Luis Severino made his first career MLB start on August 5, 2015 when the Yankees hosted the Boston Red Sox. He was the tough-luck loser that day, with the Yanks falling to their rivals 2-1. Severino pitched great, giving up two runs (one earned) on two hits, while striking out seven and walking none over five innings. The 21-year old rookie relied heavily on his four-seam fastball and slider, while using the two-seam fastball, cutter, and changeup more sparingly. His over-reliance on the fastball and under-utilization of the changeup would prove to be problematic for the young righty moving forward.
With that start, Severino joined the rotation and pitched exceptionally well for the remainder of the 2015 season. He went 5-3 in 11 starts, pitching to a 2.89 ERA and 1.20 WHIP. He was an important contributor down the stretch, helping the Yankees win a Wild Card berth following a two-year postseason absence.
Severino was named the fourth starter prior to the 2016 season, getting the nod over both CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova, who were relegated to competing for the fifth spot in the Yankee rotation. Unfortunately for Severino and the Yankees, he took a major step backward in what should have been his first full season as a big league starter.
Severino struggled mightily right off the bat in 2016 and was demoted to the bullpen and ultimately to the minors. The primary reason for his struggles was his inability to mix in his changeup effectively and with consistency. He finished the 2016 campaign with a 3-8 record in 22 games (11 starts). His ERA was 5.83 and 1.451 WHIP.
Severino's splits in 2016 led many to opine that he would be more of an asset to the team serving in a permanent relief role. As a starter, he was 0-8 with a 8.50 ERA, 1.78 WHIP, and opponents hitting .337. As a reliever, he was 3-0 with a 0.39 ERA, 0.77 WHIP, and .105 BA against.
The decision makers in the Yankee front office remained firm in their belief that Severino should be a starter, and he was told to prepare as a starter prior to the 2017 season.
Severino got help from a surprising source, recently minted Hall of Famer and former Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez. Martinez was once in the same spot as Severino, being a talented and promising pitcher but lacking the repertoire required to be an effective starter. As a young pitcher, Martinez was also used out of the bullpen until he was able to expand his pitch arsenal and use it to effect. Martinez worked with Severino throughout the offseason, with the focus being the effective utilization of the changeup.
Though it's still very early in the 2017 season, these efforts seem to have paid off. Severino has been throwing the changeup more and to greater effect. He has gone deeper into games, and his strikeout to walk ratio has been outstanding.
What should we expect to see from Luis Severino in 2017?
We need to see more Quality Starts from him. Last year, only two of Severino's 11 starts were Quality Starts. This was a big step back for Severino. In 2015, eight of his eleven starts were Quality Starts. Aside from the obvious negative impact on the bullpen that starters cause when they fail to make a Quality Start, a team's chances of winning a game increase dramatically with a Quality Start. Last season, the Yankees were 51-22 (.699) when their starter made a Quality Start, but only 33-56 (.371) otherwise.
The effective mixing of the changeup is critical to Severino's success. Without it, he may breeze through a lineup the first time, but will have a more difficult time the second time through. That is what we've seen in the past, and that is why relievers can get by on two pitches whereas starters simply can't.
With Sabathia and Pineda due to become free agents and Tanaka able to opt out, the Yankees could head into the off-season with Severino as their #1 starter. Severino not only has the chance to really help the Yankees this year, but he has the opportunity to write himself into the team’s' future plans.
Severino has the talent to be an ace. That's why the Yankees are sticking with him as a starter. This season is going to be a big test for him, and he needs to step up. He will be a great asset to the Yankees if he does.
What do you think? What are you expecting to see from Luis Severino in 2017?