Although the Yankees were favored by most in the ALDS against the Twins, few expected them to win the first two games so easily. Up 2-0 in the series after a pair of dominant victories, the Yankees will turn to their ace, Luis Severino, with the chance to sweep the Twins at their own stadium on Monday. Things really couldn’t look much better for the Yankees right now.
Still, Severino has a big test on his hands. He’s only pitched three games this year, for a grand total of 12 innings. He also has been up-and-down during his short postseason career, so Severino has plenty to prove with this start.
Yesterday, I broke down what Masahiro Tanaka had to do to beat the Twins, and he mostly stuck to the plan – he only threw 19 percent fastballs and took advantage of the aggressive Twins’ lineup by baiting them with breaking stuff. However, that doesn’t mean that Severino should try the same approach.
Unlike Tanaka, who is at his best when he’s tricking hitters with deception, Severino succeeds by attacking hitters and imposing his will. Even though the Twins ate up James Paxton’s fastball in Game One, I don’t think Severino should mess around with a potential series on the line.
Whereas Paxton and Tanaka have been trying to find an effective formula all year long, Severino is just coming back from injury. This isn’t really the best time to experiment. That said, Severino should totally use his wipeout slider and useful changeup when appropriate, but he shouldn’t prioritize it. Severino is a fastball pitcher first, and he shouldn’t shy away from that against the Twins.
Severino’s fastball has picked up right where it left off this season, despite the small sample size. He is averaging 96.2 mph on the pitch and generating a 32.2 percent whiff rate, which aren’t far from his career norms.
The only thing that has been a little concerning about Severino’s performance so far this short season has been his high walk rate. Through just three starts, his BB/9 is sky-high at 4.50. Unsurprisingly, most of his control problems have come on the breaking balls – his walk percentage on his slider is an untenable 18.8 percent and his changeup’s walk percentage is over 11.
While a lot of this is likely small sample size noise and the mark of a pitcher trying to get a feel for his offspeed pitches again after an injury-plagued season, it might be wise for Severino to stay away from his breaking balls a little bit against Minnesota until he’s totally confident in them.
Analyzing how Severino should attack the Twins presents a tough debate – should the Yankees trust the numbers and the past two games by using more offspeed pitches, or should they go with the eye test that Severino is still developing a feel for those pitches and go with the fastball, even though the Twins punish heaters? I’m not the pitching coach, but I wouldn’t make it too complicated. The Yankees are up two games to none, and this will just be Severino’s fourth game of the season. Let’s make it as easy for him as possible, and let him pitch what he’s most comfortable with – his heater. It’s not like Severino’s fastball is Masahiro Tanaka’s fastball or J.A. Happ’s fastball – it’s a weapon. He’ll have to be careful deploying it against such a tough lineup, but Luis Severino is only going to get the win tomorrow against Minnesota if he’s aggressive with his fastball.