Luis Severino has now taken his turn in the rotation three times this season. There is plenty of scrutiny on the Yankees' young right-hander every time he takes the ball, as Severino holds the rare promise of a homegrown Yankee pitcher that could actually develop into a front-end starter. With a few starts under his belt for 2016, let's take stock of what he has shown thus far in his sophomore campaign.
There has certainly been good and bad. The total results have been uneven, as Severino has struck out 11 compared to just one walk, but he has also yielded 25 hits and nine runs across 16.2 innings in 2016. Those numbers lack the shine of his 2015 statistics, which featured an excellent 2.89 ERA, to go along with 56 strikeouts and 22 walks in his first 62.1 big league frames.
Perhaps the most positive takeaway has been his velocity. Always known as an overpowering arm coming up through the minors, Severino flashed impressive heat in his first stint as a major leaguer in 2015. That velocity has ticked up in 2016 (figures from Brooks Baseball):
|Pitch||2015 Velocity||2016 Velocity|
The changes may seem small, but given that velocities are generally lower early in the season, the fact that Severino has bumped his already great velocity up another notch has to be considered good news.
Severino very well could continue adding to that velocity during the coming months, as he fully settles into the groove of the season, and as the weather heats up. He already rarely throws pitches beneath 90 mph, and if Severino progresses to the point where he is sitting at 97 mph with his fastball, while mixing in a hard slider and changeup, his potential will become even more tantalizing.
However, there have been some concerning signs for Severino thus far, beyond simply his 4.86 ERA. It is early, but Severino has yielded plenty of hard hit balls through three starts. According to FanGraphs' batted ball data, Severino ranks 25th highest among 110 qualified starters with a 35.0% hard contact rate.
Statcast's new data also provides some evidence that Severino has been hit hard. Only two pitchers, Mike Leake and Julio Teheran, have allowed as many or more batted balls with an exit velocity higher than Severino. His average exit velocity currently stands at 91.69 mph, a couple mph above league average.
It's possible that Severino's early batted ball issues stem from a problem that has also been seen with Michael Pineda during his time with the Yankees: the issue of pitching heavily inside the strike zone. Throwing a lot of pitches in the zone seems like a fine idea for pitchers like Pineda and Severino, who can overpower hitters with their mid-nineties velocities. However, Severino's zone rate of 51.8% is well above league average, and certainly may be contributing to his troubles with batted balls and his current BABIP of .397.
Severino also has seemingly struggled with his slider. The sample sizes are obviously quite small, as Severino has only thrown a few hundred sliders at the big league level. Still, here is how Severino has fared when throwing his slider, in 2015 compared to 2016:
This could all be early season noise, but the shift is clear: hitters are having much less trouble with Severino's slider this April. Severino's tendency to stay in the zone, combined with his problems with his slider, has resulted in at-bats like this, in his most recent start versus the Athletics. A slider left up over the plate, deposited by Mark Canha over the right field wall:
This is merely one example, but it does a good job in representing all the positives and negatives Severino has displayed: a slider, thrown viciously hard at 91.7 mph, but left hanging up in the zone, and drilled at an exit velocity of 101.6 mph, according to Statcast.
All this is enough to make one wonder about Severino's changeup, his other secondary pitch. Severino's changeup has been heralded by scouts as perhaps his best offering, and certainly superior to his slider as far as secondary pitches go. Baseball Prospectus, ESPN's Keith Law, and Kiley McDaniel, formerly of FanGraphs, all rated Severino's changeup as above average when he was still a prospect, while pegging his slider as either average or below.
Curiously, Severino has hardly thrown his changeup in the majors. He threw it 14.55% of the time 2015, and has thrown it just 11.90% of the time in 2016. Again, small sample caveats abound, but his changeup's whiffs-per-swing rate of 34% is above league average, and major league batters have hit just .195 against the pitch. It seems Severino would do well to make the changeup a more prominent part of his repertoire.
It is only April, but it will be interesting to see if Severino continues with these trends as the season wears on. The idea of him continuing to add velocity is tremendously exciting. Less so is the thought of him yielding hard hit balls throughout the year. Perhaps things will change in the coming months, but these current tendencies are worth monitoring for now.