What If? When the history of the Baby Bomber Era gets written, that’s what the title ought to be, because that’s the question I can’t help but repeatedly ask whenever looking at the team over this past six years. What if Greg Bird never tore his labrum in 2015, derailing his once-fearsome swing? What if Gary Sánchez did not suddenly find himself unable to hit pitches over the heart of the plate after the 2019 season? What if Jackson Frazier hadn’t suffered so many head injuries and was able to capitalize on his bat speed, like he did during the 2020 campaign? What if Gleyber Torres hadn’t seen such a drop-off at the plate after 2019?
Unfortunately, there is no shortage of “What Ifs,” but in my mind, one dominates the rest: what if Luis Severino had never gotten injured? In his age-23 season back in 2017, Sevy announced that he had arrived as one of the league’s premier aces, finishing third in the AL Cy Young vote; although he wasn’t quite as dominant in 2018, he reaffirmed that status with another great season. Over those two years, Sevy was talked about in the same breath as Justin Verlander, Corey Kluber, and even Jacob deGrom. For the first time since CC Sabathia’s early years with the team, the Yankees had a true ace.
And then, rotator cuff inflammation caused him to miss the start of the 2019 season, and a lat strain delayed his return until September. A torn UCL the following February ended his 2020 season before the MLB season got delayed, and then a groin injury interrupted his rehab, rendering his 2021 return a mere September cameo in the bullpen.
Finally, after three long seasons, the homegrown pitcher entered the season healthy, although nobody was quite sure what Sevy would look like after not making a start since the 2019 playoffs.
2022 Statistics: 19 starts, 7-3 record, 3.18 ERA, 3.70 FIP, 102.0 innings, 9.9 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 1.6 bWAR, 1.4 fWAR
2023 Contract Status: team option picked up — one year, $15 million
Given his recent history, it only makes sense that we start by looking at Luis Severino’s health this season. Yes, he made only 19 starts and pitched 102 innings because he missed two months of the season. However, there’s reason to believe that the team put him on the 60-day IL out of an abundance of caution (and perhaps to limit his innings a bit), as his return had seemed around the corner right before the move was made. Sevy was certainly “not happy” about the move at the time, and reiterated in September that he had been ready to go for “45 days.” In any case, he was healthy when the Yankees needed him most — October, when he slotted in as the team’s No. 3 starter behind Gerrit Cole and Nestor Cortes.
Beyond his ability to stay on the field, the Yankees and their fans alike wondered what kind of pitcher Severino would be. He had thrown just 27.2 innings over the past three seasons (even including the 2019 playoffs), and although he was entering his age-28 season — ostensibly the middle of his prime — question marks abounded. The results ... well, they speak for themselves.
This Statcast data reflects a pitcher who got a lot of strikeouts and kept the ball on the ground, allowing him to avoid too many big hits despite allowing a lot of hard contact. And when we look at the stats, that’s exactly what Severino was this year.
The right-hander’s 27.7-percent strikeout rate ranked 20th among the 124 starting pitchers with at least 100 innings, a tenth of a point off 2022 Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander and ahead of Nestor Cortes, Zack Wheeler, Triston McKenzie, and Shane Bieber. His 44.3-percent groundball rate ranked 48th, leading to a 6.9-percent barrel rate (ranked 47th) despite a 41.3-percent hard-hit rate that was among the highest in the league. Ultimately, his Statcast batted ball data resulted in a 2.94 xERA, which ranked 15th among pitchers with at least 250 batted balls. Judging from this data, it’s clear that Severino, when he was on the mound this year, showed more than a few flashes of his 2017-18 self — an encouraging sign for the future.
Despite all these positives, as has been a common refrain for Sevy, when I look back at the 2022 season, we still see opportunity lost due to injury. In this case, it’s one particular game: his last regular season start, on October 3rd in Arlington, Texas. On that night, Severino twirled seven no-hit innings, allowing just one baserunner (a third inning Josh Smith walk that was immediately erased with an inning-ending double play) en route to his seventh win of the season.
Trying to find the right words to describe Sevy’s performance that day is impossible — dominant, filthy, nasty, and electric just don’t cover it. His fastball hit triple digits in the sixth inning, and the final batter he faced, Nathaniel Lowe, went down swinging on a 99.5 mph fastball.
I am utterly convinced that, had Severino been allowed to go past 94 pitches, he would have completed the no-no, marking the second straight season a Yankees pitcher completed a no-hitter after going two decades without one. Alas, because it was just his third start back from the IL, was still ramping up (he had thrown just 76 pitches in his previous outing), and the team already had the division and the No. 2 seed locked up, New York played it safe and lifted him for Miguel Castro, who promptly lost the combined no-hitter in the eighth. Like I said, missed opportunities.
Still, that night does remind us just how good Severino can be when he’s healthy and dealing. To quote our very own Andrew Mearns, who had the recap for that night’s game:
Severino should be proud of how utterly incompetent he made the Rangers’ hitters look...If he’s pitching like this, then it won’t matter who he’s facing — Guardians, Mariners, Rays, or Field of Dreams Ghosts.
2022 reminded us all that, when Sevy is healthy and at the top of the game, the list of pitchers better than him is shorter than the list of runners Mariano Rivera has allowed to score in the postseason. And at the end of the day, that marks this year off as a definite success.