The Resurgence of Luis Severino

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 31: Pitcher Luis Severino #40 of the New York Yankees reacts after he gets Victor Martinez of the Detroit Tigers to strike out to end the 5th inning with two men on base in an MLB baseball game against the Detroit Tigers on July 31, 2017 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. Yankees won 7-3. (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)

The entire New York Yankees organization, from their scouting department to their coaching staff, never doubted the resurgence of Luis Severino heading into 2017 regular season. Well, perhaps there were some doubts. After all, last season was not only unexpected but hugely disappointing. Especially given the lofty expectations everyone in the organization had in regards to the hard-throwing right-hander and the potential displayed in his rookie season in 2015.

Severino made his major league debut on August 5, 2015 and pitched five innings, allowing just two hits, two runs, one earned, no walks, and seven strikeouts. The rookie right-hander would finish the 2015 season with a record of 5-3 and an ERA of 2.89 in 62.1 innings pitched.

The Resurgence of Luis Severino

Coming into the 2017 MLB regular season, Severino was looking to rebound from a dreadful 2016 campaign in which the young right-hander was sent down to Triple-A Scranton Wilkes/Barre on three separate occasions. It was an extremely rough and trying time for Severino. He finished the season with a record of 3-8 with an ERA of 5.83. In eleven starts, the Dominican born pitcher went 0-8 with an ERA of 8.50, along with a 1.78 WHIP. Severino was promptly optioned to Triple-A after his last start in July. Upon his return from Scranton Wilkes/Barre, the Yankees used him strictly out of the bullpen where he once again flashed his talent and unlimited potential. In eleven relief appearances, Severino dominated opposing hitters en route to posting a record of 3-0 with a microscopic ERA of 0.39 and a WHIP of 0.77.

The Yankees signed Severino when he was only 17-years-old as an international free agent, and the potential they saw then has now begun to pay dividends. However, the road from then to now has been a rocky one, especially given his performance last season.

New York Yankees Spring Training Position Battles

Given Severino’s atrocious outings as a starter in the 2016 season, the Yankees headed to Spring Training in 2017 with only three pitchers who had guaranteed spots in the starting rotation. Those pitchers included Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathiaand Michael Pineda -who, unfortunately, might have pitched his last game in Pinstripes after suffering a season-ending injury. Pineda’s contract is set to expire at the end of the season. Given his inability to stay healthy and pitch with any consistency, it is almost a certain end to his Yankee career.

The Yankees were heading into the 2017 season with a lot of unanswered questions with the departures of players like Alex Rodriguez (retirement), Mark Teixeira (retirement), and Carlos Beltran (traded to Houston in 2016). New York certainly had some holes to fill. First base and right field were big question marks, as was who would take over the designated hitter role.

The Yankees, a team well known for making a big splash in free agency, did not do much in the offseason. Their biggest acquisition was re-signing Aroldis Chapman, a player they traded to the Chicago Cubs the year before to obtain the third overall prospect in all of baseball, Gleyber Torres. The Bombers also signed Matt Holliday to be their new DH, but there were still position battles going on all over the diamond.

At first base you had Greg Bird and Tyler Austin who were expected to battle it out for playing time. But because Austin broke his ankle in February during hitting drills, the Yankees were forced to sign former Milwaukee Brewers home run champion Chris Carter. We all know how that turned out. In right field there was Aaron Hicks and Aaron Judgebattling it out to see who would be the everyday right fielder. With only a week left in Spring Training, manager Joe Girardi named Judge the Yankees everyday right fielder for the upcoming season with Hicks designated as their fourth outfielder. This year could have gone completely different if Girardi went the other way on that decision. One has to wonder if the Yankees would have gotten off to their hot start without Judge in the lineup everyday.that’s propelled them to this point in the season.

Severino Rises to the Challenge

Heading into Spring Training, the Yankees were confident that they had one of the better bullpens in baseball led by Chapman and Dellin Betances, and a lineup that had a nice mixture of veterans and youth. The area that gave them the most concern was there starting rotation. Tanaka, who sat atop the rotation, was coming off a season in which he was in the Cy Young conversation. Despite missing time with a partially torn ligament in his elbow, Tanaka finished 2016 with a record of 14-4 and an ERA of 3.07. The two pitchers behind the Japanese import were Sabathia (9-12, 3.91 in 2016), who was coming off knee surgery, and  Pineda (6-12, 4.82 in 2016), who owned the 68th highest ERA in all of baseball in 2016.

The five pitchers who were competing for the fourth and fifth spot in the rotation were Luis Severino, Adam Warren, Bryan Mitchell, Luis Cessa and Chad Green.

Before camp would end, Severino would be named the fourth starter in the Yankees rotation, and since New York wouldn’t need a fifth starter until April 16, the decision on the fifth starter would wait. However, it would not be any of the pitchers that were in competition for the fifth spot. Instead, it went to a rookie left-hander, Jordan Montgomery, who was not even on the Yankees radar until he provided one stellar outing after another.

On the season, Severino continues to look like a completely different pitcher than the one who served up an ERA of 8.50 in eleven starts in 2016. Whether it’s his approach to pitching, or just his confidence in his pitches, he appears to be a completely different pitcher.

With Tanaka’s (8-10, 4.93) struggles being well documented this season, it is becoming abundantly clear that Severino has become the unofficial ace of the Yankees rotation. If the Yankees do in fact make the playoffs this season, Girardi will have no choice but to start Severino in New York’s first postseason game.

On the season, Severino is 9-4 with an ERA of 2.91. He could easily be 15-4 if the bullpen did not blow six saves that he was in line to win. In Severino’s last five starts, he’s 4-0 with an ERA of 0.83 in 32.2 innings pitched while striking out 38 and with just nine walks.

If Tanaka can find his rhythm while being more consistent, and if Sabathia (9-4, 3.81) can continue to provide the Yankees with quality starts, along with Severino’s dominance, then the postseason is not just a dream but a reality to be had. With the additions of Sonny Gray and Jaime Garcia, the Yankees now have one of the deepest rotations in all of baseball. New York would be one of the more difficult teams to contend with in the postseason.

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