This offseason has been a peculiar one for Yankees fans. Instead of confidently gearing up for a World Series run, the organization is looking towards the future. While the club did take measures to field a competitive team, namely the Matt Holliday and Aroldis Chapman signings, the focus has been on the youth movement. For the most part, fans have responded positively. There have been many discussions and debates about favorite top prospects.
In the midst of this excitement, however, some young players have been overlooked. The most notable example is Luis Severino, who after an impressive debut in 2015, has fallen off of the radar. His struggle-filled sophomore campaign could explain the diminished interest. A 5.83 ERA with a 4.48 FIP will take the rose off a player’s sheen. Nonetheless, Severino is only one month older than top prospect James Kaprielian. His future is paramount to the Yankees’ success.
Recent comments from the team about Severino seem rather innocuous. Brian Cashman told reporters that the organization thinks Severino was too muscular last season. They would like him to trim down on his mass in an attempt to improve his range of motion. At first glance this sounds like typical chatter on the eve of spring training. A player is in the best shape of his life, losing weight and such. Upon a closer look at the data, however, Cashman might be onto something.
One of the most visible changes in Severino’s pitching has been his release points. Below is a chart indicating his release positions in 2016.
Compare that to his chart from 2015:
In 2015, his release points were spread out rather widely. He had different angles and positions for his pitches. This map shrinks in 2016. The narrowing of his release points correlates with his ineffective performance. One of the explanations for the contracting release points could very well be that Severino was too muscular. If he lacked flexibility, he also lacked range of motion. These factors directly influence pitch location, the critical element of whether a pitcher succeeds or fails.
This isn’t to say that shedding muscle mass is the silver bullet for Severino. He still needs to hone his changeup to neutralize left-handed batters. There are still questions about whether his future is in the rotation or the bullpen. Nevertheless, Severino’s bulk could have adversely altered his release points, and that’s worth addressing. If there’s an area that might improve his pitching, the Yankees should be trying it.
While the pitching discussions have focused on the likes of Kaprielian and Sheffield, Severino’s name bears mentioning. He’s only a little more than a year removed from a 2.89 ERA (4.37 FIP) showing in 2015. The Yankees need to shore up the back end of the rotation, and Severino very well could be the best option. Whether its discussed or not, the future success of the Yankees is inextricably linked with Severino’s performance.
Data courtesy of Baseball-Reference and charts courtesy of Texas Leaguers.