2019 started off very positively for Severino when he and the Yankees were able to avoid arbitration while reaching a four-year contract in mid-February. With his new deal in hand, Severino was primed to start Opening Day, and the Yankees had locked up a member of their young core for the immediate future. With all that optimism, there were still a lot of questions for Sevy to answer about his long term status as a top of the rotation starter. After finishing third in the 2017 AL Cy Young award voting, Severino struggled for an extended stretch of 2018 with a second half ERA of 5.57. He was also shelled by Boston in the postseason. Unfortunately, multiple injuries sidelined Severino for almost all of 2019, so these questions are still out there.
2019 Statistics: 12.0 innings, 1.50 ERA, 17 strikeouts, 1.00 WHIP, 12.8 K/9, 4.5 BB/9, 2.13 FIP, 0.6 WAR
2020 Contract Status: In second year of 4-year, $40 million contract
Early in spring training, the Yankees shut Luis Severino down with what was eventually reported as rotator cuff inflammation. This made it clear that Severino would not make the Opening Day roster, but it still appeared that he might be rejoining the team as early as May. As he resumed his throwing program, Severino was diagnosed with a Grade 2 lat strain on April 9. Even with this injury it still appeared that Severino might rejoin the Yankees by the All-Star break and be a key contributor down the stretch of the season.
No news was not good news for the Yankees and their fans, as projected time tables came and went with no rehab assignment announced. It finally became clear that Severino would not be back before the July 31 trade deadline. Severino pitched his first minor league outing on September 1 for Triple-A Scranton. He was able to rack up two more starts during Double-A Trenton’s playoff run, before all the minor league affiliates finished their seasons.
With no-more options for Severino to throw rehab games, the Yankees activated him after just 7.2 IP of minor league rehab, far short of a normal spring training ramp-up to a season. Luckily for the Yankees, by the time Severino returned to the big league club the Bombers were sitting with a very comfortable lead in the division. That allowed them to work him into the major league rotation without worrying about a short start or a poor result.
Severino’s velocity never fully returned to its pre-2019 form of a 98.0 mph average fastball, but he was still able to reach a well above-average 96.2 mph on his four-seam FB. Even with a slight drop in velocity, Severino ranked among the 90th percentile of major league pitchers.
He looked just fine and racked up an impressive 0.6 bWAR in just 12 innings of work during the regular season. While he only gave up two runs during two games in the postseason, he did allow 14 base runners in just 8.1 innings pitched against Houston and Minnesota.
As much as the Yankees want to believe they will be getting an ace back in the rotation with Severino’s healthy return in in 2020, that is an unknown. The last time Severino pitched significant innings he struggled through the second half of 2018. With a new pitching regime in place for the Yankees it will be interesting to see where Severino goes from here. Will he be the pitcher who finished third in the 2017 Cy Young race, or the pitcher who was tagged for crooked numbers repeatedly during the second half of 2018? The results from 2019 were just too incomplete to figure out what direction he is heading in.