Already 37 games in and arguably the greatest disappointment for the 2016 Yankees has been Luis Severino. Before he landed on the disabled list this weekend with a mild right triceps strain, he had a 7.46 ERA in 35 innings, the worst through Sunday's games for any qualifying starter in baseball. His fifth-worst 1.69 WHIP isn't much better. Severino's K-rate is a modest 6.94, down from 8.09 in 2015, his FIP is 5.45, and he's surrendered 2.06 home runs per nine innings. He's allowed hard-hit balls at a 29.3% clip and line drives at 26.8%. The Yankees are 0-7 in Severino's starts, and they've lost those games by a combined 36 runs.
So yeah, things haven't been good. Severino's 15-day DL jaunt will include at least one minor league rehab start, according to Brian Cashman. The GM wouldn't offer any vote of confidence beyond that, so if things go a certain way in the Yankees rotation–if CC Sabathia returns healthy from his own injury and Ivan Nova continues to pitch well–it's very possible that Severino's "rehab" will play out more like a demotion. There's a good chance he won't put on a Yankees uniform for much longer than 15 days. That would be a bigger disappointment than seven lousy starts.
Building pitchers is hard work that often comes without a quick reward.. Severino's only 22, but he's been in the Yankees organization since he was 17, and has been on the big league radar since he lit up rookie ball at 18 in 2012. It feels like he should be a finished product by now. That's why the temptation is strong to send him down to "work it out" against minor league hitters...to "get his confidence back", "preserve his value" and all that. It's the easier answer when things don't go perfectly. Just like it was easier to move Joba Chamberlain to the pen when the Yankees needed a bridge to Mariano in 2007. Just like it was easier to move Hughes there when he struggled in 2008 and 2009. The tougher choice is to give Severino a real opportunity to straighten out his command problems, even it that means grimacing every time he takes the mound for a while.
Early-career struggles for really good pitchers aren't a rule, but they're common enough to not be an exception, either. Many of the game's best starters today were great from day one, but not all. Both 2015 Cy Young winners were actually pretty bad early on. Jake Arrieta's first season was an 18-start, 4.76 ERA Baltimore flop, where he struck out fewer than five batters per nine. Dallas Keuchel was a nightmare in 2012 with a 5.27 ERA and 1.55 WHIP in 16 starts, and not much better in 2013 - 5.15 and 1.54 in 22. A glance at 2016's pitching leader boards reveals several other now-stars who bombed at times–Johnny Cueto, Gio Gonzalez, Jon Lester. The Mariners are reaping the rewards now from letting Taijuan Walker start 29 games last year despite the 6.18 ERA he sported at the end of May.
What Yankees fans need to remember is you can't have it both ways. You can't on the one hand knock the organization for not developing pitching, and on the other call for a young pitcher's head after a septet of barely watchable starts. Yes, it would be fantastic if Severino had picked up right where he left off in 2015–though he did benefit from a low BABIP–and was throwing like a number two starter. The fact that he isn't doesn't give the Yankees permission to cut and run. Severino has a lot more to learn in the majors than at Triple-A, where he can miss spots and still get outs. If there's really a long-term plan that involves brewing pitching from scratch, now's a good time to prove it.
The counter-point is that the Yankees are currently trying to claw their way back into the AL East race. Seeing one of your starters get torched every time out isn't helpful to that pursuit. Baseball is the sport whose rules best let you develop and contend at the same time, but that's not always an easy balance to find, particularly when you're a fringe contender to begin with. No matter how deeply they're committed to him, the Yankees can't let Severino represent a pre-determined loss once every five days.
Luckily that "pre-determined loss" thing is a bit of an exaggeration. Yes, the 0-7 record in Severino's starts is hard to look at, but he isn't the only one to blame for it. In five of his seven outings, he's allowed four runs or less. Only two of those were quality starts, and only one was actually good, but five innings-three runs, six plus innings-four runs are enough for a team with an elite bullpen, that actually scores runs, to win. The Yankees scored one run or less in six of Severino's games. In the lone outlier, they scored three.
As Joe Girardi has repeatedly insisted, Severino's issues are with command, particularly with command within the strike zone, not with stuff. He's averaging 95.4 on his fastball, which is right where he was last year. So there is hope. His teammates just need to do a better job of picking him up so that he gets the chance to correct himself.