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What can the Yankees possibly do with Luis Severino at this point?

It might be a lost year for the right-hander, but it seems clear a role change won’t change that.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at New York Yankees John Jones-USA TODAY Sports

It’s quite sad to see and say, but with about eight weeks left to play in the 2023 regular season, it seems as if we’ve just about reached the end of the line on Luis Severino’s time as in pinstripes. In perhaps the most disappointing Yankees season in recent memory, he ranks pretty high on the list of disappointments, with an 8.03 ERA that ranks highest among all 152 pitchers with at least 60 innings pitched. For all that Severino has given the Yankees since his debut in 2015, one would hope there’s still some chance of the relationship ending on a higher note than this one. Unfortunately, they’re all but out of time to make that happen.

The Yankees are trying just about everything, removing Severino from his traditional starter role earlier this week and using him as a “bulk man” behind opener Ian Hamilton in a last-ditch effort to rescue his season. It was to no avail. Runs came across the board pretty much the moment he entered the game, and he only lasted for 12 batters before the hook came out, good for a line of four runs — all earned — over two-plus innings of work. He now allowed an eye-popping 36 runs in just 27.2 innings since the start of July, and Wednesday was more or less that same story as all of those other starts. The velocity was there and the secondary pitches didn’t look too different, but hitters almost seemed to know what was coming, and even the White Sox were able to make it a hit parade.

If we were hoping that Severino would try something new in a different role, we were disappointed. As we probably should’ve expected, if the logic behind the move was simply that the first inning in particular has given Severino problems this year. He threw his four-pitch mix at nearly even proportions, with the cutter’s 27 percent usage at the top and the four-seam’s 19 percent rate at the bottom. That’s out of character with how he’s done it for most of the season — his overall rate is 13 percent for the former to 47 percent on the latter — but it wasn’t unique to his move to the “bullpen” either, as he employed more or less the same mix last week against the Astros, and to more or less the same end.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at New York Yankees John Jones-USA TODAY Sports

It remains up in the air as to where Severino will be deployed moving forward. Either option has rather depressing implications; as a free agent at the end of the season, the Yankees might not take it upon themselves to invest heavily in working out his issues, and simply demote him to the bullpen to play out the season. At the same time, it’s not as if the Yankees are flush with starters in clear need of a rotation spot. Randy Vásquez has acquitted himself well in three starts, and Jhony Brito has shown flashed, but with Carlos Rodón back on the IL, it’s hard to envision that the Yankees will be a better team with Severino in the bullpen and one or both of those two taking the ball every fifth day. At this point, the unlikelihood of a playoff spot makes me think that inertia will keep Severino in a starter-ish role for the rest of the way.

It’s not just inertia, though — it really seems as if Severino’s issues aren’t the kind that are simply going to dissipate with a role change. A move to the bullpen isn’t going to fix Severino’s fastball, which has gotten lit up for .485 wOBA and .434 expected wOBA after being a well-above average pitch last year. In a somewhat baffling development, it’s lost a full inch-and-a-half of vertical movement (IVB) despite virtually unchanged velocity, spin rate, and spin direction, and with only a very minor shift in release point. Both Eno Sarris’s Pitching+ model and Cameron Grove’s PitchBot model agree that the location on Severino’s fastball has been just as good as last year, but the “stuff” has taken a significant hit. That’s a problem that has nothing to do with what innings he’s pitching in.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at New York Yankees John Jones-USA TODAY Sports

Similarly, the problems with his secondary stuff run deeper than anything a switch to short-inning work will have an impact on. Typically pitchers who turn from mediocre or bad starters to lights-out relievers do so because they don’t have a deep enough arsenal to effectively get through a lineup more than once. If they only have two good pitches — or even just one good pitch — then they’ll be better if they’re put in situations where they only need to throw their best pitches.

Severino doesn’t really fit that bill. It’s not as if there’s one part of his arsenal that’s holding the others back — it’s all been equally bad. We also know that both his slider and changeup are 60-grade pitches when they’re working, even if there’s not enough space here to dive into why they’re not working.. He might be inching closer to the reliever profile that many projected for him when he first reached the big leagues, but with the way his secondaries have been playing this, you’d just be turning a bad starter into a bad reliever. If he’s going to get his groove back in any role, he’s going to have to re-discover what he’s good at, because absolutely none of it is there right now. I might be wrong, but I don’t think middle relief appearances are the place where he’ll find it — it seems clear that changing the when and where of his outings on the mound isn’t going to address whatever’s going.

At this point, it’ll probably take offseason work to fix it, if we’re being realistic. Whether that comes with the Yankees remains to be seen.