The Yankees made a somewhat surprising move last week in signing Luis Severino to an extension. We’ve had plenty of coverage of the deal here. While Severino probably could have made more money by playing out arbitration and trying to hit free agency at age-29, it’s understandable he would want to lock in money right away, and from the fan perspective, it’s great to see the Yankees ace secured for the long-term.
What’s gotten somewhat lost in the fallout of Severino’s extension is just how far he’s come in such little time. That he deserves a contract on the level of fellow aces, like Aaron Nola this year, or Chris Sale and Jose Quintana in recent years, is unquestioned. To some extent, it goes unnoticed that Severino has managed to clearly establish himself in that upper-echelon, when not so long ago we were wondering if he would even make the team out of spring training.
It may seem outlandish, but not even two years ago, it was a genuine question whether the Yankees would take Severino north with them to the Bronx in 2017. Here’s what our former editor Jason Cohen wrote back when the Yankees announced the Opening Day roster on March 30th, 2017:
The team announced that Luis Severino will make the team as the fourth starter in the rotation. The decision had come down to either starting him in the majors or sending him back down to Scranton because they do not see him as a reliever.
Severino maintained a 3.95 ERA across 13.2 innings that spring to secure his rotation spot, and while he probably would have had to struggle mightily in camp in order to get sent down to start the season, that scenario was in play. Severino’s awful 2016 campaign forced the Yankees to exercise caution when it came to his place on the team.
Expectations were high entering 2016, and they came crashing down on Severino. His overall numbers (a 5.83 ERA in 71 innings) were terrible, but they belie what was an even more nightmarish start. Severino began the year in the rotation, only to be brutalized by opposing hitters. Seveirno made seven starts in April and May, averaged just five innings per appearance, and managed a 7.46 ERA. He yielded eight long balls, and a .327/.373/.547 opposing slash line. After he got lit up for seven runs in 2.2 innings by the lowly White Sox, the Yankees sent Severino to the minors.
The team called him back up in late July to join the bullpen, and Severino looked rejuvenated. He held hitters to a microscopic .367 OPS as a reliever, and posted a 0.39 ERA in 23.1 innings, putting into question Severino’s future role. Could he be a late-inning reliever? Should the Yankees pull him away from starting, after he performed so much better in shorter stints?
The Yankees didn’t succumb to the temptation to not let Severino try to work out his issues in the rotation, and they were rewarded. His backslide late last season notwithstanding, Severino has been one of the game’s very best pitchers for two consecutive years now. Among pitchers with at least 300 innings combined the last two seasons, here’s where Severino ranks:
Severino MLB Ranks
Severino isn’t quite on the level of the most elite aces, like Max Scherzer and Sale, but he clearly belongs among that second tier of the league’s best hurlers, along with the likes of Justin Verlander, Blake Snell, and Nola.
The train should keep rolling along as well, as Steamer projects Severino for another roughly 5-WAR season in 2019. At 25-years-old, Severino has every chance to simply turn in valuable season after valuable season for the next half-decade. That we’ve gotten to this point with the Yankees ace, less than two years after wondering about his spot on the squad, should not be taken for granted.
Severino should be lauded for putting in the work and making the necessary adjustments to become an elite starter (thanks for the help, Pedro), and the Yankees deserve credit for sticking with him even as his ability to actually start came under scrutiny. When you step back and remember exactly where he was after a horrendous 2016, it’s clear just how far Severino has come. Now comes the even more fun part — seeing how much farther he can go.