Over the course of the offseason the Yankees have promoted six pitchers and outfielder Estevan Florial to the 40-man roster, while signing ace Gerrit Cole. Compared to last winter when the Yankees covered multiple holes on the active roster, this offseason hasn't been all that busy.
It’s important to remember, however, since the pivot point at 2016 trade deadline, Brian Cashman has raised the overall talent level of this club, making it increasingly difficult to designate any player for assignment, as no one seems expendable anymore. So even though the Yankees have only made one impact move this offseason, the truth is the organization remains stacked. In fact, remembering how talented a pitcher like Luis Severino is might help us understand the slow winter.
Since making his debut in 2015, Severino has done nothing but impress. When you possess an average 96 mph fourseam fastball, and an 88 mph slider, you are bound to receive a lot of attention. With these two main pitches, Severino finished third in the 2017 Cy Young voting, and he carried that success through the first half of the 2018. He was the fifth best pitcher in that span with an fWAR of 11.0. The biggest obstacle for Severino, who is about to enter his age-26 season, has been his lack of consistency.
An underwhelming sophomore season and a 2018 second-half tailspin come to mind, while the majority of 2019 was lost to injuries. With his return towards the end of last season, however, Severino proved he is once again healthy and ready to become a huge piece of the rotation. Cole is the new ace in town, but the staff is so much better with Severino around.
Severino’s had the best average fastball velocity in 2018—one mph ahead of Cole. His average spin rate didn’t lead the pack, but it ranked 12th out of 52 qualified pitchers. Having thrown it about 50% of the time that season, it contributed to a 10.35 K/9 rate, 14th among 74 starting pitchers who threw more than 150 innings.
His slider, which generated a whiff rate of 37.4% in 2018, was even more dangerous to opposing hitters. Severino produced the second-highest average slider velocity only to Jacob deGrom, and highest average spin rate ahead of Justin Verlander. Hitters tapped the slider into the ground more than 52.2% of the time, according to BrooksBaseball. And per Statcast, Severino’s slider had 159% greater break in horizontal movement compared to the rest of the league. No wonder the slider generated a batting average of .191 and slugging percentage of .297.
With Severino hopefully entering spring training completely healthy, the Yankees could set Cole up with a second in command. Having friendly in-house competition for best pitcher on the team could even bring forth Severino’s 2017 form or better, and could be a three-horse race considering how James Paxton ended his season. The tools are all there, and we have seen flashes of his greatness. With arguably the best Yankees team on paper since 2017, Severino bouncing back would come at the perfect time.