Once upon a time, the Yankees had a young pitcher who looked destined to be one of the league’s premier young aces. In his age-23 season, he made his first All-Star appearance and finished third in the AL Cy Young voting. The following year, in his age-24 season, he returned to the Midsummer Classic, and despite looking like a frontrunner for the Cy Young Award in the first half, merely ended up with a top-10 finish due to a rough second half that may have been at least partly the result of pitch tipping.
Because of these two strong seasons, the Yankees made the prudent decision to extend that young ace, signing him to a four year, $40 million contract with a team option for a fifth season. Unfortunately, that contract has since been a disaster: since signing that contract prior to the 2019 season, he has dealt with rotator cuff inflammation, a lat strain, a UCL tear, bone chips, and a strained groan, all of which has limited him to just 27.2 innings including the playoffs.
That young ace, as you may have guessed, is a certain Luis Severino.
2021 Stats: 6.0 innings, 0.00 ERA, 1.50 FIP, 0.500 WHIP, 36.4 K%, 4.5 BB%, 0.0 HR/9, 0.3 bWAR, 0.2 fWAR
2022 ZiPS Projections: 97.0 innings, 3.62 ERA, 3.54 FIP, 1.19 WHIP, 9.74 K/9, 2.51 BB/9, 1.11 HR/9, 2.1 WAR
There is perhaps no player on the Yankees who is as big a question mark as Severino is, and for good reason. When he’s played, he has veritably been one of the best starting pitchers in baseball: he was fifth in baseball in fWAR across the 2017 and 2018 seasons, four spots ahead of (and 1.7 fWAR better than) current staff ace Gerrit Cole. But as they say, the best ability is availability, and in that department, Severino has struggled. In fact, he has pitched less than half as many regular season innings as Carl Pavano — you know, the guy who became so infamous for being injured that George A. King III referred to the “Carl Pavano Memorial MRI Tube” whenever a Yankees player got injured when he was on the Yankees beat — did from 2006 to 2008.
After injuries robbed Severino of almost the entirety of 2019 and all of the shortened 2020 season, the Yankees aimed for him to rejoin the starting rotation at some point in June or July last year. He strained his groin while pitching for the Hudson Valley Renegades in his second rehab start on June 12th, however, which sidelined him for two months. Then, after two rehab outings with the Somerset Patriots, he was scratched prior to a rehab start with the Scranton RailRiders — what was expected to be his final outing before joining the Yankees rotation — because “he didn’t feel right” while warming up.
Because of this second setback, he ran out of time to stretch himself out, prompting him to return to the Yankees as a reliever in the final week of the season. In that time, he looked good, with his fastball sitting in the 94-97 mph range (just a tick below where he used to be), and both his slider and changeup had good movement. Of the 22 batters he faced, only 12 put the ball in play (eight strikeouts, one walk, and one hit batter); their xBA and xSLG were .159 and .217, respectively, and not a single one was able to barrel the ball. Small sample size beware, of course, but I’d rather this small sample size, with a highly effective Sevy, than one where he gave up hard contact in bunches.
The past is the past, however, and what matters is what he will do this year. For what it’s worth, manager Aaron Boone called Severino the team’s “most-ahead pitcher as far as getting ready to go,” with teammate Aaron Judge adding that he hit 97 mph in their live batting practice session last week. And, from the admittedly-limited footage that we have, he does look ready to go.
Luis Severino, Mechanics. pic.twitter.com/LARPxJO8SX— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) March 17, 2022
Judging from this footage and these reports, there’s a lot to be encouraged about, and indeed, even if the Yankees can get just 100 or so innings out of Severino (roughly what ZiPS projects), that’ll be 100 innings of ace-like production instead of, say, 100 innings from Andrew Heaney. Don’t expect much more than that, either, because the Yankees are almost certainly going to limit his innings a bit after missing three straight seasons. At the end of the day, however, batting practice footage and bullpens are all well and good, but what matters most is the performance on the field during regular season games.
And until we see that on a semi-consistent basis, well, Luis Severino is just one of the many question marks in the rotation behind Gerrit Cole and Jordan Montgomery.