The Yankees starting rotation proved the team’s most glaring question mark heading into the offseason. Not much has changed six months later. The team brought back Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia, but that failed to move the needle. The starters struggled badly to start the year.
The starting staff owned a 4.15 ERA as of Tuesday, good for just 18th in baseball. That number represents an improvement. Prior to last weekend, when the rotation rattled off three-straight quality starts, it looked pretty bleak.
Despite some pitching concerns, the Yankees can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that the most important aspect of the rotation remains secure. The team has a legitimate ace in Luis Severino.
The arms behind him may be shaky, but the most valuable and rare commodity for a pitching staff is a star ace, one who guarantees a quality outing every five days. Severino fits the mold, and he has shown no signs of regression this year. He just turned 24, has incredible velocity, and continues to improve his secondary pitches. Maybe the Yankees missed a chance to bolster the rotation, but they still boast one of the best starters in baseball.
The numbers speak for themselves. Even with a clunker in Fenway back in early April, Severino owns a 2.32 ERA through five starts in 2018. Keeping with the status quo of last season, he continues to record a high strikeout rate while keeping balls in the park. His last start, a seven inning masterpiece against Toronto, represented the first time this season that Severino allowed a home run — a solo shot to Teoscar Hernandez.
Severino allowed 0.98 home runs per nine innings last season. While it is still early, that number is down to 0.29 in 2018. It also adds up to a fantastic home run/fly ball percentage, which currently sits at 3.8 percent. Severino has refused to let the long ball beat him.
In the rare event that he has ran into trouble this season, he seems to reach back for more and perform even better on the mound. He already holds hitters to a .242 wOBA with the bases empty, but those numbers only improve when the pressure increases. With men on base, that wOBA drops to .214. With runners in scoring position, it plummets to .171. Slugging percentage and batting average also follow the same trend.
Severino’s propensity to wiggle out of trouble relies heavily on his ability to get strikeouts, which hasn’t been a problem for him since 2017. His strikeout rate currently sits at 9.87 per nine innings, a rate that holds up with runners on and or in scoring position. In short, Severino doesn’t wander from what makes him great, even when the heat is on. He knows he’s good, knows what will get him out of an inning, and executes.
If the rotation’s current inconsistencies continue, Cashman may have to pull a repeat performance of last season and search for starting pitching help at the deadline. He would obviously prefer his current staff to stabilize and stay healthy, but if it doesn’t work out, he can at least feel secure that his top stands among the best in the league.