The old saying goes that, while offense is important, it’s pitching — particularly starting pitching — that wins championships. And while the Yankees staff has been, over the course of the season, one of the most efficient in the league, recent postseasons have shown us the importance of having multiple ace-quality starters that you trust with the season on the line in October. The 2019 World Series, for example, was a matchup between two teams with a trio of aces (Houston’s Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, and Zack Greinke against Washington’s Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin).
Between Gerrit Cole and Nestor Cortes, the Yankees have a strong 1-2 punch, but after that, the rotation is filled with questions. Jameson Taillon has been prone to the long ball and has walked a lot of hitters in the second half, Domingo Germán has been the definition of inconsistent throughout his entire career, and Frankie Montas will not be built back up as a starter for October. Fortunately, Luis Severino returned one week ago after missing two months with a strained lat, and although the sample size has been limited, there’s plenty of reason to hope that he could be a major player for the team this October.
Just looking at Sevy’s stat lines over his first two starts gives plenty of reason for optimism, as he’s combined for three runs on five hits, striking out ten and walking four in nine innings of work. Opposing hitters have slashed just .167/.257/.200 and have just one extra-base hit. And while one of those outings came against the Pirates, whose 83 OPS+ ranks 29th in baseball and whose lineup is so bad that Miguel Andújar hits third in their lineup, the other came against the potent Blue Jays offense that has the highest OPS+ in baseball (115).
The Statcast data is even more encouraging. On the season, Severino’s fastball has averaged 96.2 mph with a 2247 rpm spin rate. Against Pittsburgh, it averaged 97.2 mph with 2302 rpm, and against the Blue Jays, 97.3 mph and 2291 rpm. Similarly, his slider and cutter have seen an uptick in velocity — the slider averaged 86.9 mph against Toronto and his cutter 91.9 mph against Pittsburgh, each a mile and a half faster than his season average — without sacrificing movement.
More importantly, he’s had command of all his pitches. Here are the pitchmaps from the two starts, courtesy of Statcast.
In both starts, we can see that Sevy has done a good job pounding the fastball in the upper part of the zone, while burying the slider and changeup at the bottom of and below the zone. He left a few too many fastballs for my liking across the middle part of the plate, especially against Pirates, but he has avoided hanging too many sliders, and his stuff has largely been effective enough that any mistakes haven’t resulted in any damage.
Looking at the schedule the rest of the way, it looks like Severino will make one more start before the end of the season, as assuming they keep the rotation as is, he’s lined up to start Sunday against the Orioles. Although three starts isn’t a lot to make of headed into the playoffs, so long as Sevy continues to build upon his last two outings, he should be a veritable weapon for the Yankees rotation come October.