2016 Statistics: 22 G, 11 GS, 71.0 IP, 5.83 ERA, 4.48 FIP, 8.37 K/9, 3.17 BB/9 (MLB)
13 G, 12 GS, 77.1 IP, 3.49 ERA, 2.60 FIP, 9.08 K/9, 2.09 BB/9 (AAA)
2017 Roster Status: Pre-Arbitration Eligible
Luis Severino’s bullpen renaissance is what saves him from a D or an F. Overall, his sophomore season could only be described as a disappointment. After a solid hope-filled first year in pinstripes, where Severino posted a 2.89 ERA, the expectation was for the youngster to build upon his strong 2015 campaign and possibly be the Yankees’ most reliable starter behind Masahiro Tanaka.
Spring training did not put any damper on those expectations. Severino didn’t blow hitters away by any means, but a 3.38 ERA with 25 strikeouts in just over 21 innings of work was productive enough to lead fans and management to believe that 2016 would be a big year for their prized prospect.
However, once the calendar turned to April, it was another story. Severino was smacked around for ten hits in just five innings of work in his first start of the season. His last start of the month was even worse than the first, as he ended April by surrendering six earned runs in Texas, and watched his ERA balloon to 6.86 in the young season.
May proved to be no better. Severino was consistently hit hard, including a May 13th start where he was torched by the White Sox for seven runs in under two innings before being taken out of the game, and it was later revealed that the struggling starter had a triceps strain which landed him on the DL.
While it was frustrating to see Severino injured, there was a small sense of relief that his ailing triceps may have been the source of his struggles. Severino did not return to the club until July, and when he did, it was out of the bullpen. Three relief appearances without giving up an earned run helped Severino return to the rotation in August. Suddenly, his pitching woes returned, as he was tagged for 12 runs in eight innings over two starts. Girardi and the Yankees had seen enough, and sent Severino down to the minors to rediscover his confidence.
The plan was for him to work on his changeup, which would provide a solid third pitch in his arsenal to compliment his lively fastball and breaking ball. Severino had relied on those two pitches to record outs as a reliever, but in a starting role where hitters saw more pitches and made adjustments, he struggled.
Severino’s changeup experiment was put on hold as the Yankees unexpectedly found themselves in the thick of a playoff chase, and Severino was called up in September to provide bullpen help. Again, Severino flourished out of the pen, looking like a completely different pitcher and commanding the strike zone with efficiency. Severino didn’t allow an earned run through his first five appearances of September, and ended the month with a 1.13 ERA.
Severino found himself back in a starting role on the final day of the regular season, filling in for an injured Tanaka. He struggled again in this start, allowing three earned runs in less than four innings of work. After months of consistent assurances that Severino would return as a starter for 2017, Joe Girardi ended the year seeming less concrete about that plan, acknowledging that Severino may be more effective future out of the bullpen.
It was a tale of two roles for Severino this season. His grade as a starter has to be an F. He took a major step back from the end of last year, made even worse by the fact that they were already hurting from a lack of starting pitching, especially after Nathan Eovaldi’s injury. His bullpen grade would be close to an A, so averaging out the two with a slightly heavier emphasis on his performance as a starter would leave him with a grade a C-.
Severino would certainly be of more help to the Yankees as a starter, especially given the state of the rotation as the curtain closes on 2016. Still, at least there is evidence that he can be a major asset to the team in some form, even if it is ultimately out of the bullpen. You might remember that even Mariano Rivera struggled as a starter before finding his home as a closer, and became fairly good at it. Regardless, it is far too early to tell.
Hopefully a full offseason of work will help Severino master his changeup and command, and turn him into the electric starter that many saw him to be after his 2015 season. The 2016 season would have to be described as a major sophomore slump, but there is still time for the 22-year-old to figure it out.