The Yankees might have a bullpen and offense built to survive a postseason of occasional rotation clunkers. However, at least one rotation member has to dominate opponents.
For the Yankees, Luis Severino is clearly the most likely ace-like candidate among a group of middle-of-the-rotation arms.
Unfortunately, as the Yankees are busy improving their roster, the club has a pressing matter in regard to Severino's recent production. If the Yankees and Severino cannot figure out what ails the All-Star pitcher, then New York will be hard-pressed to win a World Series title this season.
From stud to dud
Severino was well on his way to another top finish in the Cy Young Award voting after his first 18 starts of the season pitching to a 1.98 ERA. However, that glistening number has significantly dulled, gaining almost a full run (2.94) in just four starts (19 1/3 innings).
Unfortunately, this is more than a simple regression to the mean, and there is more than one factor involved in the sudden downturn.
In Severino's most recent start, it was evident that he was as confused and frustrated as fans watching him. He has been off and on during the stretch, but overall, he has lost his ability to finish off batters, which has given rise to several reasons he may be in the middle of a slump.
It is difficult to ignore the workload argument where it concerns Severino.
In 2016, Severino tossed 151 1/3 innings in the minors and majors combined. He followed that up with a 209 1/3 innings last season, which included 16 postseason frames. The 58-inning jump combined with the 137 1/3 innings already thrown this season and pitching in the All-Star Game can easily be seen as a potential factor to the skid.
The Yankees can handle this potential problem by limiting Severino's outings in terms of pitches thrown and/or insert an occasional sixth starter to push everyone out by an extra day.
Pitch sequencing and effectiveness
Contrary to the thought that Severino is tiring, his average fastball velocity is very much on par over the last four starts (97.5 mph) compared to his first 18 starts (97.8 mph). Severino is using the fastball nearly as often with an increased usage of his slider at the expense of the changeup (approximately three percent shifts overall).
When Severino was having issues in the past it related to his lack of confidence in his changeup. Now we see he is using the changeup less often and worse, he hardly used the pitch in his last start (6.3 percent). If Severino has once again lost faith in an important pitch in his repertoire, someone in the organization needs to work with him to get it back.
Tipping pitches or too many pitches in heart of strike zone?
Severino's pitch values for both the fastball and slider have plummeted over the last four starts, with an overall hard hit rate of 43.3 percent compared with 31.8 percent in the 18 games prior. Severino's swing and miss percentage has decreased from 12.9 percent to 10.2 percent.
Most telling to me is that contact rates against him on balls thrown in the strike zone have jumped to 87.5 percent from 82.1 percent.
Between Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild and the team's analytical department, someone has to determine the cause of these dramatic changes. One factor might be Severino's mechanics have been altered, allowing opponents to read what pitch is coming. Another possibility is that Severino's pitches are drifting too far into the fat part of the strike zone instead of staying out over the edges of the plate, or just outside the strike zone.
Severino does not have the option of working several weeks away from the game with Pedro Martinez. He must regain his dominance and confidence in bullpen sessions in between games, and fight in the middle of starts. Accomplishing that is no small feat, but the process has to be considered an urgent matter for the Yankees.
The club needs Severino at his best as much as it needs the "super-pen" and the high-octane offense to be productive. So, if Rothschild or the analytics team are unable to get Severino back on track, the club will have a difficult time making another lengthy playoff run.