The Yankees’ starting rotation was the biggest question mark heading into the season, and it was a major part of the team’s eventual downfall in the ALDS. Aside from Masahiro Tanaka in Game Two, no starter lasted through the fourth inning of any game in the four game defeat. One of those starters to trip and fall was Luis Severino, who was tagged for six earned runs through three innings in a Game Three loss.
Throughout the first half of the season, it appeared Severino was going to shoulder the load of the shaky rotation behind him. He was posting numbers even more dominant than his 2017 campaign, when he finished third in the Cy Young Award voting. However, his 2.31 first half ERA quickly skyrocketed thanks to his 5.57 ERA second half ERA, and the unquestionable ace became a point of weakness in a matter of months.
More frustrating than Severino’s slide, which saw his opponent’s wOBA rise almost 100 points from the first half to the second half of the season, was the maddening mystery that was behind Severino’s struggles. The velocity was still right around league average, and after a brief period where his slider was flatter than usual, the movement on his secondary pitches also were right around his status quo. For weeks, experts scrambled for tangible evidence to Severino’s descent, other than the inflated numbers across the board.
Now, there may be an explanation for what happened to Severino. Numerous reports (and an eventual confirmation from Aaron Boone) indicate that Severino was tipping his pitches at times down the stretch of the regular season, and in his Game Three dud against Boston. Ben Harris of The Athletic did a deep dive on Severino’s poor playoff outing. He found that Sevy seemed to take a much longer look toward third base before throwing a fastball, as opposed to checking on a runner before immediately coming home with the pitch when offering something offspeed. It’s certainly an interesting revelation, and something that likely played a big role in Severino’s poor performance.
Despite having normal velocity through most of his awful second half, Severino’s heater was about a full mph down from normal in Game Three. Now, was that an effect of fatigue after his second-straight season of over 190 innings, or was it due to Severino possibly not giving himself enough time to get loose before the game? That theory has some weight to it given how late Severino made his way to the bullpen that night, and could account for the slight downtick in his fastball.
Let’s just assume for a second that Severino really does start his warmups just before first pitch, and the velocity dip was more of a fatigue issue. Fortunately for the Yankees, that should be a simpler fix than something like a mechanical issue would be. That should also be easier than Severino’s offseason project heading into the 2017 season, which was to master a whole new pitch to become effective again. Severino has to eliminate that tell that opposing hitters were tipped off to late in the season, and that seems like a minor tweak that shouldn’t take much to address.
An offseason of rest and studying himself to eliminate a minor tell in his delivery shouldn’t be too much of an issue for Severino. He has had to adjust to far more in his young career, and his stuff is just too good to not assume a bounceback season in 2018. The Yankees have plenty of rotation questions to answer this winter, but they still have their ace.