There is no denying that Luis Severino has been bad this season, but the team’s response to his struggles have not exactly been helpful. The problem we are seeing is that, despite all his potential, he really has no idea how to pitch. Severino has nothing to prove in the minors anymore, so sending him down yet again will do nothing for him.
It’s more than fair to call 2016 a disaster season for Severino. With a 6.42 ERA, 10.8 H/9, and 1.51 HR/9 rate, he has proven to offer nothing at the major league level right now, but sending him to the minors isn’t really going to help him. In his time spent at Triple-A this year, he has maintained a 3.25 ERA and 2.94 FIP with solid peripherals, so it would appear that he’s having no trouble getting outs at the minor league level. It’s major league hitters that are giving him problems and he can’t work on that in Scranton.
Despite his success in the minors, there are a few red flags that Severino has shown so far. Looking at his plate discipline rates, hitters are making more contact against him, they are swinging at less strikes, and he is throwing less first-pitch strikes. Since his walk rate is at a very respectable 2.45 BB/9, his control is fine, but–as I identified back in May–his command has been lacking. Just like Michael Pineda, he isn’t walking many batters or throwing wildly, but based on his 1.51 HR/9, poorly placed pitches are being turned on and knocked out of the park.
The problem is that throughout his career, Severino has had the velocity to overpower his opponents and never needed to know how to pitch. A 95 mph fastball that has mowed down younger competition for years isn’t going to fool seasoned veterans when that pitch is straight, poorly located, and has nothing to accompany it.
The Yankees want him to use his changeup more after he’s backed away from the pitch, but when is he going to fix that? Part of the problem is that he overthrows it. He has freely admitted that he gets amped up during games, causing him to throw his changeup too hard to be effective. He can’t work on that in Scranton. He can’t work on his command or try different pitches when his competition can’t catch up to his fastball. There’s really no point to demoting him.
Instead of shuffling Severino like they have, the Yankees should be letting him work out his issues at the big league level, surrounded by big league coaches, and facing the best competition possible. It might get ugly, but it’s the only way he’s ever going to learn anything at this point. David Cone frequently talks about how sometimes allowing young starting pitchers to pitch out of the bullpen can be beneficial in the long run. It was a small sample, but Severino did look good in the bullpen for a time.
I’m not about to say that the Yankees are mishandling him, but it feels like the team is still refusing to act like they are out of contention. I understand that they are just 4.5 games out of a wild card spot, but they already made their decision to sell, and if the front office is committed to the new direction of this organization, they need to be willing to let young players struggle. Not every prospect is going to succeed right away, not every hitter is going to hit a home run during their first at-bat. It would be a mistake to banish him from the team, especially when his issues can only be fixed here.
The Yankees have done a great job giving prospects a chance to play since deciding to sell, but it’s easy to give chances and support the plan when everyone is succeeding. If they value Severino’s long-term value to this organization, they need to take one on the chin and let him figure it out. They will be better off, even if they have to take a few meaningless lumps in the meantime.