Don’t look now, but we’re three starts into Luis Severino’s 2017 season, and he hasn’t done too poorly for himself. Right now he has a 4.05 ERA with a 3.10 FIP in 20 innings pitched, but more importantly, his peripherals are looking excellent. He has struck out 12.2 batters per nine innings this year while walking only 0.9 per nine. It’s extremely good to see him improving his performance on the mound after last year’s colossal mess. What has he been doing differently so far?
Much digital ink has been spilled about Severino’s work with Pedro Martinez in the offseason. In the early goings of 2017, it would seem like we are seeing the fruit of that labor as Severino has seemingly harnessed his changeup. So far, he has used his change far more than ever before, going to it 17.1% of the time after only using it 8.9% last year. This obviously has led to a drop-off in his slider usage, which has fallen by almost 8%.
Mixing in the changeup more often and using the slider only at the most appropriate of times has caused both pitches to be far more valuable than they ever have been before. Right now his changeup is worth 2.4 runs, while the slider is at 1.6 runs. It’s obviously still a really small sample size, so these numbers might not be as accurate as we want them to be. Mostly, it’s just a positive trend that we should keep an eye on as the season continues.
Thanks to his new third pitch, Severino is missing bats like he never has before. He has seen his swinging strike rate surge from 9.2% in 2016 to 11.3% in 2017. As a result, his contact rate has dropped by 7% over his first three starts. He’s also been able to significantly diminish the amount of contact he gives up on pitches outside the zone. Last year that number was around 65%, but it’s fallen to just 45% in 2017. That can be at least partially attributed to his ability to get hitters to swing and miss at his sliders outside the strike zone.
Another helpful change he has made this year is the consistency of his arm slot. Last year, as seen in the graphic below, Severino’s arm slot was all over the place. It was a complete mess by the end of the season, but by comparing what he has done in 2017 to what he did by this time last year, we can see that the biggest change is the consistency between his different pitches.
You might remember that the Yankees asked Severino to focus less on adding muscle this offseason and instead working to become leaner and more flexible. The idea was to make him less bulky and make it easier for him to repeat his delivery. As a result, his pitches won’t get out of whack and batters shouldn’t be able to pick up any variations at the plate. Let’s just hope he can continue this new stability going forward.
What still needs to improve
As always, Severino will need to get his home run problem under control. Despite his improvements in other parts of his game, he has not been able to curb the home run barrage so far. He’s been able to make it work for him so far, but a 1.80 HR/9 and 26.7% HR/FB is not going to be good going forward. There will eventually be a time where he allows too many home runs for the offense to pick him up. We just have to see more from him before expectations become concrete.
Three might make a pattern but it’s still far too early to law down judgement on Severino yet. It’ll be another month or two before we know whether or not he can keep this up long-term. So far so good, though.