Luis Severino’s ability has never been in question. His highs with the Yankees can rival those of any pitcher in the sport. But injuries have derailed a good chunk of his career, with this season being no exception.
Severino missed the first several weeks of the season with a lat injury, and now that he’s back, he hasn’t quite looked himself. Even while acknowledging the potential pitfalls of going overboard on small sample sizes, there are some minor concerns about how shaky Severino has seemed at times since his return.
With four starts under his belt, Severino has a 5.75 ERA, highly inflated by one disastrous first inning at Dodger Stadium. Still, most concerning is that his strikeout rate is significantly down, sitting at 20.8 percent.
There are a few things to unpack when it comes to Severino’s issues and his struggles to generate whiffs in 2023, but perhaps the starting point is the introduction of a cutter to his arsenal. The offering really hasn’t helped in any department, and as a direct result of its introduction to Severino’s repertoire, it has decreased the usage of a slider, Sevy’s primary off-speed offering.
It’s not like the cutter is a massive part of his arsenal, having only been used 12 percent of the time across those four starts (40 total pitches). But the pitch is seldom finding the zone (25 percent zone rate), and isn’t earning any chases.
Since this is a new pitch, we don’t have a large sample size from previous years to look at with Severino’s cutter. What we do see is a large track record of success with the slider, both in the past and also in Severino’s sole quality start this season.
Facing the San Diego Padres in his second start of 2023, Severino went 6.2 innings, allowing a single hit, while striking out five, and walking three, en-route to a quality start and a 3-2 Yankees win. In that outing, Severino basically didn’t feature the cutter at all (only three thrown), and flourished with his slider as his secondary pitch. Across 18 out of 82 pitches, Severino’s slider earned three whiffs on nine swings, plus six called strikes. Even in his most recent start, which didn’t go all that well against the White Sox, the slider as the fourth pitch still performed reasonably well, earning four out of his 11 total whiffs on eight swings.
The big issue as far as damage done against Severino in these four starts has been the fastball. Hitters are picking on the heater to the tune of a .333 batting average, and .778 slugging percentage, and it’s not as if the batted ball quality would suggest otherwise, with Statcast suggesting a .365 xBA, and .761 xSLG.
To further increase the concerns, Severino’s velo was a little down his last time out, with the heater coming in at 95.0 mph (1.4 lower than last season’s average). It’s one game, but all three of the White Sox home runs came against the heater.
It’s too early to come to any drastic conclusions, and as long as Severino remains healthy, the smart money is on him to regain his form, as the track record is just too long to ignore, and the upside still so high that you can’t help dreaming on it. But other than kicking off more rust and getting his velo all the way back, culling his repertoire might be the best adjustment Severino can make in the meantime. Focusing on what works, in this case his strong slider, and avoiding what hasn’t, his new cutter, could help get back on track.