When Luis Severino took the mound against the Boston Red Sox last summer, a buzz captivated The Bronx. The type of buzz that hasn't been seen at Yankee Stadium in many years, dating back to the craze surrounding Joba Chamberlain and, prior to that, perhaps Robinson Cano, too. Many teams around the league have felt this kind of excitement surrounding a hot prospect. The Washington Nationals come to mind with the likes of super-prospects Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. The Chicago Cubs too, as Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant elicited undivided attention on the North Side of Chicago. Even the team over in Flushing has had this opportunity recently as Matt Harvey's debut in 2012 brought a hoard of attention and eyeballs on the New York Mets from their fanbase.
A team like the Yankees, though, isn't used to this. The excitement is usually reserved for the highly touted free agents. The CC Sabathia's, the Mark Teixeira's, and the Alex Rodriguez's of the world are what draws the crowd in. Not the youngsters. Players like Severino have been outliers if anything, so when the attention was drawn in on 161st and River Ave. on that August evening, it provided Yankee fans the ability to salivate and be dazzled by a youngster for the first time in a long while.
Dazzled they were. In the weeks that would follow, "Sevy" would not only perform at a high level but he was arguably the Yanks' best starter of the bunch. Only once did he allow more than three runs and while there were times where his pitch count soared and his ERA may have been somewhat misleading, the stuff he flashed was downright great at times. Heading into 2016, Severino will look to showcase his scintillating abilities again.
It will be no easy task to get off on the right foot though. Awaiting him on Friday afternoon is one of the most potent offenses in all of baseball for the last few years, and more specifically, one of the most dangerous hitters in Major League Baseball.
We are of course talking about the Detroit Tigers. The Tigers still possess a very dangerous lineup with multiple threats, even if it is not nearly the roaring beast that it once was. You have the Martinezes in Victor and J.D. There's Ian Kinsler as well as Anthony Gose. And, of course, two-time AL MVP, and multiple-time batting champion Miguel Cabrera, who is arguably the best hitter in all of baseball. Oh yeah, there's Justin Upton too.
Is it any wonder why this Tigers team made four straight trips to the postseason, three ALCS appearances, and had a trip to the World Series as well? Certainly having one of the best pitchers in baseball and later on, one of the best rotations helped matters as well, but this Tigers offense has been a powerhouse.
From 2011-2015, the Tigers' offense ranked fourth in the American League in fWAR with a mark of 112.8. They hit .275 in that time period with a wRC+ of a whopping 109, the best in the AL, and a BABIP of a ridiculous .317.
They cranked out 3,755 runs from 2011-2015, trailing only the Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays and Texas Rangers in that category. They knocked 814 home runs and possessed a slugging percentage of .427, tops in the AL.
What's made this Tigers team such a threat over the past few years is that they have made a habit out of making contact in the zone. Only three teams in the AL made more contact in the strike zone than Detroit per FanGraphs from 2011-2015, as the Tigers struck at a rate of a gaudy 88 percent. And as it's been mentioned, the Tigers' BABIP rate was .317 during this time period, so they were making contact, and making other teams pay, too. They struck with line drives more than anyone in the AL, had a fly ball rate of over 35 percent, and a home run/fly ball rate of over 10 percent, too.
It is easy to understand why Severino will have his hands full. But with how things fared for him in his 11 starts last year, while trouble could be looming when the young hurler and the Bombers take the field at Comerica Park on Friday afternoon in The Motor City, Severino could still prevail.
Let's examine a few factors. Firstly, Severino had a very lofty HR/FB rate of 17.3 percent. Given the abundance of power in the Tigers' lineup, that is a big red flag flapping in the air. With that said, last year Comerica Park had one of the lowest home run rates in baseball per ESPN at just 0.791, so that might save Severino's butt.
The Tigers' zone-contact% of 88 percent from 2011-2015 was something fierce. But, Severino's zone-contact% was at just 86.5 percent in 2015. If that was around the sample size of qualified starters, it would put him in the company of Anthony DeSclafani, Scott Kazmir, Jake Arrieta, Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto. Not the worst company to be around, considering one of those men won the NL Cy Young. It's not in the neighborhood of, say, Clayton Kershaw whose zone-contact rate was at a sparkling 78.2 percent, tied with ace Chris Sale for the lowest rate among qualified starters last year, or even a David Price who had a mark of 81.7 percent, but hovering around the middle of the pack, which Severino's rate would have him at, is not the worst thing in the world.
If there is one concern it is how many bats Severino forced to fan last year, or lack thereof. Kazmir, Arrieta, and Bumgarner each induced swinging strikes at a rate of 10.3 percent or better last year. Severino's, meanwhile, was at just 9.6 percent. For what it's worth though, the Tigers fanned at strikes at a rate of 9.3 percent from 2011-2015, tied for the fifth-highest mark in the AL during that time. So if Severino cracks the code and brings the nasty stuff with him, he could force some missed bats, especially so against J.D. Martinez, Nick Castellanos and Justin Upton, all of whom had swinging strike rates of over 12.1 percent over the course of the last five seasons.
Facing this Tigers team is a tall order and no easy task. There will likely be a major buzz in the air when the Yankees come to town for what is Detroit's home opener and the debut of stud pitcher Jordan Zimmermann, who of course signed on in the offseason. But if what everyone's been saying about Severino is true, then his 2016 debut could be just as successful as his 2015 one was last summer against the Red Sox. The ability is likely there, and now, Yankees fans will be able to get the most of it over the course of a full season, starting Friday afternoon in Detroit against one of the best offenses in baseball.