There’s a lot at stake with Nova’s return to the rotation

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Last night, Ivan Nova made his first start in place of the injured CC Sabathia, and it went … okay. Not great, not bad. He was serviceable. One run on six hits and a walk in 4.2 innings isn’t awful, especially since he was on a pitch limit. That’s about as good as you can expect from your sixth starter in his first start out of the bullpen.

“It was a good night for me. I faced the last batter and saw 81 pitches and I knew I was coming out,” said Nova to Dan Martin after the game. Joe Girardi added, “He did a tremendous job. I hated that I had to pull him out. I was hoping he would get a double play with the last batter to get the win, but it wasn’t meant to be.”

Sabathia beat out Nova for the fifth starter’s job in Spring Training and he’s been pretty good in the early going. The Yankees hope he can return following the minimum 15 days on the DL, but that’s no guarantee, so Nova is in the rotation for the foreseeable future. There’s quite a bit at stake here in the meantime.

  1. Wins. Duh. If Nova pitches poorly, the Yankees probably won’t win because the offense has been stinky. The team needs all the wins they can get right now.
  2. A Rotation Spot. Nova may be replacing Sabathia, but that does not necessarily mean he’ll automatically go back to the bullpen when CC is activated. Nova wants to make the Yankees think long and hard about sending Luis Severino to Triple-A.
  3. Trade Value. This is more relevant to the Yankees than Nova. The better Ivan pitches, the more the team could get for him in a trade at the deadline if it comes to that.
  4. Free Agent Stock. This is more relevant to Nova than the Yankees. Nova’s going to be a free agent after the season, so the better he pitches, the more he can demand on the open market.

This stint in the rotation, however long it may be, is a big opportunity for Nova. He has a lot to gain as an impending free agent. Ivan has to pitch well to keep his rotation spot and maximize his free agent stock. And, ironically, pitching well could land him in another uniform via trade come July.

Money is a great motivator, and by MLB player standards, Nova hasn’t made much of it in his career. His career earnings check in at a bit under $9M, so you know he’s hoping to land that huge payday after the season. Pitching well during this stint as Sabathia’s replacement is Nova’s first step in building free agent value.

The Yankees tried and failed to trade Nova over the winter and I think that’s a good thing. He wasn’t good last season and his trade value was at an all-time low. I think he is more valuable as a depth arm than anything he could have realistically fetch in a trade. They’re fortunate they have him now with Severino struggling and Bryan Mitchell hurt, and the possibility exists for him to increase his value. Moving Nova for the sake of moving him never did make much sense to me.

For now, Nova is in the rotation and he’s still getting stretched back out. The single most important thing at the moment is winning games. The Yankees dug themselves quite a hole and need Nova to do more than hold down the fort. They need him to thrive to help them make up ground. And if he does thrive, that’s opens a lot of doors, both in the rotation and in terms of trade and free agent value.

More cutters and fewer four-seam fastballs have helped Sabathia regain some effectiveness in 2016

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Seven months ago CC Sabathia left Camden Yards and entered an alcohol treatment center. Last night Sabathia pitched in Camden Yards for the first time since rehab and he had his best start of the season, holding the Orioles scoreless over seven innings. Sabathia has been through it all as a baseball player. I’m sure last night’s game was as special as any win in his career.

“It’s a big contrast from me standing in this locker room last time. To be able to go out and get us a win felt great,” said Sabathia to Chad Jennings after the game. Joe Girardi added, “I’m sure it meant a lot. I kind of thought about it as we came into the ballpark and it was his day to pitch. The circumstances were a little bit different (last time). I’m sure it meant a lot. It meant a lot to this club.”

Through five full rotation turns Sabathia has been New York’s second best starting pitcher behind Masahiro Tanaka. Only Tanaka has a better ERA (2.87 to 3.81) and a better FIP (2.78 to 3.53) among the team’s five starters. That’s pretty surprising considering the Yankees made Sabathia compete for a rotation spot in Spring Training, or at least they said Sabathia had to compete for a rotation spot.

The changeup was Sabathia’s best pitch last night — the O’s missed eight times on 13 swings against the change — but it’s another pitch that has allowed him to have this success early on: the cutter. Sabathia has been toying with a cutter on and off for years now, and for most part it was just talk. He would say he was working on it and then throw maybe one or two per start. Now he’s committed to it. From Brooks Baseball:

CC Sabathia pitch selection

Notice the cutter has more or less replaced the four-seam fastball in Sabathia’s arsenal. In fact, PitchFX says he’s thrown 13 four-seam fastballs all season. He threw 27 cutters just last night. It’s for the best too. Last season opponents hit .300 with a .167 ISO against Sabathia’s four-seamer. The league averages were .269 and .175 last year, respectively. “Stop throwing an ineffective pitch” is a good strategy as long as you have a way to compensate.

The cutter has given Sabathia a way to compensate. He doesn’t throw hard anymore — Sabathia hasn’t thrown a pitch over 92.4 mph all season — so the extra movement is crucial. So is the location. More than ever before, Sabathia has to disrupt the hitter’s timing and keep them guessing. “That’s exactly what happened,” said Girardi after last night’s game. “Just kind of keep guys off balance. Try to out-think them and make some good pitches.”

Once again per Brooks Baseball, here is the strike zone heat map of Sabathia’s cutter location this season. This is from the catcher’s point of view and, in a nutshell, the brighter the red, the more cutters in that location. The brighter the blue, the fewer cutters in that spot.

CC Sabathia cutter locations

Sabathia is getting the cutter right in on the hands of right-handed batters to jam them and even back them off the plate. He did that last night and it set up all those swings and misses on changeups away. The O’s had seven right-handed hitters in their starting lineup and it played right into Sabathia’s cutter/changeup plan. It’s might not be a coincidence that in the other two starts in which he completed six innings, the Tigers and Rangers had eight and seven righties in the lineup, respectively.

Last year right-handed hitters meant bad news for Sabathia. They hit .304/.363/.502 (.370 wOBA) against him in 2015, so Sabathia essentially turned every righty hitter he faced into Manny Machado (.286/.359/.502/.370). That’s bad. So far this season CC has not been great against righties, but he has been a bit better.

AVG/OBP/SLG wOBA K% BB% GB% Hard% Soft%
2015 vs. RHB .304/.363/.502 .370 16.2% 7.5% 47.0% 30.9% 15.3%
2016 vs. RHB .290/.350/.391 .328 16.8% 6.9% 47.3% 26.3% 26.3%

A .290 average and a .350 OBP still isn’t good, obviously, but righties haven’t hit for the same extra base power. The big increase in soft contact rate is most encouraging. Righties haven’t been squaring up as many pitches against Sabathia so far this season and that’s because he is now pounding them inside with cutters. He’s jamming them and missing the sweet spot. That wasn’t happening with the four-seamer.

Coming into this season Sabathia was viewed as the fifth starter and for good reason. He simply hasn’t been all that good in recent years. Tanaka has been the unquestioned staff ace, but Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi continue to be consistently inconsistent, and Luis Severino has been shockingly bad early on. Through five starts Sabathia has stepped up and been rock solid for the Yankees, thanks partly to his new knee brace and also to a new cutter, one he actually throws.

Poll: The Next Step with Luis Severino

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

Last night, young right-hander Luis Severino made his fifth start of the season, and once again he was not good. He allowed four runs (three earned) in six innings and made a pair of carbon copy errors when he dropped a toss from Mark Teixeira because he was looking for first base rather than looking the ball into his glove. It was not a pretty night.

Through five starts Severino ranks 95th out of 101 qualified starters with a 6.31 ERA. His 4.44 FIP is better but still not good; it ranks 72nd out of those 101 pitchers. Also, his 13.8% strikeout rate ranks 94th. There’s no way to sugarcoat it: Severino has been bad this season. You really have to squint your eyes for positives. (He has the tenth lowest walk rate at 4.3%, so yay?)

“If necessary,” said Brian Cashman to Chad Jennings yesterday afternoon when asked about the possibility of sending Severino to Triple-A. “If we feel that’s what has to take place, that’s definitely an avenue that’s open. Hopefully it doesn’t have to come to that, but if that’s what’s in his best interest, and therefore our best interest, that’s something I have no problem doing.”

After another rough start, the talk about sending Severino to the minors is only going to continue. The Yankees have a ready made rotation replacement in Ivan Nova, or, if you prefer, they could call up either Luis Cessa or Chad Green from Triple-A Scranton since both have pitched well overall. When a young pitcher struggles, he gets sent back to the minors. That’s the way it’s always been.

A week ago I said it was a bit too early to send Severino to Triple-A. Now, after another rough outing, a strong case can be made on both sides. There’s an argument to be made for sending Severino down and an argument to be made for keeping him here. I’m not convinced there’s a right answer at the moment either. Let’s look at the two sides.

The Case For Keeping Severino Around

The rough start to this season can make it easy to forget just how dominant Severino was in the minors. From 2014-15 he had a 2.45 ERA (2.42 FIP) with a 26.4% strikeout rate and a 6.3% walk rate in 212.2 minor league innings. He climbed from Low-A to Triple-A in the span of about 14 months. Severino allowed more than three runs only three times in 43 starts from 2014-15. He allowed more than two runs only ten times. Dominant.

Severino has mastered the minors. He can go down to Triple-A and overwhelm hitters with his fastball alone, and that doesn’t accomplish much developmentally. Severino, like everyone else ever, needs to be challenged to continue his development, and it was not until he got to the big leagues that he was challenged consistently.

As best I can tell, most of Severino’s issues right now are location related. He’s missing his spots and not by an inch or two either. I refer you back to Mark Trumbo’s first home run last night:

Luis Severino Mark Trumbo1

Yeah, Brian McCann wanted it down and away, and Severino threw it up and in. That’s a mistake you can get away with in the minors when you throw 95+ like Severino. Big league hitters will make you pay for that pitch. Triple-A hitters often do not. That pitch shows up as a K in the minor league box score and that K leaves out all the important stuff.

The Yankees can force Severino to work on specific things in the minors — you need to throw this many down and away sliders per start, etc. — though they’ll never be able to replicate the MLB atmosphere. The intensity and the quality of the competition is totally different. Severino could go down, dot the corners with sliders for a month, then come back up and struggle again because it’s a much different game in the show.

Remember, Severino is only 22 years old. He’s a young 22 too. His birthday is in February, so he’ll spend the entire season at that age. He still has a lot to learn, and it seems Severino has learned all he can in the minors given the success he had. The next phase of his development is learning how to get big league hitters out, and that’s not something you can do in Triple-A.

The Case For Sending Severino Down

Let’s start with this: Severino is not pitching well and these games count, so the Yankees should swap him out for a more effective pitcher. That’s pretty simple, right? At the end of the day, results are the only thing that matters in MLB. It’s all about wins and losses, and the current version of Severino is not getting the results that help the Yankees win.

Beyond that, the Yankees can more easily target specific deficiencies in Severino’s game in the minors. They can have him throw X number of whatever per start in Triple-A regardless of situation because the final score doesn’t matter. Sending players to the minors is not about stats. The Yankees won’t send Severino down, watch him pitch to a 2.00 ERA for six weeks, then call him back up because the results are good. Nope. You send a player down to work on specific things, and once the necessary improvement is there, the player comes back up.

There’s also the confidence factor to consider. Severino is only human. He’s struggling, and when you’re a young player who is experiencing failure for the first time, it can be easy to get down on yourself. Imagine how Severino must of have felt last night after giving up two dingers and making those two errors. That has to be tough. An assignment to Triple-A gives him a chance to catch his breath and experience some success again.

* * *

Right now big league hitters are telling Severino he has to make adjustments to stick around, and the Yankees must decide whether they want him make those adjustments in the Bronx or in Scranton. We’re at the point now where having his conversation is not unwarranted. After one or two bad starts? Nah. Too soon to talk about it. But after five? Yeah, this is a thing now. What side of the argument are you on?

Should should the Yankees do with Severino?

Michael Pineda, Nate Eovaldi, and the struggle to manage contact

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Three nights ago Nathan Eovaldi threw the best game by a Yankee this season. He took a no-hitter into the seventh inning and finished the night with two hits allowed in seven scoreless frames. Eovaldi has dazzled at times earlier this season, but it was always followed by the One Bad Inning. He avoided that bad inning Tuesday night.

“Uncomfortable swings. You can tell how good a guy is by the reaction of the hitters. They were swinging at pitches in the dirt. They were swinging at pitches over their heads,” said Mark Teixeira to Randy Miller after the game. “It’s just an uncomfortable at-bat. He’s throwing 97-98. When he needs to throw a strike on the corner, he does. But when he needs to put guys away with tough offspeed pitches in the dirt or high fastballs, he did that as well.”

Eovaldi’s raw stuff and potential are obvious. He’s one of the hardest throwing starters in baseball, and he’s developed a pretty nasty splitter over the last year or so. On Tuesday he mixed in a quality slider as well. Eovaldi’s impressive stuff has not yet translated to consistently impressive results, but every so often he has a game like Tuesday that reels you back in. Most of his starts are spent pitching around hits and trying to find a way to put guys away with two strikes.

Over the years we’ve learned things like strikeouts, walks, and home runs — stuff the pitcher can directly control — are more predictive than traditional stats like wins and ERA and WHIP. That’s DIPS Theory, something the Yankees buy into big time. They targeted Eovaldi because from 2012-14, he whittled his FIP down from 4.13 to 3.59 to 3.37. The team likes high strikeout rates and low walk rates, and the more velocity, the better. Intuitively that’s a no-brainer, but not every team emphasizes it as much as the Yankees.

As valuable as FIP (and xFIP and SIERA and all that) can be, there are exceptions to the rule. Guys like Bronson Arroyo and Mark Buehrle proved over hundreds and thousands of innings they can outperform their FIP. They did a better job preventing runs than their peripheral stats would lead you to believe. On the other side of the coin, guys like Ricky Nolasco and Edwin Jackson underperformed their FIP. They didn’t prevent runs as well as their strikeout, walk, and homer rates suggested they could.

The exceptions exist because pitchers do have some control over the quality of the contact they allow. Some pitchers, like Arroyo and Buehrle and Mariano Rivera, were able to consistently miss the barrel of the bat and generate weak contact. They did it through location, late movement, and general craftiness. The Nolascos and Jacksons of the pitching world struggle to miss the sweet spot.

Based on what we’ve seen the last few years, Eovaldi and rotation mate Michael Pineda fit into the Nolasco/Jackson category. They’ve underperformed their FIP because have a hard time managing contact:

Eovaldi: 4.22 ERA and 3.44 FIP in 179 innings from 2015-16
Pineda: 4.68 ERA and 3.61 FIP in 182.2 innings from 2015-16

Their strikeout and walk rates are great! But when they make a mistake, hitters square it up and drive the ball with authority. Pineda and Eovaldi don’t get weak contact. Not like Buehrle and Arroyo and other guys.

Here’s a plot of the 99 pitchers who have thrown at least 150 innings since the start of last season. You’ve got FIP on the x-axis and BABIP on the y-axis. BABIP tells us how often the ball falls in for a hit when hitters do make contact, so it covers all the at-bats that don’t end in a strikeout or walk (or homer). You can click the image for a larger view.

2015-16 BABIP vs FIP

“Luck” has become such a crutch word in sabermetric writing — nowadays it’s “sequencing,” which is usually code for “I can’t explain this” — but there absolutely exists some element of plain ol’ luck in baseball. We’re talking about a round ball and a round bat and a big swath of grass. Sometimes weird stuff happens. That’s what makes it fun.

Pineda and Eovaldi, as you can see in the plot, find themselves among a group of pitchers who have posted low FIPs but high BABIPs since the start of the last season. They’re right next to A.J. Burnett, which is a tad disheartening. Those guys have the sexy strikeout and walk rates, but when hitters make contact, the hits are falling in. The true greats — Clayton Kershaw, Jake Arrieta, Zack Greinke, etc. — run low FIPs and low BABIPs.

No one in their right mind is asking or expecting Pineda and Eovaldi to be Kershaw or Arrieta. It would be cool if they were, but come on. What the Yankees do want, however, are those two to do a better job managing the contact they allow. Mistake pitches happen. It’s part of baseball. Not every mistake should be hit 500 feet though. That’s the problem. When they miss their spots, they pay for it and pay big.

Eovaldi and Pineda are classic examples of good control/bad command pitchers. They throw plenty of strikes, we can see that in their low walk rates (7.0% and 3.4% since 2015, respectively), but they are unable to consistently locate on the edges. They’re throwing strikes, and unfortunately sometimes those strikes are right down the middle. Look at the heat map of Pineda’s fastball location since last season, via Brooks Baseball:

Michael Pineda fastball location

Good grief. There should not be that much red down the middle Michael! Eovaldi has a similar problem. He can throw strikes, but far too often they’re in hittable locations, and the batters make them pay. There’s a very fine line between a pitch being squared up and a pitch being nubbed off the end of the bat for weak contact. Eovaldi and Pineda have shown they can’t miss the sweet spot consistently. We see it pretty much every five days.

Command is one of those things that can be taught but is very difficult to learn. And really, there’s more to managing contact than command. Movement and deception play a huge role as well. The very best pitchers have all three. Pineda and Eovaldi have live arms. They’re also missing that something that allows them to be truly great, the thing that makes their run prevention numbers match their peripheral stats. Nolasco, Jackson, Burnett, and others had the same problem.

Because they’re still young and have power stuff, Pineda and Eovaldi are going to continue to get chances and big contracts as long as they stay healthy. It’s good to throw in the upper-90s like Eovaldi and it’s good to have a wicked slider like Pineda. Until they are able to do a better job managing contact and missing the barrel, either through improved command or increased movement or whatever, they seem destined to be the kind of pitchers who always leave you wanting more.

Yankeemetrics: It’s getting late early [April 25-27]

Nasty Nate (Tim Heitman/USA Today Sports Images)
Nasty Nate (Tim Heitman/USA Today Sports Images)

Near No-No Nate
Nathan Eovaldi‘s chance to make history fell just short on Monday night, but he still established a new level of pitching dominance for Yankee starters this season and helped the team start its road trip with a 3-1 win over the Rangers.

Eovaldi dominated the Rangers lineup, holding them hitless through six innings until Nomar Mazara led off the top of the seventh with a single. He finished with a stellar line of seven-plus innings, no runs, two hits, six strikeouts and one walk, becoming the lone Yankee starter to produce a scoreless outing in 2016. His Game Score of 77 also set a new benchmark for the rotation.

He consistently got ahead in the count, and while pitching with the advantage, was able to get hitters to chase his diving splitter out of the zone. The Rangers went 0-for-12 in at-bats ending in his split-fingered fastball; six of those outs were swinging strikeouts, and five were harmless grounders. His command of his slider was just as impressive: he threw 19 of them, 17 for strikes, and none resulted in a hit.

Although Eovaldi missed out on etching his name in the record books, he did put himself on a couple lists with some pretty good names. The last Yankee to throw at least seven shutout innings while giving up no more than two hits against the Rangers in Texas was Ron Guidry (1980). It was also his eighth straight game with at least six strikeouts, the longest streak by a Yankee right-hander since Roger Clemens in 2001.

From best to worst
One day after Eovaldi spun a gem, Luis Severino produced the exact opposite – a terrible performance in which he was pummeled by the Rangers’ bats and allowed twice as many runs (six) as innings pitched (three). Severino’s Game Score of 20 was the worst for any Yankee starter this season, and it was also the shortest outing for any pinstriped starter.

The Rangers ultimately cruised to a 10-1 victory, handing the Yankees their worst loss in Arlington since a 13-3 beating on August 21, 2001.

The most frustrating part was that numerous times the Yankees seemed thisclose to escaping an inning with no harm done, but were stung by several crushing two-out hits. Nine of the 10 runs allowed by the Yankees came with two outs, continuing a troubling trend for the team.

After Tuesday’s disaster, they had surrendered 49 two-out runs, by far the most of any AL team (the Tigers were second with 39), and the Yankees easily led the league in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging and OPS allowed with two outs.

Dead Bats Society
Following their 3-2 loss on Wednesday night, there are few words left to describe the magnitude of the Yankees’ near-historic offensive struggles this season, so let’s just recap with some facts (because numbers never lie):

• Yankees have scored 72 runs, their fewest thru 20 games since 1990. And that season ended … um, not good.
• They’ve tallied two runs or fewer in 10 of 20 games, the most for any Yankee team this early into the season since 1966. Yuck.
• Yankees are the only major-league team this season that’s scored two-or-fewer runs in at least half of their games. Disgusting.
• They’ve scored three runs or fewer 15 times this season. Over the last 100 years, no other Yankee club has ever done that more times in the team’s first 20 games. Ugh.
• Since their game in Detroit was postponed on April 10, the Yankees have played 15 games and scored more than four runs just once. Gross.

On a more positive note, A-Rod returned from his oblique injury and produced his best game of the season, going 3-for-3 with a homer, double and single. It was his 543rd career double, tying Tony Gwynn for 32nd place all-time. Next up on the list is The Captain, Derek Jeter, with 544. A-Rod also scored his 1,000th run as a Yankee, the 12th player in franchise history to reach that milestone, and is one of nine players to total at least 1,000 runs and 1,000 RBIs in pinstripes. The other guys? Mattingly, Bernie, Jeter, Yogi, Mantle, DiMaggio, Ruth and Gehrig.

Despite rough start, it’s still too early to send Severino to Triple-A

(Rick Yeatts/Getty)
(Rick Yeatts/Getty)

With a Game Score of 20, Luis Severino had the worst start of his relatively brief big league career last night. The Rangers tagged him for six runs on seven hits and two walks (one intentional) in only three innings of work. He struck out one and got only four swings and misses out of 74 pitches. It was not good. Texas really did a number on him.

Following that disaster Severino is sitting on a 6.86 ERA (3.66 FIP) with 32 hits allowed in 19.2 innings on the season. The good news is he’s only walked three batters, and one of those was intentional, but he’s also struck out only 12. A 13.5% strikeout rate is really bad. Only seven pitchers have a lower strikeout rate, and they’re guys like Mike Pelfrey (9.1%) and broken Doug Fister (11.2%).

The story last night was the same as Severino’s first three starts: his location was terrible. David Cone had a really great breakdown of Severino’s mistakes on the YES broadcast, showing how he missed the target on some of the hits he allowed. He didn’t miss by a few inches. Severino was missing by the width of the plate and up in the zone. It doesn’t matter how hard you throw with location that poor.

“I thought he was up with his fastball. It seemed like the fastballs that they hit were between the thigh and the waist, and he had a hard time throwing his offspeed for strikes,” said Joe Girardi after the game (video link). “It kind of put him in a tough situation, and they definitely took advantage of it.”

Severino barely resembles the pitcher he was late last season even though the PitchFX data says his fastball is still sitting 97 mph with sliders and changeups around 90 mph. The hitters are telling you all you need to know. They’re squaring him up consistently and the strikeouts are much harder to come by. That’s concerning. This is a 22-year-old kid who increased his workload by 48.2 innings last year, remember. There could be a hangover effect.

It would be very easy and, frankly, justifiable for the Yankees to send Severino to Triple-A for some tune-up work after these four starts. They have a ready made rotation replacement in Ivan Nova and Severino has some very clear flaws to correct. He seems incapable of getting his slider down in the zone, and his fastball location has generally been crap. A trip to Triple-A lets him work on that stuff in a place where results don’t matter.

I think it’s a little too early to take that step though. For starters, Severino hasn’t gotten rocked every time out. One start ago he tossed six innings of two run ball, remember. Secondly, I’m a big believer in failure as a learning tool. Severino never struggled in the minors. The guy zoomed up the ladder because he dominated minor league hitters. Severino can lean on his fastball and have a lot of success with ol’ No. 1 and nothing else down there.

The minors were not much of a challenge for Severino. He is being challenged at the MLB level now and the hitters are telling him he has to adjust. That’s the name of the game. Make the adjustments and correct your flaws or you won’t be around long. By all accounts Severino is a hard worker and a kid with tremendous poise, so that’s not an issue. He just needs to fine-tune his game like so many other 22-year-olds.

“I’m sure it’s tough right now cause he’s probably never struggled until (he got to) this level,” added Girardi. “But that’s part of it, too. You have to fight in this game. This game is not easy. If it was easy, everyone would do it. Everyone gets knocked down in this game, and you have to get back up and you have to go to work.”

Yes, there is absolutely a point when Severino’s struggles will become too much and a trip to the minors is necessary. That’s true for every young player. I don’t think Severino is at that point yet. His stuff is firm and not he’s walking anyone, so this isn’t a kid who has been scared out of the strike zone and is getting himself into trouble by nibbling. Once that starts happening, you have to begin to worry about his confidence.

Severino’s start to the new season has been very disappointing. I can’t imagine anyone feels otherwise. Four starts is only four starts though. Severino didn’t go from MLB ready to Triple-A caliber in three weeks. His location must improve. It’s imperative. For now, the Yankees should let him work through his issues at the big league level. If the same problems persist in a few weeks, the team can reassess and see if a change needs to be made then.

Yankees want to see improvement from Severino, not just the offense, Thursday against the A’s

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

When a team struggles offensively, especially as much as the Yankees have struggled of late, it’s almost like nothing else matters. The bats have been comically bad these last few games, and there’s nothing in baseball more frustrating than not scoring runs. I’d rather watch a good offense/bad pitching team over a bad offense/good pitching team any day of the week.

As the offense has struggled, it’s been easy to overlook the way the rotation has started to turn the corner. The Yankees have had their starter complete six full innings — a very modest goal, of course — five times in the last seven games, and during that time the rotation has gone from a 5.97 ERA to a 5.01 ERA. Don’t get me wrong, that’s still not great, but it’s progress. They’re moving the right direction.

Young Luis Severino will make his third start of the season tonight, and the first two weren’t all that good. He allowed three runs on ten hits and no walks in five innings against the Tigers first time out, and last week the Mariners tagged him for four runs on eight hits and a walk in 5.2 innings. Two starts is two starts. Every pitcher is going to struggle at some point or another. It’s not a big deal yet.

Severino is a 22-year-old kid who came into the season with some clear developmental goals, most notably commanding his offspeed stuff a little better. He tends to leave his slider up in the zone more than anything. Here is the location of every slider Severino threw in his first two starts, via Baseball Savant:

Luis Severino sliders

Through two starts Severino has thrown 57 sliders, and opponents have more hits (nine) than swings and misses (five) against the pitch. Eight of the nine hits are singles (the other is a double), but still. That is: bad. Slider location is an obvious flaw Severino and pitching coach Larry Rothschild have to correct, and Severino is well aware of it.

“I think I’m trying too much. I’m pulling (my slider), not just throwing it, like I was in Spring Training,” said Severino to Brendan Kuty earlier this week. “I’m missing spots. I’m missing pitches. I’m not commanding my top stuff, and that’s the difference … I’ve been battling myself over there. I have to be better.”

Severino’s potential is so obvious when you watch him on the mound. He has true front of the rotation ability, but like any kid his age, he still has some things to work on. Unlike most kids his age, Severino has to work on them while pitching for the New York Yankees and being hyped up as the next great thing. That can be daunting, though I’ve been impressed by Severino’s poise in his 13 big league starts, and I think we can make those adjustments on the fly.

The story of tonight’s series finale against the Athletics is the offense. The Yankees need to get their bats going, if for no other reason than my sanity. Not scoring runs is just the worst. Severino’s start is a huge sidebar though. He’s struggled his first two times out and we all want to see that frontline ability we saw last year. Severino’s not just some kid they’re breaking in. He’s an important part of the team, and the Yankees need him to be successful.