Chad Green is worth a longer look in the Yankees’ rotation

(Denis Poroy/Getty)
(Denis Poroy/Getty)

Thanks to CC Sabathia‘s balky knee, rookie right-hander Chad Green was called up to make a spot start for the Yankees over the weekend. The team didn’t want Sabathia hitting and running the bases in San Diego, so they called up Green and pushed everyone else in the rotation back a day. They like to use a spot sixth starter whenever possible and Sunday was a perfect time to do it.

Green rewarded the club’s faith in him by holding the Padres to one run on three hits and no walks in six innings. He struck out eight and generated a healthy eleven swings and misses out of 75 total pitches. Green could have remained in the game to pitch the seventh, but his lineup spot led off the inning, so Joe Girardi opted to pinch-hit and try to create some more offense with his team up only 2-1. Makes sense. Blame the NL, I guess.

Sunday’s start went far better than Green’s first start with the Yankees, when the Diamondbacks hammered him for six runs (four earned) in four innings back in May. That was his MLB debut and he looked jittery at times, which is understandable. He’s not the first guy to struggle his big league debut. Green shook that rough debut off, pitched well Sunday, and earned himself another start Friday.

“Compared to my last start, it was different. From the first inning on, it just felt like another game. As soon as I got the first pitch out of the way, I felt a lot better after that,” said Green to Randy Miller. Joe Girardi declined to say whether Green is in the rotation for good yesterday — “Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves,” he said to Chad Jennings — but he’s going to start again Friday and clearly the opportunity exists to stick a while. There are plenty of reasons to keep Green in the rotation too.

1. He dominated in Triple-A. This is sort of a prerequisite for a call-up. Unless it’s an emergency situation, you have to pitch well in Triple-A to earn a promotion, and Green did exactly that. He currently leads all qualified International League pitchers in both ERA (1.54) and FIP (2.17), and by decent margins too. Wade LeBlanc is second in both categories (1.71 ERA and 2.47 FIP). Being great in the minors doesn’t guarantee big league success or even a big league roster spot, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. Green took care of business in Triple-A. He made the Yankees take notice.

(Denis Poroy/Getty)
(Denis Poroy/Getty)

2. He’s added a cutter. During his debut against the D’Backs, Green struggled against Arizona’s left-handed hitters because he doesn’t have much of a changeup. He was out there with his fastball and slider only. On Sunday, he showed off a new cutter that he picked up in Triple-A to help combat batters of the opposite hand.

“From my last outing, I added a cutter. I’ve been working on that the past couple of weeks. I think that made a big difference, being able to throw that for strikes,” he said to Miller. Green threw 17 cutters (12 for strikes) on Sunday after throwing zero cutters in his first start. (He threw zero in his first start because he didn’t have the cutter at the time.)

How about that? Green came up, realized he needed something to better handle lefties, then added a cutter. Player development in action. Green has shown the ability to make adjustments and take to instruction in a relatively short amount of time. That’s a reason to keep him around. To keep learning and to continue his development.

3. It’s time to start thinking about the future. This is the big one. By all accounts Green is big league ready. He has good stuff, his command is solid, and he did what he had to do in Triple-A. The Yankees exist in a perpetual state of “what’s best for me right now,” but that’s going to have to change at some point reasonably soon, preferably before the trade deadline in a few weeks.

Not counting Green, the Yankees have five starters in their rotation eligible to become free agents at some point in the next two years. They’ve been trying to acquire a young starter controllable beyond next year for that reason, and you know what? They may have done that with Green. Unless he starts getting hammered every fifth day, the Yankees owe it to themselves to run him out there and see what they have. Green might be able to help them win now. More importantly, he might be able to help him win in the future.

* * *

Friday’s start is going to be a really good test for Green. He’s going to face the first place Indians, a team with a good offense and a ton of quality left-handed batters. The only lefties in San Diego’s lineup Sunday were Yangervis Solarte, Alex Dickerson, and Ryan friggin’ Schimpf. The Indians figure to have Jason Kipnis, Carlos Santana, Francisco Lindor, and Lonnie Chisenhall in their lineup Friday, among others. Those guys are all quality hitters.

The All-Star break is coming up next week, so the Yankees can let Green make this start Friday, then take a step back next week and reevaluate their rotation options. Nathan Eovaldi is in the bullpen right now, Ivan Nova has not been good most of the year, and who knows what Michael Pineda will do from one start to the next. Even if Cleveland works him over Friday, there are still reasons to keep Green in the rotation going forward. He’s put himself in position to earn a longer look for a team in desperate need of young building blocks.

Despite strong Triple-A showing, the Yankees aren’t ready to bring Luis Severino back to MLB

(Danna Stevens/Times Tribune)
(Danna Stevens/Times Tribune)

Without question, CC Sabathia‘s renaissance is the best story in an otherwise mediocre 2016 Yankees season. Sabathia has been able to overcome years of declining stuff and personal demons to turn in what is truly a Cy Young caliber performance to date. It’s hard not to love what the big man is doing this season. It’s so fun to watch.

On the other end of the spectrum, I don’t think there has been a bigger disappointment this year than Luis Severino. The young right-hander impressed in his second half cameo last year and was poised to emerge as a rotation force this season. Instead, he struggled big time, pitching to a 7.46 ERA (5.50 FIP) in 35 innings before getting hurt and demoted to Triple-A. It was a well-earned demotion, no doubt.

Since joining the RailRiders, Severino has posted a 2.52 ERA (2.85 FIP) in four starts and 25 innings. It’s not much, but it is right in line with what he did in the minors from 2014-15 (2.45 ERA and 2.42 FIP). That’s good! Had Severino gone down to Triple-A and continued to struggle, it would be a big problem. A big problem and very scary. The top young pitcher in the organization would still be broken.

Severino’s performance in Triple-A has been very good, and it stands to reason the Yankees want to get him back to the big leagues at some point, but right now there does not seem to be any urgency to do so. Joe Girardi told reporters the other day he’s watched all of Severino’s minor league starts and he still believes there is work to be done. From Randy Miller:

“It still needs some tuning up,” Girardi said Sunday before the Yankees and Minnesota Twins finished up their four-game series at Target Field. “It’s location. Consistency is the big thing. You see some really good pitches, some well-located pitches, but it’s consistency and here (in the majors) you can’t leave ball in the middle of the plate or they get hammered. So I think a lot of times you have to look beyond the numbers.”

“I think sometimes you see the location is not where it needs to be,” Girardi said. “He throws some really good sliders, then he throws some that are up or lack the downward movement that you want.

“I think he’s making strides. I think he’s becoming more consistent, but we’re looking for some more.”

Severino’s biggest problem with the Yankees earlier this season was his command, particularly of his slider and changeup. The stuff was fine. He had the velocity and his slider had some bite to it, but he left too many pitches in the hitting zone and batters really made him pay. Opponents hit .316 with a measly 11.6% swing-and-miss rate against his slider, for example. That is legitimately awful. The league averages are .211 and 15.2%, respectively.

Unfortunately, we don’t have access to any video of Severino’s minor league starts, so we haven’t been able to see him for ourselves. MiLB.com has just one highlight video from his time in Triple-A, and it’s a full three-pitch strikeout at-bat. The first pitch was a fastball, the next two were nasty sliders down in the zone. Check it out:

Based on that three-pitch look, Severino’s command is fixed! Those are two pretty good sliders. Too bad it doesn’t work like that. That at-bat represents 0.898% of the pitches he’s thrown with the RailRiders this year. They don’t tell us much at all. Severino broke off some nasty sliders in the big leagues earlier this year too.

When Girardi says “sometimes you see the location is not where it needs to be” you can be sure that is an organizational opinion and not his alone. After all, Girardi doesn’t make the roster moves. He might have input — I’m certain he does after 8+ years on the job — but at the end of the day, the front office is going to decide who is and who isn’t on the roster. Right now Severino is not considered MLB ready.

And you know what? That is perfectly fine with me. I was on board with sending Severino down to the minors to work on things right before his injury and nothing has changed. He’s too important to rush back just because the numbers are good. There are specific flaws that need to be addressed — again, the location of his secondary pitches — and if Girardi and the Yankees say there hasn’t been enough progress, then there hasn’t been enough progress.

Although the team insists they’re trying to contend — of course they’re going to say that, what do they have to gain by saying they’re going to trade everyone and rebuild? — improving the 2017 Yankees has to be a priority right now, and part of that is getting Severino right. If that means more time in Triple-A, so be it. Severino is too important to the franchise long-term. His development should continue in the minors until it is certain his command has improved.

Yankees smart to stop putting Luis Cessa’s development on the back burner

(Leon Halip/Getty)
(Leon Halip/Getty)

Out of all the trades the Yankees made over the last two offseasons, I’m not sure any of them was more surprising than the Justin Wilson trade. We know no one is truly untouchable, but Wilson was very good last year and he was an important part of the bullpen, which is the team’s greatest strength. He seemed like someone who would wear pinstripes for a while.

Instead, the Yankees shipped Wilson to the Tigers for two Triple-A starters during the Winter Meetings. The combination of the general volatility of relievers — Wilson was a year removed from a 4.20 ERA and an 11.7% walk rate, after all — and the team’s lack of upper level rotation depth led to the trade. It didn’t help that guys like Mike Leake and Ian Kennedy were signing $70M+ contracts either. Pitching is getting harder and harder to acquire.

The two pitchers the Yankees acquired for Wilson, Chad Green and Luis Cessa, have both spent time in the big leagues this season. Green made a spot start a few weeks back and is probably next in line whenever the club needs another starter. Cessa made the Opening Day roster as a reliever, made one appearance, then was shipped down to Triple-A Scranton to continue his development as a starter.

The Yankees called Cessa back up three weeks ago, though I wouldn’t blame you if you hadn’t realized he was on the roster before he was sent down yesterday. Cessa barely pitched after being recalled. He threw an inning on May 24th, and, in his most notable MLB appearance to date, he threw four innings against the Rays on May 28th. Cessa allowed one run and struck out three in those four innings.

Beyond that, Cessa has been something of a forgotten man in the bullpen. He did warm up three times (!) Sunday afternoon and again Monday night, but never did get into either game. Richard Bleier has made three appearances since Cessa last pitched, if you can believe that. Joe Girardi clearly doesn’t want to thrust the kid into high (or even medium) leverage work and that’s understandable. The problem is Cessa was not pitching.

Over the last three weeks and four days, Cessa has made two appearances and thrown a total of 68 pitches. That’s all. It’s not enough for a 24-year-old kid who still could use some innings in the minors to work on his secondary pitches and overall refinement. That’s why the Yankees sent Cessa down yesterday and replaced him with Anthony Swarzak. It wasn’t because they feel Swarzak is an upgrade over Cessa as the last guy in the bullpen.

The goal here was not necessarily improving the bullpen. I’m willing to bet Cessa would out-pitch Bleier and Swarzak if given the same opportunity. No, the goal is to continue Cessa’s development and put him in a position to really help the Yankees down the road. He needs innings and he’s not getting them. It’s pretty simple. I have a really hard time thinking all this inactivity is a good thing for Cessa’s development.

The Yankees have been saying since Spring Training that they view Cessa as a starter long-term and that’s wonderful, but how are they helping him prepare for that role? They weren’t by letting him sit in the bullpen. He was sitting around waiting for blowouts, which rarely happen nowadays because the Yankees don’t score and their starters have been pretty good the last month or so. That’s why Cessa’s pitched twice in the last three weeks and three days.

We have no idea what Cessa will be long-term. He might fade away into oblivion as Hector Noesi 2.0 and make the Wilson trade a miserable failure. Or he might be the next Adam Warren and provide valuable innings. We’ll find out eventually, and the only way to find out is to let him pitch, either in MLB or Triple-A. Yesterday’s move was made because it was time for the Yankees to make Cessa’s development a priority.

Masahiro Tanaka’s latest adjustment: A new position on the pitching rubber

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

The season is nearly one-third of the way complete, and so far Masahiro Tanaka has not just been the Yankees best starter, he’s been one of the best starters in the entire American League. Look over the AL pitching leaderboard and you’ll see Tanaka in the top ten of pretty much every meaningful statistic. In many cases he’s in the top five. He’s been awesome.

Tanaka, as we’ve already discussed, has made some significant changes this year. Most notably, he has basically replaced his straight four-seamer fastball with sinking two-seamers, perhaps in response to last year’s homer issues. Tanaka went from 18.6% four-seamers and 13.6% sinkers last year to 2.7% four-seamers and 37.2% sinkers this year. As a result, his ground ball rate has jumped from 47.0% to 55.1% while his homer rate has dropped from 1.46 HR/9 to 0.83 HR/9.

That’s not the only adjustment Tanaka has made this season and it’s not even the most recent. In his last two starts, Tanaka has changed his position on the mound. He’s now standing on the far first base side of the pitching rubber. Check it out:

Masahiro Tanaka mound position

Those are the dead center field cameras at Fenway Park (April 29th) and Tropicana Field (May 27th), so there’s no camera angle funny business going on. Tanaka is, very clearly, standing much more on the first base side of the rubber. The PitchFX data shows the drastic change in his horizontal release point. From Brooks Baseball:

Masahiro Tanaka horizontal release point

Tanaka’s average horizontal release point has shifted roughly 12 inches towards first base in his last two starts thanks to his new position on the mound. This is not insignificant! It changes everything, really. The pitches come out at different angles now, and standing so far to the first base side means Tanaka has to adjust the way he pitches to both sides of the plate.

Why did Tanaka change his position on the rubber? Brendan Kuty asked pitching coach Larry Rothschild that exact question:

“He came up with it himself to move over, for angles to the fastball more than anything else,” Rothschild said. “We’ll see how we go as it plays. Right now, it seems like a good thing, but it’s a long season and we’ll see. As long as he can throw the split as well from that side, because that’s an important pitch for him.”

Shifting to the first or third base side of the pitching rubber is not rare, but it’s not exactly common either. After getting traded to the Cubs, Jake Arrieta shifted to the third base side and became a super-ace. A few years back Fernando Rodney shifted towards first base and became a dominant closer with the Rays. Others have changed their position on the rubber too. Arrieta and Rodney are two examples of extreme performance improvement.

Tanaka has allowed one run on seven hits and two walks in 14 innings in two starts since moving to the first base side of the rubber, so, at the very least, his new position on the mound isn’t hurting his performance. That’s not much of a sample though and it’s still too early to fully understand what kind of effect standing closer to first base really has. This is a very recent adjustment. Very, very recent.

The biggest concern with Tanaka is health, not performance. He’s never not been good when healthy. Even last year’s home run problems did not stop him from posting a 115 ERA+ and +3.0 WAR in 154 innings. Tanaka started throwing more sinkers to counter that home run problem and by and large it’s worked. He gave up three dingers in a bad start against the Royals on May 10th and he’s given up three homers total in his other nine starts combined.

This new position on the pitching rubber is designed to … do something. I’m not sure what. Rothschild says it’s for “angles to the fastball,” whatever that means. Could it be to change the way the splitter and slider play off the fastball? Or make the sinker look way off the plate away to righties before darting back and catching the corner? I’m really not sure.

Tanaka will make his 11th start of the season tonight and his position on the mound is something worth watching going forward. If Tanaka stays on the first base side of the rubber, then we’ll know it’s working as intended. If he goes back to where he was before — or even to the extreme third base side, I guess — then we’ll know he’s still tinkering.

Luis Severino and the possibility of too much velocity

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
(Patrick Smith/Getty)

This Sunday right-hander Luis Severino will make his first minor league rehab start as he works his way back from a mild triceps strain. He’ll be back on the mound only 16 days after suffering the injury, so it was indeed a mild strain. The Yankees weren’t downplaying it. Assuming all goes well Sunday, Severino could rejoin the rotation as soon as next week.

Of course, Severino was not all that good before getting hurt. He has a 7.46 ERA (5.43 ERA) with too few strikeouts (16.8%) in seven starts and 35 innings. There was talk of sending Severino to the minors before the injury, and at the moment, the only other starter you would even consider removing from the rotation is Michael Pineda, and Pineda just had a pretty good start against the A’s last time out.

There is no shortage of possible reasons why Severino struggled so much before getting hurt. And really, it’s probably not one specific thing. It’s likely a combination of several things. Bad mechanics, no confidence, bad tempo, who knows what else? One thing we haven’t talked about much is the possibility of Severino having too much velocity. It sounds silly, but it could definitely be true.

Severino hasn’t been in the big leagues all that long, so the available PitchFX data is limited. This graph still seems pretty telling though. Check out his month-by-month average velocity, via Brooks Baseball:

Luis Severino velocity

You see the data for July 2014? That’s the Futures Game in Target Field. Severino allowed a hit and struck out one in a scoreless inning in that game, back when he was still in High-A ball. That seems like a long time ago now even though it was less than 24 months ago.

Here’s the video of Severino’s inning in the Futures Game. You can’t help but notice how different 2014 Severino looks compared to 2016 Severino:

That’s a very limited look (12 pitches!) but holy moly, that doesn’t look a whole lot like the current version of Severino, does it? The offspeed pitches in particular. His slider averaged 82.3 mph in the 2014 Futures Game while his changeup averaged 83.3 mph. This year Severino’s slider and changeup have averaged 89.4 mph and 89.6 mph, respectively. Huge difference!

Having watched Severino this season, I feel comfortable saying his problems are more a result of poor location than poor stuff. That said, I do think it’s fair to wonder if Severino is being hurt by a lack of velocity separation. Hitters know everything he throws is going to be hard, up around 90 mph and above. They don’t have to worry about that low-80s pitch with a wrinkle in it.

We hear it all the time: pitching is about disrupting a hitter’s timing, and when you throw everything at a similar velocity, it gives the hitter a better chance to time it. Movement and location aren’t always enough to compensate. Right now, hitters can focus on hard stuff with Severino, giving them that much better of a chance to square him up. A little less velocity on the slider and changeup could equal more whiffs and more weak contact.

I have no idea what happened to Severino between the 2014 Futures Game and now. He’s a young man, remember. Severino turned 22 in February, meaning he was only 20 during the Futures Game. He was still maturing physically and he could have added arm strength between now and then. It could be he tweaked his mechanics and unlocked some velocity. Maybe he was holding back at the Futures Game because his schedule had been thrown out of whack. Who knows?

If I had my pick, I would probably take sliders and changeups in the upper-80s rather than the low-80s, but what the hell do I know. Severino’s secondary pitches have not been particularly effective this season and I wonder if scaling back and subtracting some velocity to create more separation with the fastball would help. That theoretically would help his fastball play up too. It’s not often throwing hard is a problem. When it comes to Severino’s slider and changeup, it just might be.

The Yankees and the difference between actual velocity and perceived velocity

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Since the start of last season, Statcast has opened our eyes to all sorts of cool stuff that we knew existed in baseball, but were unable to measure. Exit velocity, outfielder first step quickness, things like that. All this information is new and we’re still learning how to use it — at-bat by at-bat exit velocity updates are the worst thing on Twitter these days — but it’s all really neat and interesting.

One of these fun new Statcast tools is “perceived velocity,” which measures how fast a pitch “plays” when factoring in things like extension and release point. We’ve all seen pitchers with a 92 mph fastball who get hitters to react like it’s 95 mph, and vice versa. Here is the perceived velocity definition from MLB.com’s glossary:

Perceived Velocity is an attempt to quantify how fast a pitch appears to a hitter, by factoring the Velocity of the pitch and the release point of the pitcher. It takes Velocity one step further — because a 95 mph fastball will reach a hitter faster if the pitcher releases the ball seven feet in front of the rubber instead of six.

To attain Perceived Velocity, the average Major League “Extension” must first be obtained. Any pitcher who releases the ball from behind the average Extension will have a lower Perceived Velocity than actual Velocity. On the other hand, if a pitcher releases the ball from in front of the average Extension, he’ll have a higher Perceived Velocity than actual Velocity.

Perceived velocity seems pretty important, right? More important than actual velocity, I think. Since the start of last season the league average fastball velocity is 92.5 mph while the league average perceived velocity is 92.1 mph. That’s not a negligible difference. There’s much more to it than the raw radar gun reading.

So, with an assist from Baseball Savant, let’s look over the Yankees’ pitching staff and compare average fastball velocities to perceived fastball velocities. These are numbers since the start of last season to give us the largest sample possible.

The Starters

Average Velocity Perceived Velocity “Gain”
CC Sabathia 89.96 90.93 +0.97
Michael Pineda 93.42 93.65 +0.23
Luis Severino 95.83 95.47 -0.36
Masahiro Tanaka 91.81 91.03 -0.78
Nathan Eovaldi 97.29 96.43 -0.86
Ivan Nova 93.31 92.32 -0.99

There are some pretty big differences between average velocity and perceived velocity in the rotation. Sabathia is a big man with a long stride, so it makes sense his fastball plays up and appears faster than what the radar gun tells you. He’s releasing the ball that much closer to home plate. Of course, a 90.93 mph perceived velocity is still well below the league average, but that’s what Sabathia has to work with at this point of his career.

On the other end of the spectrum is Nova, who is unable to gain any extra velocity through extension despite being 6-foot-4. His fastball looks a full mile an hour slower to the hitter than what the radar gun says. The ability to see the ball well out of Nova’s hand has always been a knock against him. He doesn’t have much deception in his delivery and the perceived velocity data suggests he lacks extension too. That’s why Nova’s always been more hittable than his stuff would lead you to believe.

The same is true of Eovaldi, though he brings much more raw velocity to the table than Nova and most other starting pitchers. Eovaldi is not as tall as most of his rotation mates (6-foot-2) so his stride isn’t as long, which costs him some perceived velocity. He’s the poster child for pitchers with big fastballs and small results. His new splitter has really made a big difference because it gives hitters something else to think about. Before they could zero in on the fastball.

I have nothing to back this up, but the 0.78 mph difference between Tanaka’s average fastball and perceived fastball seems to matter less to him than it would other pitchers. Tanaka is basically a splitter/slider pitcher with a show-me fastball. Nova and Eovaldi rely on their fastballs much more heavily because their secondary pitches aren’t as good. I don’t mean that as a knock. Most pitchers rely on their heater. Tanaka’s an outlier. The lack of perceived velocity could help explain why he’s so homer prone though.

The Relievers

Average Velocity Perceived Velocity “Gain”
Andrew Miller 94.60 95.41 +0.81
Aroldis Chapman 99.92 100.32 +0.40
Dellin Betances 97.49 97.65 +0.16
Chasen Shreve 91.85 91.28 -0.57
Kirby Yates 93.16 92.05 -1.11

These five guys have been the constants in the bullpen this season. The other two spots — sometimes it has been three other spots — have been used as shuttle spots to cycle arms in and out as necessary.

The big three all gain some velocity through their release points because they’re all so damn tall. I’m actually sort of surprised the difference between Betances’ average fastball velocity and perceived fastball velocity is so small, relatively speaking. He has such a massively long stride …

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

… that you’d think his fastball would play up. Then again, it’s not where your leg lands, it’s where you release the ball. Miller has those long lanky arms and he seems to sling his pitches towards the batter, and those long limbs and funky angles make his already speedy fastball seem ever faster. Same with Chapman. Good grief. His fastball somehow looks faster to the hitter than the radar gun reading. That can’t be fun.

Yates is pretty interesting. He’s listed at 5-foot-10 and he has that compact little delivery, so his fastball looks much slower to the hitter than what the radar gun tells us. That said, Yates is not a reliever who tries to throw the ball by hitters. His key to his success is his slider, which he throws nearly 40% of the time. The fastball may play down according to perceived velocity, but he’s not trying to get guys out with the heater anyway. It’s all about the slider with Kirby.

Miscellaneous Arms

Average Velocity Perceived Velocity “Gain”
Branden Pinder 92.25 94.35 +2.10
Bryan Mitchell 95.67 96.57 +0.90
Chad Green 94.43 95.32 +0.89
Nick Rumbelow 93.60 93.90 +0.30
Nick Goody 91.54 91.54 +0.00
James Pazos 94.16 93.59 -0.57
Jacob Lindgren 89.78 89.20 -0.58
Luis Cessa 92.53 91.62 -0.91
Johnny Barbato 95.28 93.54 -1.74

These are the so-called shuttle pitchers, some of whom haven’t pitched in the big leagues at all this season due to injury. The samples are all very small — Mitchell leads the group with 298 fastballs thrown since the start of last year, and in some cases (Green, Pazos, Cessa, Lindgren) we’re looking at 60 or fewer fastballs — so these numbers are FYI only. There’s something to look at that, not something that should be taken seriously right now.

The numbers are on the extremes are pretty fascinating. Statcast says Pinder’s fastball has played more than two full miles an hour faster than what the radar gun says. Barbato is the opposite. His fastball plays down nearly two miles an hour. Pinder is listed at 6-foot-4 and Barbato at 6-foot-1, so there’s a big height difference, but look at their strides too (you can click the image for a larger view):

Barbato (left) via Getty, Pinder (right) via Presswire
Barbato (left) via Getty; Pinder (right) via Presswire

I know this is amateur hour with the photos, sorry. In my defense, it’s really tough to find photos of up and down relievers who have thrown a combined 41.2 innings in the big leagues.

Anyway, you can still kinda see the differences in their strides with those two photos. Both are about to release the ball, yet Pinder is so much closer to the plate that his back foot is already disconnected from the rubber. Look at the angles of their legs too. Barbato is standing a bit more upright, which means he’s not striding as far forward.

Just like regular old velocity, perceived velocity alone is not the key to pitching, but it is definitely part of the equation. Those extra miles an hour — or, to be more precise, the appearance of those extra miles an hour — disrupt timing and give hitters less time to react. Mike Fast once showed a difference of one mile an hour of velocity equates to roughly one-quarter of a run of ERA.

Perceived velocity still doesn’t tell us why Eovaldi’s fastball is less effective than Miller’s, for example. Eovaldi’s heater has Miller’s beat in terms of both average and perceived velocity. I do find it interesting someone as tall as Sabathia can “add” a mile per hour to his heater with his size while a short pitcher like Yates “losses” a mile an hour. Intuitively it all makes sense. It’s just cool to be able to put some numbers on it now.

Severino should not automatically re-enter the rotation once healthy

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Let’s get straight to the point: the Yankees were counting on Luis Severino to be really good this season. Everyone from Joe Girardi to Brian Cashman to Hal Steinbrenner said one of the reasons they expected the 2016 Yankees to be better than the 2015 Yankees was Severino. They were going to have him for a full season after his strong eleven-start debut a year ago.

Folks were calling Severino the ace of staff before the season got underway and there was even talk about starting him on Opening Day ahead of Masahiro Tanaka. I always thought the instant ace stuff was too much, too soon. Young players often go through growing pains and expecting a 22-year-old with minimal experience to lead the staff of a team trying to contend was very optimistic. Not everyone is Clayton Kershaw.

That doesn’t mean I expected Severino to be bad. In fact, I expected him to be pretty darn good, albeit with some inevitable bumps in the road along the way. ZiPS pegged Severino as a true talent 3.80 ERA (3.85 FIP) pitcher coming into 2016 and that sounded pretty good to me. I probably would have signed up for 175 innings of that before the season. A 22-year-old pitching his home games in Yankee Stadium? That works.

I certainly didn’t expect Severino to pitch this poorly. Not even the most pessimistic folks could have imagined this. One hundred and twenty nine pitchers have thrown at least 30 innings this season, and Severino ranks 127th in ERA (7.46) and 116th in FIP (5.48). Cashman said a demotion to Triple-A was on the table — the Yankees shuffled their Triple-A rotation to make sure Luis Cessa and Severino were on the same schedule — but, before that could happen, Severino got hurt. He left Friday’s start with a triceps strain.

Injuries often explain poor performance and in a weird way Severino’s injury felt like a bit of a relief. It was a possible explanation for his problems. Cashman shot that down though. Following the injury, the GM offered a brutally honest assessment of Severino’s season to date. From Justin Tasch:

“No, no, no,” Cashman said. “His stuff’s not there, bottom line. His arm strength is there, but his stuff is not there. He doesn’t have command of his fastball. He doesn’t have command of his secondary pitches. His changeup and slider have been inconsistent. It’s not health related.”

Cashman confirmed Severino will make a rehab start but would not commit to him stepping right back into the rotation once healthy, and that’s smart. Even if he didn’t leave Friday’s start with an injury, a demotion to Triple-A felt inevitable. It would have been very hard to justify continuing to send the kid out there every fifth day to take a beating.

Severino grabbed at his elbow on the mound Friday and that was scary as hell. These days it’s easy to assume the worst, meaning ligament damage. A triceps strain is not as severe as ligament damage but it’s still not good. Justin Verlander missed two months with a triceps strain just last year. Severino’s strain was termed “mild,” though who knows what that means. Chances are this won’t be a 15-day stint on the DL. Let’s put it that way.

What the injury does is buy the Yankees and Severino some time. Yes, it would be far more preferable to have him healthy and able to pitch, but that’s not an option. Severino has a chance to clear his head a bit — he’ll be shut down a week before picking up a ball anyway — and then be brought back slowly with a throwing program. It’s an opportunity to get back to the basics and fix whatever is wrong.

That “fix whatever is wrong” part is very important. I don’t think Severino should return to the big leagues until those command issues are solved and he’s having more success locating his slider and changeup. If that means he has to go to Triple-A for a few weeks once he’s healthy, fine. I think it’s reached that point with Severino. The Yankees will be getting CC Sabathia back Friday and they have decent enough depth in Cessa and Chad Green.

Teams always have to balance the short-term with the long-term, though the Yankees have been focused more on the short-term over the last 20 years or so. In Severino’s case, they have to take the long-term view and do what’s best for him as a player, because that’s what’s best for the organization. Bringing him back once he’s healthy just because he’s healthy is a wrong move. There has to be improvement in the secondary pitches and command first.

Many young pitchers have gotten lit up early in their careers before finally finding what works for them. Go look at what Roy Halladay and Johan Santana and Zack Greinke did in their first few seasons as a big leaguer. It was ugly. That isn’t to say Severino will become those guys one day, it just means getting there isn’t always easy. Severino is obviously very talented, but right now he has some real flaws, and he shouldn’t return to the big leagues until he shows improvement.