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Yankees Mailbag: Corey Kluber expectations and Luis Severino’s return

The mailbag is here for another round of answers.

2021 New York Yankees Photo Day Photo by Mike Carlson/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Good morning everyone, let’s open the mailbag up for more of your Yankees questions. Remember to send in your questions for our weekly call by e-mail to pinstripealleyblog [at] gmail [dot] com.

Ben Fadden asks: What are your expectations for Corey Kluber this year? He’s looked good early on but isn’t getting any younger, so maybe just an above average starter?

Kluber is one of several gambles that the Yankees have made this year, and one of the higher rewarding ones as well. As John noted in our season preview on him yesterday, the median projection for Kluber has him sitting at around a four ERA in 155 innings of work, altogether profiling as a solid second or third starter. If that’s the results the Yankees get it would certainly be hard to complain, but projections are naturally a middle-ground for a player’s body of work.

In Kluber’s case, it’s very hard to project a player who has barely seen the field at all in two years. Depth Chart had Kluber in line for 26 starts, meaning they likely see either some down period where Kluber has to sit or they’re being very considerate of the potential for spot starts and skipping through the rotation as pitchers across the league build their arms back. The former is the more likely culprit, as it’s what scared most teams away from him in free agency. Simply put, if Kluber manages to get through all of his designated starts he stands a good chance of returning to his dominant form, but if he stumbles at all, the wheels could quickly come off. Based on how he’s looked in camp, I’m willing to be cautiously optimistic that Kluber can at least hit those projections.

Michael D. asks: We all expect Severino back sometime this summer, but all the news surrounding his return focus on him as a starting pitcher. What are the chances that on an innings restriction year, he could return to his All-Star caliber reliever role?

It’s been a while since we’ve seen Severino in a relief role, but it is true that the last time he was there he dominated. Severino jumpstarted his 2017 breakout season by throwing out of the ‘pen in 2016, posting a 0.39 ERA in 23.1 innings that ended up overshadowing his abysmal record as a starter earlier that year.

Since that run, Sevy has exclusively been a starter, and has been elite outside of his second-half slump in 2018 that we now know was a foreshadowing to the start of his injury problems. I wouldn’t say that the Yankees are likely to put Severino into a relief role again in 2021, but it isn’t out of the realm of possibilities. The rotation as it stands now is full of question marks, but if the Yankees hit on their marks then suddenly they have a high-powered machine churning out innings. That’s really the only situation that I can see it working out, since an innings limit for Severino himself shouldn’t matter as he’s returning sometime in the summer.

Dave W. asks: Can someone explain the Yankees’ obsession with Luis Cessa? Is there some fancystat line that I’m missing? Or is his role simply to absorb innings in blowouts? The end product doesn’t seem to warrant his continued presence on the 40-man roster.

Cessa’s continued stay on the Yankees is a tired act for some people, certainly. I can’t even deny that I would be included in that group, as I’ve seen enough to warrant the opinion that he is what he is at this point in his career. That being said, he’s stuck around largely for two reasons. The first is depth, and it’s something you can’t really argue, though you could certainly argue where in the depth chart he should actually line up at.

The second argument you could make for Cessa is that his overall numbers for 2020 were actually impressive — compared to his career norms. Cessa’s 3.32 ERA — in just 21.2 innings, granted — was a career best, and his 7.4% HR/FB ratio was also easily a record mark. That’s likely enough for him to stick around another year in the eyes of the Yankees’ front office, though he’d need to continue to improve to make the cut again in the future. Whether he’ll finally turn that corner, or go back to being a mostly net-neutral reliever, remains to be seen.