Late last week, the Yankees optioned top pitching prospect Luis Gil to Triple-A Scranton after a rough outing against Cleveland in which he struggled with command, walking four and hitting one. This demotion likely ends his season: due to the rule stating that a player must stay in the minors for ten days after being optioned, the earliest he can return is September 28th, and let’s be honest, the Yankees are not going to want to trust any of the final six games in a close playoff race to a rookie with command issues.
As Josh wrote on Tuesday, Gil’s cup of coffee this season has been filled with ups and downs, showing both high-end starting potential and mechanics issues that could have him ticketed for a bullpen role if he does not iron them out. And that reminded me of another young pitcher, one who shares a first name with Gil and who returned to the mound for the first time in 707 days on Tuesday: Luis Severino. In fact, the more I dove into Gil’s six starts this year, the more parallels I found with Severino’s 2015 campaign.
Wind back the clock to August 1st, 2015. Five games in front of the second-place Baltimore Orioles with a 58-45 record, the Yankees were in desperate need for starting pitching — for context, Chris Capuano and his 7.97 ERA got the ball three days before the deadline, after all. Rather than add a pitcher at the deadline, the organization decided to ring in the Baby Bombers era and promoted Severino to the majors to make his debut on August 5th against the Red Sox — a game that yours truly was in attendance for.
Facing a Boston lineup headlined by the young Xander Bogaerts and elderly David Ortiz, Severino held his own, allowing only one run on two hits in five innings, striking out seven and walking none — his only mistake was a fourth-inning solo shot off the bat of Ortiz. The Yankees wound up losing the game, 2-1, but that was more due to the Yankees lineup having absolutely no idea what to do with Steven Wright’s knuckleball for eight innings than any fault of Sevy.
Two days shy of six years later, the Yankees were again in need of pitching help, although this was due to a combination of injuries and a COVID-19 outbreak sending Gerrit Cole, Corey Kluber, Jordan Montgomery, Michael King, and Domingo Germán to the shelf all at the same time. On August 3rd, they summoned Gil from Triple-A to make an emergency start against the Baltimore Orioles, and boy did he deliver. He threw six shutout innings, striking out six and allowing only four hits and one walk, leading a trio of major league debuts (alongside Stephen Ridings and Brody Koerner) to a 13-1 victory.
In the end, Severino ended up making almost twice as many starts as Gil did (11 to six), but that was more a function of the 2021 team simply having more pitchers capable of putting together quality starts. Both, however, provided important innings at critical moments in a playoff hunt.
I present, for your consideration, the rookie seasons of Severino and Gil, respectively, courtesy of Baseball Reference:
The similarities are uncanny. Despite having a higher overall ERA, Gil’s 142 ERA+ is just one point higher than Severino’s, which means that they are both almost identical relative to league average. Their FIPs, meanwhile, are just 0.02 points apart, and their HR/9 just 0.1. Gil finishes the season with a higher strikeout rate, but also a higher walk rate, resulting in a lower K/BB rate.
While their batted ball profiles are different — Severino induced more ground balls, Gil more fly balls and popups — they both wound up with an xOBACON of .354. You couldn’t script it better.
For the most part, Gil has relied on a three-pitch mix, throwing his fastball just over 53 percent of the time, his slider about 40 percent of the time, and his changeup about seven percent of the time. Severino, similarly, worked primarily with those three pitches in 2015, throwing his fastball 51 percent of the time, his slider 34 percent, and his changeup 14 percent. Both also faced skepticism about the efficacy of their secondary offerings.
Arguably more interesting than the predominance of the fastball is just how similar those two pitches are. Gil’s fastball clocks in at slightly faster than Sevy’s did six years ago, at 96.1 mph to 95.3 mph. Relative to the rest of the league, however, they are almost identical, with Gil’s coming in at the 88th percentile, while Sevy’s was in the 89th. Only their spin rates are different, as Gil’s was among the league’s best (the 90th percentile), while Severino’s was “merely” above-average, finishing in the 69th percentile in 2019.
Lack of Polish
When Gil reports to spring training next February, he will be in a position similar to the one that Severino found himself entering the 2016 season. Thanks to his strong cup of coffee the year prior, many expected Severino to be a major part of the Yankees rotation — although he began the year as the fourth starter, the hope was that he would anchor the front of the rotation by season’s end. That didn’t happen, as he was absolutely terrible with a 8.50 ERA in 11 starts: concerns over his erratic delivery, combined with his strong performance in relief (0.39 ERA in 11 appearances), made the question, “Should Severino be used as a starter or a reliever?” the dominant question of the 2016-2017 offseason. (For a refresher on this debate, see former Pinstripe Alley writers Ben Diamond and Ryan Chichester.)
It’s very likely that this debate will resurface with Gil, either this winter or next year, particularly if he struggles in spring training or early on in the season. While he has plenty of talent, Gil is still very raw, as his command issues show. Severino showed us four years ago though, when it comes to potential like this, patience can be a virtue.