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Yankees 2018 Roster Report Card: Luis Severino

It was a tale of two Sevy seasons in 2018, but his first half numbers were truly remarkable.

MLB: ALDS-Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

It really was a tale of two halves for Luis Severino in 2018, wasn’t it?

First, you had the unbelievable start, which didn’t surprise many after Severino’s stellar 2017 placed him in the top three of the Cy Young Award voting. Severino didn’t seem to be peaking in 2018, but getting better by the month. After finishing March and April with a 2.61 ERA, his May numbers improved to 2.03, then to 1.60 in June. The Yankee ace was an obvious choice for his second-straight All-Star appearance, and many were starting to think Cy Young.

Then, the second half happened, as Severino’s ERA through the final 81 games of the season ballooned to 5.57. There were velocity concerns, fatigue concerns, you name it. People dissected each pitch to figure out what the heck was going on with Severino. We’ll get into that in a second. First, despite his second half swoon, Severino was a monster in leading the Yankees out to a hot start through June, before the team endured an extended stretch of .500 baseball.

Despite the questions of trust, Aaron Boone gave Severino the ball in the winner-take-all Wild Card Game, and Severino responded with four plus shutout innings. The ALDS was a different story. Still, Severino’s first half was so incredibly impressive that his overall grade for the season didn’t suffer as much as it seemed it should right after the season ended. Recency bias shouldn’t be a factor here.

Grade: B+

2018 statistics: 32 GS, 191.1 innings, 3.39 ERA, 220 SO, 1.145 WHIP, 2.95 FIP, 10.3 SO/9, 2.2 BB/9, 8.1 H/9, 0.9 HR/9

2018 contract status: First year arbitration eligible

Severino’s 191.1 innings are almost exactly on par with his 2017 total (193.1), which was a note that many brought up during his late season struggles. Was he tiring after throwing almost 200 innings the year before, while previously throwing just over 130 major league innings combined in his young career? Looking at his fastball velocities on a month-by-month basis, there may have been some validity behind those concerns.

Data courtesy of Brooks Baseball

The dip in fastball velocity was slight, but it was noticeable, and the most drastic dip occurred between June and July, which were Severino’s best and worst months based on ERA, respectively. As the picture shows, the velocity seemed to flatline, never improving back to early season form, but not continuing to dip. Severino was averaging 98.6 mph on his fastball in June, and that number was down to 97.6 in September. That’s one full mph drop, for those of you counting out there.

Another concern was Severino’s bite to that nasty slider, or lack thereof. As the season wore on, his slider flattened, judging by the decline in horizontal movement that usually bears in on lefties and runs away from righties. This could have played a part in Severino’s hard contact against percentage rising five percent in the second half of the season.

Even through the decline in his stuff, Severino grinded. His fastball was still fast, just not as elite. He tried to rely on his command more, and his walk rate dropped in the second half, despite his FIP climbing (he actually finished with a better FIP in 2018 than he did last year). We saw Severino rear back and empty the tank quickly in the Wild Card Game, where his average fastball velocity eclipsed 98 mph. It showed in the results, and how quickly he tired. So the stuff was still in there, but it was taking much more out of Severino to unleash it.

Severino was superb in the first half, but when the Yankees craved rotation stability, he struggled to turn in a full season’s worth of quality production. The improved second half of Masahiro Tanaka and the emergence of J.A. Happ helped, but if the Yankees are to reach their goal and win the World Series, they need their ace at his best as the season rolls on. Hopefully an increased familiarity with a full season of major league work coupled with a restful winter will help set him up for that. He’ll probably have to spend the winter addressing the whole pitch tipping thing as well, but that is also something that can be tweaked and fixed over the next several months.