Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Five years ago, Luis Severino was supposed to be the next great Yankees ace.

The numbers certainly supported it. The young righty posted a 2.98 ERA in 2017 at just 23 years old. He followed that with a 3.39 mark in 2018. Struggles with tipping pitches and a pair of playoff clunkers were blips on the radar compared to everything else. The Yankees believed in him enough that they gave him a four-year, $40 million extension before the 2019 season.

And then:

Okay, maybe not literally, but the metaphor still applies. Severino’s Yankees career since 2019 has been, without a doubt, a disaster.

Ongoing shoulder trouble meant he made just three starts near the end of the 2019 season. Severino then missed all of 2020 with Tommy John surgery. A groin injury during rehab the following year only meant four relief appearances with the big league club, all at season’s end.

And then came the 2022 season, and the faintest sliver of false hope. Severino dealt with more shoulder trouble that, to be honest, the Yankees handled poorly but otherwise, he was his old self. He posted a 3.18 ERA in 19 starts and looked his old self, using his fastball and slider to generate whiffs. Severino also incorporated a cutter to pair with his usually strong changeup. He wasn’t the Yankees’ ace anymore, but Severino could at least be in ace form when healthy.

Now, 2023 has made last season look like a complete and utter mirage. Luis Severino is in his contract year and yet also an albatross. That Josh Donaldson and Isiah Kiner-Falefa have more combined trade value than Severino, now 29, speaks volumes.

Severino has been, in a word, awful. His ERA is an abysmal 7.38 through nine starts. His walks per nine innings (BB/9) have increased from 2.6 last year to an even 4.0 in 2023. Severino also missed the first six weeks of the season with more shoulder trouble after struggling in spring training.

Worse yet, there’s no answer as to why. Severino claims he’s healthy but doesn’t “feel good” about his pitches, particularly what’s usually a biting slider. The coaching staff also seems concerned, especially since Severino was fairly dominant in his first two starts back. He’s since only had one quality start and has allowed seven earned runs in each of his last two.

On Thursday, against Baltimore, Severino allowed seven earned runs on ten hits in just 2.2 innings. He threw 77 pitches.

Looking at Fangraphs, decreased velocity might be a culprit. Severino’s fastball velocity hasn’t been consistent in weeks, usually ranging between 95-97 mph in games instead of consistently hovering around 96. His cutter, which averaged 90.2 mph last year, is down to 88.4 in 2023. Severino’s changeup, long considered his best pitch, has dropped from 88.6 mph in 2022 to 86.6 today.

Suddenly, it makes sense as to why his line drive rate (LD%) is at 22.3% after last year’s modest mark of 16.1%.

This means that if Severino is healthy, the problem can only be mechanical. YES Network commentator and former Yankees star Paul O’Neill even mentioned Thursday that his body language looks uninspired. Is he struggling to the point that he takes the ball every fifth day expecting to lose? That problem is simply above pitching coach Matt Blake’s pay grade.

Worse yet for Severino is that 2023 is his contract year. Remember that $40 million extension he signed before 2019? That included a fifth-year option which pays him $15 million this year, and he won’t be traded at this rate. Repeating last season’s success could have netted him a big payday, maybe even from the Yankees since Severino has mentioned wanting to “be a Yankee for life.”

But at this rate, who’s going to offer a lucrative multiyear deal? Maybe the Yankees, but it won’t be a long one that sets the pitching free agency market. At this rate, Luis Severino would be lucky to receive a qualifying offer from New York. And even if he did, would he be smart enough to accept what’s essentially a one-year “prove it” deal?

There is only one solution for Severino and it’s the same as his Yankees’ struggling lineup: Make adjustments and play better. Unless he’s hiding something, he isn’t injured and trying to pitch through it. Between diminished velocity and increased walks, it’s clear this began with an unconscious mechanical mistake that has now gone completely off the rails.

It’s thus on Severino and the coaching staff to isolate it, make the adjustment, and salvage what’s left of the season. The old, ace form of Severino isn’t coming back, not by a long shot. However, perhaps there’s a way to fix things so that he can still be an effective pitcher with less elite stuff and look less like a pure thrower, if you will. Maybe he needs to head down to the minors for some maintenance, like Blue Jays righty Alek Manoah did earlier this year.

Otherwise, the cycle will continue to repeat and Severino could look like yet another “What if” in baseball history. No team wants to pay anything for that, so the next few weeks will be critical for the Yankees righty.

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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.