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Yankees 2021 Season Preview: Luis Severino

Expected to return from injury sometime over the summer, can Severino find the form that once made him the Yankees’ ace?

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

When Luis Severino pitches, he’s quite good. He has a career 3.46 ERA and 3.35 FIP, as well as two top-ten Cy Young finishes, including a third place in 2017. He had an iffy sophomore season in 2016, but other than that, his numbers are fairly unimpeachable.

Severino’s main issue has been that over the past two years, he hasn’t pitched much. In March 2019, he was diagnosed with rotator cuff inflammation. On the way back from that, he went down with a lat strain. Before you knew it, it was September and he was only then making his season debut. Including the playoffs, he made just five starts on the campaign.

In 2020, Severino underwent Tommy John surgery very early in spring training, ruling him out for the entire season. While we don’t know exactly when yet, Severino should return at some point in 2021. What can we expect from him as he plays his first games in nearly two years?

2020 Stats: Did not play - Tommy John surgery

2021 FanGraphs Depth Chart Projections: 85 IP, 3.76 ERA, 3.86 FIP, 9.82 K/9, 2.55 BB/9, 1.30 HR/9 1.9 fWAR

Just recently, Severino made some good progress on his return. He just began to throw off a mound for the first time since the surgery and by all accounts, it’s gone pretty well. His off-speed repertoire hasn’t been incorporated into his pitching yet, but so far so good.

Severino is going to keep throwing bullpen sessions until cleared to face live hitters. The goal is for him to be back in the June-July range.

Let’s take the least optimistic estimate in that timeframe and say Severino comes back to the majors in late July. That puts him in the 10-12 start range. Even that is more than enough for him to potentially be an important contributor. (It especially puts him in the range of a “we believe he’s just as good as a new acquisition” comment from the team if they’re in need of a pitcher and don’t make a deal for one.)

As for how Severino will perform when he returns, that remains to be seen. As mentioned, the early signs are pretty good. We also have enough evidence at this point that you can undergo Tommy John surgery and still be successful afterward.

On the other hand, a lot of the success that Severino has enjoyed so far in his career has had a lot to do with two factors: velocity and spin rate.

via Baseball Savant

Severino’s average fastball velocity in his last full season in 2018 was among the best in the league. That same year, his slider had the second-highest spin rate in all of MLB, trailing only Garrett Richards. On his slider in particular, he allowed just a .230 wOBA. He induced a lot of whiffs with that pitch, and when people did make contact, it wasn’t particularly hard. There is some potential downside with pitchers who throw a slider. If the aftermath of the surgery has any sort of adverse effect on his fastball or slider, it could be bad.

The projections for Severino in 2021 are mostly good, and why wouldn’t they be? He’s been really good throughout his career to date. However, it’s tough to know how exactly things will turn out for a guy who will have thrown basically 20 innings in 3 years when he returns.