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How Luis Severino can pitch deeper into games in 2016

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Severino showed flashes of brilliance in 2015, but he will need to attack hitters more efficiently to become an innings-eating ace.

Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

If the season began today, the Yankees' 2016 rotation would feature far more questions than answers. Despite his multitude of struggles last season, CC Sabathia led the team with just 167.1 innings pitched. If the Yankees hope to contend again in 2016, their starting pitching will likely need to improve and contribute more innings than it did in 2015.

One pitcher who will be counted on to bear a larger share of the burden is Luis Severino, who debuted last season to a great deal of fanfare at the age of 21. Severino started 11 games, and pitched a total of 62.1 innings, for an average of 5.2 innings per start. Given the quality of Severino's performance (2.89 ERA, 1.203 WHIP, 8.1 K/9), those innings were of great importance to the Yankees during their stretch run.

However, for Severino to become the kind of front-line starter that can help to carry their rotation throughout the course of the season, he will need to average a few more outs per start than he currently does. Given Severino's youth and potential, the Yankees will undoubtedly monitor his pitch count and innings closely. For Severino to stretch his outings to seven innings per start, he will need to become more efficient in attacking hitters and getting outs.

A look at Severino's 2015 tendencies on the mound reveal three primary areas where he can improve his approach to get outs while throwing fewer pitches.

Diversify current pitch mix

Severino features three pitches in his repertoire: a four-seam fastball, a slider, and a changeup (see the below table for details on Severino's pitch selection and outcomes). However, he only threw his changeup 15% of the time in 2015. Severino's greatest weapon at this stage in his career is his fastball, which averages 96 mph and explodes to the plate while simultaneously generating a high rate of ground-balls per balls put into play (45%). Severino also throws his changeup at high velocity (averaging 89 mph), resulting in a whiff per swing rate of 38% and ground-ball per ball in play rate of 63%, making his changeup another quality offering to opposing batters.

Pitch Type

Frequency

Velocity (mph)

Whiff Rate

GB/BIP

Four-seam fastball

51%

95.8

19%

45%

Changeup

15%

88.6

38%

63%

Slider

34%

90.0

21%

21%

Throwing more changeups will a) mean that Severino is more frequently deploying a highly effective off-speed pitch and b) help to keep hitters off of his fastball. By forcing hitters to think about his changeup in addition to his four-seam fastball and slider, Severino can access his fastball as a put-away pitch that generates more swings and misses and weak contact on balls put into play.

More first pitch sliders

Severino is extremely predictable with regard to his first pitch selection. He throws his four-seam fastball 61% of the time (Masahiro Tanaka, by way of comparison, throws a first pitch fastball just over 32% of the time). While the explosiveness of Severino's fastball might make this a good strategy his first couple of times through the order, an alternate approach to getting ahead of hitters later in the game will help Severino to get those valuable extra outs in the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings.

In 2015, Severino threw a first-pitch strike with his slider just 57% of the time he utilized that pitch in a 0-0 count. Given that his slider is his primary weapon outside of his fastball, Severino will need to improve upon that number to attack hitters and get-ahead when he faces them his third and fourth time through the order.

Trust his stuff with two strikes

Once he gets to two strikes against a batter, Severino throws a pitch inside the strike zone just 32% of the time. That number has to be higher if Severino hopes to get more outs while throwing fewer pitches in 2016. Severino earned his spot with the Yankees at the age of 21 because he has the kind of dynamic stuff that can be effective within the confines of the strike zone.

While Severino's command will improve as he progresses, trusting his stuff by throwing more strikes when he has hitters on the defensive will be key to Severino's development in 2016. Severino can get hitters to swing and miss without going outside the strike zone, and he should further exploit this gift to get deeper into games this season.

Severino enters 2016 with the dual challenge of being counted on for important innings, and also having his innings and pitch counts monitored closely by Joe Girardi and the Yankees front office. To maximize his impact this year, Severino needs to take a step forward not so much by improving his performance on the mound, but by shortening the gap between his start and the back-end of the Yankees bullpen, which looks to be a strength for the team again in 2016.

To become a stalwart of the rotation in 2016, Severino needs to be more efficient with his pitches, pitch deeper into games, and help to rest the bullpen every fifth day. Severino has the arm to do this, and with a few minor adjustments to his approach on the mound, he will find himself still competing on the mound in the seventh and eighth innings more regularly.