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Yankees Sequence of the Week: Severino vs. Benson (5/21)

Severino’s arsenal is back and looking as good as ever.

MLB: New York Yankees at Cincinnati Reds Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

Luis Severino is back again, y’all. And the stuff looks intact! He managed to get through nearly five innings with just 75 pitches to work with, and more importantly than seeing just a high-velocity fastball or the nasty slider movement by itself, he seemed to have his full arsenal intact. Sevy worked with all the weapons that he usually has to put hitters away three times in a game. That’s the dynamic I wanted to look at with this sequence, although it’s not a very exciting one on the surface.

Highlighting an individual sequence can be fun, and telling, but sometimes, to get a sense of a pitcher’s feel for their arsenal, you have to look at how a pitcher approaches the same hitter multiple times during a game. Each at-bat comes within that larger context, after all. If a hitter goes deep off of a pitcher in their third attempt against them, then the pitches that were thrown in those first two at-bats are nearly as relevant to the home run result as the pitch that left the yard itself.

Peter Brody already took a more thorough look at Severino’s return against Cincinnati late last week, coming to the conclusion that it graded out pretty dang well, for having hardly seen the hill in seven months. To see how that broke down on a hitter-by-hitter level, let’s see how Severino managed to retire Will Benson twice in three innings. It made me suspect he probably wouldn’t have done any better had he gotten a third try. Mired in a 1-for-20 slump to start the season, Severino doesn’t feel like he needs to go at him too directly, leading with a first-pitch slider, even with a runner on base.

Severino missed his spot, but good result. His slider wasn’t terribly sharp overall, but here, it got the job done. This is also an excellent example of what Aaron Boone described as Severino “managing his misses,” a comment that Peter dove into in more detail. Getting a good outcome on a bad process is only repeatable so many times, but the best pitchers are the best in part because they put themselves in a position to succeed more even when the process doesn’t go as planned.

Anyhow, now ahead in the account, Severino can get to bullying, challenging Benson upstairs with 97, showing us that his slow ramp-up time was worth the wait:

Now up 0-2, and having picked off the baserunner, Sevy can afford to test the dirt with a waste slider. Again, not great feel for the pitch that day, but Benson was the hitter to try to get it worked out against, if anyone.

Now, Benson doesn’t have an MLB homer yet, but he’s mashed righties in the high minors at a prodigious rate, so you don’t want to get too sloppy. What he’s probably not prepared for, however, having already been on the wrong end of a fastball and a slider, is an even better secondary pitch than the one he just saw. It’s changeup time:

Not just a changeup, but a well-executed changeup. It’s one of the things that makes him special, when everything’s going well. There aren’t many starters out there who both throw 97 and can pull an excellent cambio out of the bag when the slider isn’t working, or vice versa. It makes hitters like Benson easy pickings, even as Severino faces live hitters at game speed for the first time in many months.

Anyway, easy out. Flash-forward to Benson’s next trip to the plate. The circumstances are a little different. Severino is nearing 70 pitches, approaching his limit for the day. He knows he’s probably got one baserunner’s worth of leeway before seeing his exit. He’s also had a chance to see how Benson has reacted to all three of his pitches, even if he didn’t execute the two sliders very well. All that being the case, now he can get aggressive. Boom, fastball. Boom, fastball.

Same spot, same idea, almost the same result. Having been late on the only fastball Benson saw his first time up, and knowing that Severino is willing to throw him anything on 0-0, he just wasn’t ready. And when he wasn’t ready for the second one, either, Severino probably started to get the idea he didn’t need to return to his secondary stuff. Why not try for three straight?

Good pitch, good spot, couldn’t quite get the bite. But it didn’t make Severino any less convinced that Benson simply wasn’t going to hit his fastball. And he was right!

If Benson was a hitter really worth celebrating getting out twice, he probably wouldn’t be batting in the bottom third of the lineup for the Cincinnati Reds, but that doesn’t mean a pitcher—even one as good as Severino—can just fart around and get an 0-for-2 day on eight total pitches. Severino’s command of both of his secondaries was spotty, and anybody can hit a 97-mph fastball if it’s over the plate and they’re ready for it.

With the right sequencing and an ability to read a hitter’s swing, though, Sevy was more than capable of covering the shortfall. That can be the difference between a five-and-dive mid-rotation starter and someone like Severino, capable of grinding through a lineup three times even when he’s not spotting things perfectly. It’s good to see that he’s still got that kind of juice, on top of the electricity that comes from his arm on any given night.