finished ninth in AL Cy Young voting.

But in reality, this was a tale of two seasons. Severino made 20 starts in the first half and was 14-2 with a 2.31 ERA, including a shutout of the dangerous Houston Astros. Cy Young talk was abuzz along with winning 20 games. All in all, it looked like Severino picked up right where he left off in 2017 and was blossoming into a true ace.

The second half, however, had other ideas. Severino was 5-6 with an awful 5.57 ERA in 12 starts post-All-Star Break. In fact, his struggles began before the All-Star Game. His start against the Toronto Blue Jays on July 7 marked the first of five straight starts in which he failed to advance past the fifth inning. In only one of his next eight starts did he throw more than five frames.

Throw in going 0-1 with a 7.71 ERA in a pair of postseason starts, and any lingering concerns are warranted.

Diagnosing the divide

There are several theories as to why Luis Severino suddenly hit the skids. FanGraphs doesn’t show a dramatic change in pitch usage or velocity but there are some notable changes. For example, his line drive rate jumped to 25.9 percent from 18.8 percent in 2017. His groundball rate also dropped to 41.1 percent from 50.6 percent the year before. Subsequently, Severino’s hard contact rate jumped up to 35.2 percent from 28.5 percent in 2017.

But what caused those changes is still unclear. The Yankees posited he was tipping his pitches, especially against the Boston Red Sox in Game 3 of the ALDS. Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez, who taught Severino how to throw the changeup, suggested he was pitching the second half while injured.

Severino soon rebuked that, but his going from good to bad overnight is indeed concerning. The man went six or more innings just three times after the All-Star Break after doing it 14 times in the first half. His normally nasty slider lost a good portion of its bite. Suddenly, why the Yankees are hesitant to give him $5.25 million makes sense.

Should the Yankees give Severino an extension?

That all being said, should the New York Yankees give Luis Severino a contract extension? That’s a tough question. He played atrociously in the second half last year, so the Yankees definitely hold the arbitration aces this offseasons. That battle will probably be settled with some sort of middle ground, but moving on.

The short answer is yes, the Yankees should extend Luis Severino. His sudden loss of control while maintaining velocity, especially in the postseason, suggests he tipped his pitches. That can be corrected with coaching. Nothing suggests Severino will be any worse for the wear in 2019, so the man deserves his money. When he’s on, he’s on.

However, that extension should not come until next offseason. The Yankees are a very different team now compared to last season, especially in terms of the pitching staff, and Severino lost some trust regarding his ace status. He’s still the favorite to start on Opening Day but has to show last year was indeed a fluke.

Final thoughts

What Luis Severino needs to do is get off to a strong start in 2019. That means looking sharp in Spring Training and opening the year with a few consecutive quality starts.

More importantly, Severino has to maintain that strong pace throughout the season as opposed to just up until the All-Star Break. That could mean throwing the changeup more than just 13.5 percent of the time, though the fastball and slider should remain his bread and butter.

That all being said, if Severino can have a strong 2019 without significant bumps in the road, an extension next winter isn’t out of the question. For argument’s sake, let’s say he gets a deal worth $100 million over six years. That buys out his last three years of arbitration and keeps him in pinstripes through 2026, his age-32 season. $16.6 million a year is fair value for someone his age, especially since the Yankees also need to think about an extension for Aaron Judge soon, too.

Luis Severino deserves to be paid well. How much he gets from the Yankees and when, however, is up to him.

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.