Smart workload management has Severino in position to help the Yankees down the stretch


Almost immediately after the trade deadline passed, Brian Cashman announced the Yankees were calling up top pitching prospect Luis Severino to bolster their rotation. He’s been better than I think anyone could have reasonably expected too: 2.04 ERA (3.96 FIP) in six starts and 35.1 innings. That’s pretty awesome, especially by “21-year-old kid thrust into a postseason race” standards.

Severino’s performance has been remarkable for a 21-year-old, but being 21 comes with some caveats, specifically workload limitations. The days of Brien Taylor throwing 161.1 innings one year out of high school are long gone. Teams do not let pitchers as young as Severino throw a lot of lot of innings. That’s just the way it is nowadays. And yet, when Severino was called up, Cashman said he had no restrictions.

“There’s nothing that’s going to hold him back now,” said the GM to Ryan Hatch after announcing Severino was joining the rotation. “We prepared for this, and hopefully we have a chance to have him max out, because that will mean he’s pitching deep into games.”

So far this season Severino has thrown 134.2 innings between the minors and the big leagues. That surprised me. I thought the number would be much higher, closer to 150 or even 160. It’s not though, and that’s because the Yankees did an excellent job rationing Severino’s innings earlier this year. As Cashman said, they prepared for this, meaning a late-season call-up.

Severino started the season with Double-A Trenton — easy to forget that now, huh? — and was bumped up to Triple-A Scranton in late-May. In his eight Double-A starts, he threw more than five innings just once, and that was a six-inning outing in which he threw 97 pitches. Severino averaged 4.75 innings and 75.5 pitches per start with the Thunder earlier this year. That’s it.

After being promoted to Triple-A, Severino threw ten starts before being summoned to MLB, and in those ten starts he averaged 6.11 innings and 97.1 pitches. They turned him loose just a bit — Severino completed six full innings four times in those ten Triple-A starts — because it was time to stretch him out. The Yankees had to let Severino build his pitch count and attempt to go through a lineup three times. That’s part of development.

All told, Severino made 19 minor league starts before being called up this year. He averaged 5.23 innings and 82.9 pitches in those 19 starts. Severino topped 100 pitches once (103 on June 16th) and 95+ pitches four times. I remember wondering why the Yankees were being so conservative with Severino in April and May by cutting his starts off after five innings so regularly, and now we know why. They were preparing him for a call-up.

Severino set a career high with 113 innings this season, which appeared to put him in line to throw 150 or so innings this season. That was speculation, not a hard number. Severino came up with 99.1 innings on his arm, and with the end of the regular season a little less than four weeks away, he’s at 134.2 innings. He’s going to wind up finishing the season at 155-160 innings or so, close enough to that 150-inning mark I and a few others speculated was his limit.

Now, innings are not the best way to measure workload. We all know that by now. A hundred pitches in five innings is not the same as 75 pitches in five innings. Innings is just a umbrella term at this point. The Yankees have a lot of experience managing workloads — the Joba Rules, while not carried out out in the best possible way, were well-intentioned — and I’m certain they’re not just counting innings. The Yankees are too analytical to stop there. They’re going deeper than that.

The Mets just had a messy, public spat with Matt Harvey and agent Scott Boras over Harvey’s workload. The Pirates are skipping Gerrit Cole’s start later this week. The Cardinals skipped Michael Wacha’s start last week. All these contenders are trying to control the workload of their young horses, and yet the Yankees are in position to turn Severino loose because of what they did earlier this season. They did it backwards — they limited his work early in the season and he’s ready to go in September.

Obviously the Yankees had the advantage of starting Severino in the minors. It’s much easy to cap a young pitcher’s starts at five innings down there. Harvey and Cole and Wacha have been in the big leagues since Opening Day. You can’t control someone’s workload as easily at this level. The Yankees were in a fortunate position with Severino and took advantage. Next season they’ll have to figure out how to control his innings at the MLB level, which is tough. There’s no right way to do it.

For now, the Yankees have Severino in their rotation with no restrictions, and that’s good because they really need him. The rotation has been thinned out by injury. Does he truly have no restrictions this year? Of course not. They wouldn’t let him throw 200+ innings or something like that. The Yankees don’t have to worry about that though. They smartly manipulated Severino’s innings while he was in the minors and that has put him in position to help down the stretch.

“That’s why we played with the innings the way we did this season. We all sat down numerous times this winter and then again in Spring Training and mapped out this scenario,” added Cashman. “If he performed up to his capabilities, we felt he would pitch for us from August on at some point. And here we are.”

While out with knee injury, CC Sabathia became crucial to the Yankees’ postseason chances

CC Sabathia1

Boy. When it rains, it pours. Brian Cashman delivered some bad injury news prior to last night’s game, announcing Nathan Eovaldi might not return until the postseason due to elbow inflammation. That’s assuming the Yankees make the postseason, of course. The GM also said Mark Teixeira is still on crutches and it’s unclear if he’ll return this year. Brett Gardner? He jammed his shoulder a few weeks ago crashing into the wall.

Greg Bird has stepped in and held down the fort while Teixeira has been out. Despite last night’s ugly game, I’m not sure anyone could have reasonably expected Bird to play this well in the middle of a postseason race in what is his first taste of the big leagues. Replacing Gardner is a bit more tricky even with expanded rosters, though he is expected to rejoin the lineup soon, possibly tonight. Hopefully he gets back on track with a healthy shoulder.

Replacing Eovaldi is another matter. It’s not possible to replace him, at least in the sense that the Yankees can’t replace the pitcher Eovaldi was after picking up the splitter, meaning the guy who had a 2.93 ERA (2.93 FIP!) in 12 starts and 73.2 innings following the disaster in Miami. That guy was awesome. Adam Warren is expected to step back into the rotation and it’ll take a few turns to get him stretched all the way back out. The timing is really bad.

Even with Warren coming back, the pressure is suddenly on CC Sabathia, who is scheduled to come off the disabled list and start tonight’s series finale against the Orioles. Sabathia spent the minimum 15 days on the DL and his importance to the team increased while he was on the shelf. Eovaldi’s hurt and both Michael Pineda and Ivan Nova have been inconsistent at best since returning from their injuries. Luis Severino has been awesome since he was called up, but he is only one pitcher.

Sabathia was kept in the rotation earlier this season simply because of his contract. That’s all there was to it. No contender who pushes the “World Series or bust” mantra keeps a pitcher with a 5.01 ERA (4.44 FIP) in his last 395.1 innings in the rotation because they think he’s one of their five best options. There was an argument to be made Sabathia was not even one of New York’s seven best starters at one point earlier in the season.

And yet he remained in the rotation because the Yankees were not ready to admit he’s a sunk cost. That’s fine. They can do whatever they want, they run and own the team. (And yes, I’m sure the Yankees were well aware Sabathia was hurting their chances of playing in the postseason. They’re not stupid.) Now the story is different. Now Sabathia will be in the rotation because the Yankees have no other choice. They’re out of pitching depth. It’s been stretched to the max.

I have little reason to believe Sabathia can be even an average starter going forward. I thought he would bounce back a bit coming into the season with a healthy knee, but that didn’t happen. I thought maybe Sabathia would improve as the season progressed and he shook off the rust after missing so much time last year, but that didn’t happen either. I’m not falling into the same trap again. If Sabathia contributes in a meaningful way going forward, it will be a surprise to me.

That said, I won’t ever doubt Sabathia’s effort level or his desire to help the team. He’s a leave it all out on the field type. Always has been and always will be. For better or worse, Sabathia is going to give the Yankees whatever he has, and at this point that’s all they can ask from him. Go out every fifth day, grind it out, and do what you can to help the team win. That’s all. There’s nothing more the Yankees can do. They’ve exhausted all their options.

In a way, Sabathia has a chance to redeem his season these next few weeks by pitching well and helping the Yankees get to the postseason despite all these injuries. He’s been The Guy before, any sort of pressure to win won’t be new to him, it’s just a matter of being able to get outs with a compromised knee and whatever’s left of his fastball. Sabathia’s a total gamer and right now the Yankees need him more than they’ve needed him at any point in the last three seasons. CC is suddenly a key piece of the rotation.

Taking stock of Ivan Nova’s post-surgery performance

(Maddie Meyer/Getty)
(Maddie Meyer/Getty)

It’s often said pitchers coming back from Tommy John surgery are vulnerable to erratic performances as they regain arm strength and command of their pitches. When you combine that thinking with the notion that Ivan Nova’s career has largely been defined by periods of brilliance mixed in with extended stretches of mediocrity, it was probably inevitable that Nova was not going to be a model of reliability when he rejoined the pitching staff in late June.

Nova flashed signs of being that near-dominant pitcher in his season debut when he fired 6 2/3 scoreless innings against the Phillies, but two starts later was perhaps at his worst this season when he gave up four runs and had just one strikeout versus the Rays. And most recently against the Indians last week he put together another uninspiring start, allowing three runs before being pulled after five innings of work.

To his credit, Nova acknowledged that he’s had his ups and downs this season. “You’re going to have days like this,” Nova told the Associated Press after his dud on August 20. “Not going to feel perfect every time you go out there.”

Despite battling through bouts of inconsistency and posting a 3.72 ERA that is just barely above league-average (and a below-average 4.12 FIP), there are still a bunch of encouraging signs from Nova’s first 10 starts. Digging deeper into his numbers, there is a hint of optimism that he can be a viable starter for the Yankees as they battle for a playoff spot and the division crown in the final six weeks.


The first thing you typically look for in a pitcher trying to come back from Tommy John surgery is changes in velocity and throwing mechanics. Nova passes that test with flying colors, as his velocity is on par with previous seasons and the release points on his pitches are unchanged. He’s averaging 93.3 mph on his four-seamer and sinker, nearly the same as his rookie season (93.4) in 2011 and his last healthy season (93.9) in 2013.

Brooksbaseball-Chart (3)

His signature curveball has also been really sharp, with a top-20 whiff rate (37 percent) and top-10 marks in both batting average against (.143) and slugging (.196). Maikel Franco is one of the top rookies in the NL this season, but he had no chance on this two-strike hook from Nova back on June 24:


Pitchers returning from Tommy John surgery often struggle with their control but that hasn’t been the case with Nova. His walk rate of 7.5 percent this season is identical to what he did from 2011-13 (7.7 percent), and although he’s throwing pitches out of the strike zone at a career-high rate of 58 percent, he’s also locating pitches in the heart of the zone at the lowest rate of his career (18 percent). It seems like he is still trying to get comfortable pitching on the edges of the zone, but he’s done a good job of avoiding mistakes and grooved pitches right down the middle.

Another good omen for Nova is that he’s back to being a ground ball machine, with a ground ball rate of 52.5 percent that almost matches his 2013 mark. His hard-contact and soft-contact rates are also his best since 2011, and he’s generating popups at a rate that is nearly double his previous career best.

nova contact

Despite those positive trends, one concern is that Nova’s strikeout rate is below his peak 2012-13 levels, and he seemingly hasn’t yet regained the feel for his four-seam fastball this season. Opponents are hitting .309 and slugging .546 in at-bats ending in his heater, and have whiffed on just seven percent of their swings against it.

Perhaps realizing its ineffectiveness, Nova has ditched his four-seam fastball recently in favor of the much more effective sinker that ranks fifth among starting pitchers in ground ball rate (68 percent).

Brooksbaseball-Chart (2)

The fact Nova has been able to make these adjustments mid-season is an excellent indicator that he’s evolving as a pitcher and getting closer to reaching his potential.

Another sign of his maturity is the way that he’s been able to get out of jams and pitch under pressure this season. Batters have a .151/.230/.236 line against him with runners in scoring position and he’s stranded nearly three-quarters of his baserunners so far.

Although Nova is far from a finished product and is still clearly trying to find his pitching rhythm post-surgery, he’s shown a lot of promise in his first 10 starts this season. He’s keeping the ball on the ground with his sinker, mixing in a nasty curveball when ahead in the count, and pitching with confidence and poise from the stretch.

There’s still one hurdle, however, that Nova has yet to overcome: the inconsistency that has defined not just this season, but his entire career. Sure, he can’t shed that label in single game. But a strong performance tonight against the Astros would not only be an encouraging sign of progress in Nova’s return from Tommy John surgery, but also a key step forward in his long-term development from a talented yet unpredictable pitcher into a reliable top-of-the-rotation starter.

Digging into Andrew Miller’s post-DL issues

(Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Andrew Miller tossed a clean, 1-2-3 inning and got the win in Monday night’s walk-off victory over the Twins — probably his best effort since coming off the disabled list — yet his performance over the past month has been anything but perfect. Sure, one solid outing is encouraging, but looking at the whole body of his post-DL work reveals a few troublesome trends for the lefty.

When Miller went on the disabled list June 11 with a forearm injury, he was in the midst of an incredible season as the Yankees’ closer, invoking comparisons to Mariano Rivera at his peak. Unhittable, dominant, video game-like … All those words described Miller, and they weren’t used as hyperboles.

He was 17-for-17 in save chances and had allowed just three runs and eight hits in 26 1/3 innings. Miller didn’t give up his first run until the 40th game of the season on May 19 and it was another two weeks before he gave up multiple hits in an outing. He struck out more than 40 percent of the batters he faced in those first two months, and made countless hitters look silly chasing a nasty slider in the dirt or swinging through a 96-mph fastball up in the zone.

After a month on the shelf, Miller returned to action July 8 against the A’s but hardly looked like the nearly untouchable reliever we saw before the injury. He gave up a single and a home run to the second and third batters he faced in the ninth inning, before finally getting Ben Zobrist to ground out with the tying run on second base to seal the 5-4 win.

It soon became clear that first shaky outing was not just a result of him being rusty after an extended stint on the DL as his struggles continued the rest of the month and into August. In 16 games since coming back, he’s allowed eight runs and 14 hits in 15 2/3 innings.

Miller overall2

When asked about his recent struggles, Miller acknowledged he was scuffling but offered little explanation for the dip in his performance.

“I am certainly having some tough innings lately,” Miller told the New York Post. “All of it is not explainable … It’s going to happen. If you expect otherwise you are naïve.”

Miller is correct, it’s nearly impossible for any player not to experience a few bumps in the road over the course of a 162-game season. But the stark contrast in his performance before and after going on the disabled list is hard to ignore, regardless of the small sample size. Let’s take a deeper dive into the numbers to see if we can figure out what might be the cause of Miller’s sharp decline.


The good news is that his pitches look pretty similar since coming off the DL compared to his first two months. His fastball is rising a tiny bit less now but the velocity is virtually unchanged, he’s still getting good depth with his slider, and his release points on both pitches are nearly the same as before the injury.

Another positive sign is that despite giving up more runs and hits since coming off the DL, batters aren’t crushing his pitches and he’s actually doing a better job of inducing weak contact recently. His hard-hit rate has decreased (from 33 percent to 27 percent) and his soft-hit rate has increased (from 17 percent to 30 percent) in the past month, while the exit velocity on those batted balls has also fallen slightly (from 86 mph to 84 mph).

Although the lower hard-contact rate is promising, it hides a more troubling trend of Miller allowing a lot more contact overall since his injury. Batters have been much more aggressive in swinging at pitches both inside and outside the strike zone, and at the same time, have also been more successful in putting those pitches into play.

Miller contact2

He’s still getting good results with his slider — .158 batting average allowed and 48.5 percent whiff rate — but his four-seam fastball has been much less effective and pretty awful by his standards.

Miller fastball2

What used to be a really uncomfortable at-bat for most hitters — trying to get wood on Miller’s unhittable fastball-slider combo — has become a much easier matchup now. He’s been able to consistently bury his slider below the knees, but he’s leaving more fastballs in the heart of the zone during the past month (see the big red blob in the middle, that’s not good).

Miller pre

Perhaps lacking confidence in the pitch, he’s relying on the heater less and less in recent outings, and that trend was never more evident than against the Blue Jays last weekend.

He threw just eight fastballs — two for strikes — and the one hit he allowed came off a four-seamer located dead-center in the middle of the plate. Of the 20 sliders he threw, he got five whiffs and both his strikeouts, without yielding a single ball in play off the pitch.


That epic 12-pitch strikeout of Troy Tulowitzki to end the game last Friday night showed that Miller still possesses one of the nastiest sliders in the game, and hasn’t lost any of his competitiveness on the mound or his ability to execute in clutch situations.

One month of appearances — fewer than 16 innings pitched — is admittedly a small sample size to make any definitive judgments on his future performance, and there is every reason to believe that Miller can turn it around and pitch better down the stretch (see Monday’s solid outing). But if he can’t locate his fastball and is unable to lower his bloated contact rate, he’s going to find himself in trouble more often than not. And we’re probably going to see more white-knuckle saves (along with some meltdowns) and fewer of those dominant pre-injury outings over the final two months of the season.

Rotation depth stretched pretty thin following Mitchell’s injury

Man down. (Presswire)

Early in last night’s win, the Yankees lost right-hander Bryan Mitchell to a small nasal fracture after he was hit in the face by a line drive in the second inning. It was a really scary moment and all things considered, Mitchell escaped with minor damage. He’ll be monitored for concussion symptoms the next few days but otherwise there is no significant facial fracture or eye damage. It could have been really, really bad.

“You’re sick. Sick to your stomach, praying for the best,” said Brian McCann to reporters after the game. “You’re just hoping for the best outcome. When I went out there, I was like ‘Are you alright?’ and he said ‘I’m alright, I just need to get off the field.’ So it was good that he was responsive.”

The injury was a total fluke. Mitchell had a split second to react and there was nothing anyone could have done about it. That’s one of the more brutal aspects of baseball. Mitchell started the game because the Yankees wanted to give their other starters extra rest. He’d been sitting in the bullpen has the long reliever for a few weeks now. Mitchell figured to be first in line whenever the team wanted to use a spot starter again going forward as well.

In the short-term, the Yankees will need to replace Mitchell as the long man. Chad Jennings reported last night that Chris Capuano has cleared waivers and accepted his outright assignment to Triple-A, though I bet he doesn’t make it to Scranton. I expect to see Capuano in the bullpen tonight. No, Capuano is not very good, but he can throw multiple innings and is by far the best candidate for the long man job right now. It makes sense to bring him back.

More importantly, the Yankees are now down their sixth starter, and, at this very moment, they only have five healthy Major League caliber starters. They have some warm bodies in Triple-A who could soak up innings if need be (Kyle Davies, for example), but as far as actual big league caliber players, there are only five such healthy starters in the organization right now. Mitchell’s hurt and so is Michael Pineda.

Being down to five starters is sorta scary, but the good news is the Yankees won’t have to ride this out too much longer. Big Mike is on a minor league rehab assignment and it seems likely he will make at least one more rehab start before rejoining the rotation. Pineda himself said he feels he needs another start just to build his pitch count a bit more — he threw 42 pitches in his first rehab start Sunday — and get a better feel for his changeup and slider.

In addition to Pineda’s return, rosters expand two weeks from today, so the Yankees will be able to call up plenty of extra pitchers to give Joe Girardi as many options as possible. They’ve been cycling through relievers all season and I’m guessing they’ll call all of those guys up on September 1st. Not after the Triple-A postseason or anything like that, the first day they’re eligible. The big league team is the priority.

So with Pineda returning and rosters set to expand, the Yankees only need their current rotation to hold down the fort for another two weeks. (I fully expect them to use a six-man rotation in September with Pineda joining the current starting five.) No, adding a bunch of relievers on September 1st doesn’t replace a lost starter like Mitchell, but innings are innings, and they’ll have plenty of bodies available.

The Yankees opted to stick with their internal rotation options rather than make a trade at the deadline, and hey, Luis Severino has made them look pretty smart so far. Mitchell’s injury was a total fluke, though it really stretches the club’s rotation depth nonethless. They need Pineda back soon and need to get by these next two weeks until rosters expand. Another rotation loss would be very tough to overcome at this point.

Being optimistic about Sabathia’s next start

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For better or for worse, CC Sabathia is going to be a member of the Yankees starting staff for the rest of the season. There are plenty of reasons why the large lefty shouldn’t be taking the ball every fifth or sixth day — a quick scan of the pitching leaderboards is a good place to start. But the reality is Joe Girardi has insisted Sabathia remain in the rotation despite his obvious struggles, and Brian Cashman confirmed they haven’t had any conversations about changing Sabathia’s role.

Sabathia is not even close to the dominant ace he once was and it is clear that he is working with diminished stuff every time he takes the mound. Yet as he showed in his most recent start last week against the Red Sox, Sabathia still has the competitiveness and pitching savvy of a former Cy Young winner who is capable of delivering a gem on any given night.

There were a lot of positives that emerged from that excellent outing against Boston: he shut down the Red Sox bats — both lefties and righties — giving up three hits and one run in six innings; he dialed up the heat, averaging a season-best 93 mph on his four-seamer and sinker; he kept the ball on the ground, recording his second-highest ground ball rate of the season (69 percent); he was effective in putting away hitters, allowing just one hit and a walk while netting 13 outs in two-strike counts; he avoided the “disaster” inning, getting two huge strikeouts with runners on base when he ran into trouble in the fifth. Should we officially call this the CC Shimmy?


As strong as he looked last Thursday, it is silly to think that Sabathia can be that effective every time his number comes up in the rotation. We’re not here to declare that “he’s fixed” or that “he’s back.” But the vintage performance seems to indicate that Sabathia might have regained some of his confidence on the mound, and provides him with some much-needed momentum as he makes his next start tonight against the Indians.

With that optimistic perspective in hand, here’s five stats that favor Sabathia putting together another effective outing in Cleveland tonight:

• Sabathia was drafted by the Indians in the first round of the 1998 draft and spent the first six-plus seasons of his career with the Tribe, but has shown the ability to raise his game when facing his former team. He’s 4-1 with a 2.94 ERA and 51 strikeouts in 49 innings against the Indians, his second-best ERA and second-best record against any AL squad.

• The Indians have been pretty awful overall this year, and their struggles against lefties really stand out. They are just 13-24 in games started by southpaws, the third-worst record in the majors, and their .678 OPS against lefty starters ranks 26th in baseball. They are also missing their best hitter, Jason Kipnis, who was placed on the disabled list last week.

• Sabathia, of course, has been terrific versus same-sided hitters, holding lefties to a .189/.216/.297 line. That platoon split should give Sabathia an advantage against the Indians lineup which (with Kipnis on the shelf) is now led by the left-handed Michael Brantley, who has a sub-.700 OPS against lefty starters and has also struggled against Sabathia in their previous matchups (1-for-11, six strikeouts).

• Although his fastball remains very hittable, Sabathia’s nasty slider has returned to form in the past month and a half. Since the start of July, batters are just 2-for-21 (.095) in at-bats ending in a slider, and he’s gotten whiffs on more than 30 percent of those swings against the pitch in that span. In the first three months of the season, batters hit .298 and slugged .500 against his slider, which yielded a whopping 11 extra-base hits during April, May and June. It’s been his go-to pitch with two strikes against lefties — as Robinson Cano found out on July 19 against Sabathia:


• The longball has been one of Sabathia’s biggest bugaboos this season — his rate of 1.76 homers per nine innings leads the AL — but that problem might not be a huge concern against the Indians, who have hit the third-fewest homers in the league.


None of this is going to guarantee a win or even a quality start by Sabathia. But these statistical advantages, combined with the renewed spirit, pitching smarts and fiery attitude he showed in his last start, do provide a glimmer of hope and optimism that Sabathia can deliver another solid performance tonight against the Indians.

Despite rough first two innings, Luis Severino shows signs of progress in second start


It’s easy to forget now because of how the game played out, but last night Luis Severino tossed six impressive innings in his second big league start. It wasn’t impressive because he dominated. Quite the opposite, in fact. He got knocked around early — six of the first ten batters he faced reached base — but Severino rebounded, made some adjustments, and finished strong.

Severino retired ten of his final eleven batters and used only 52 pitches to record his final 12 outs after needing 45 pitches to get his first six outs. Like I said, the start of the game was pretty rough. Severino was missing his spots big time and generally looked like a young 21-year-old pitcher who was in over his head. You know what I mean, that deer in the headlights look. Happens all the time.

Rather than let is snowball into a disaster outing, Severino was able to settle down and get through six innings having allowed just the two runs. He struck out only two but did get ten ground ball outs, which is probably the next best best thing. (Well, infield pop-ups are the next best thing, but Luis didn’t get any of those.) It was a grind, the kind of start every pitcher will go through a few times each year, and Severino handled it well.

“I thought he did a pretty good job,” said Joe Girardi to Chad Jennings after the game. “He seemed to settle down pretty good after the first two innings. He gave up a lot of hits and got in a lot of long counts and then he seemed to settle down and shut them down for the next four innings. He kept us in the game.”

In his first big league start last week, Severino lived on the outer half to righties/inner half to lefties against the Red Sox. That appeared to be his comfort zone, especially with the fastball. That’s where he went to get the count back in his favor and set up his slider. Here’s his fastball heat map from last week’s start (via Baseball Savant):

Luis Severino vs. Red Sox

Severino lived on that side of the plate, outside to righties and inside to lefties. It worked just fine, he did allow just two runs in five innings, but Severino was fairly predictable. The Red Sox were essentially able to eliminate one half of the plate and I’m guessing that contributed to their 23 foul balls against Severino. That’s a Hughesian total.

Had Severino been throwing 91-92 mph instead of 96-97 mph, chances are some of those fouls would have been put in play, and who knows what happens then. Severino had a lot of long counts — he averaged 5.22 pitches per batter — and those fouls were a big reason why. He got a little predictable with his heater location. It wasn’t the end of the world, it was just a thing that happened.

Last night against the Indians, Severino allowed a much more normal 13 foul balls out of 97 total pitches. He also averaged only 3.73 pitches per batter. Severino was way more economical and, perhaps not coincidentally, he did a better job of using his fastball on both sides of the plate. Here’s the heat map of last night’s fastballs (via Baseball Savant):

Luis Severino vs. Indians

A few too many over the heart of the plate — Severino’s location issues in the early innings didn’t result in pitches out of the zone, but pitches down the middle — but Severino did a better job of using both sides of the plate. It doesn’t sound like a big deal but it is. Hitters had to respect both the inner half and outer half. It makes life a bit tougher.

It’s worth noting Brian McCann was behind the plate last night after John Ryan Murphy caught Severino’s first start last week. Perhaps throwing to the veteran catcher made Severino more comfortable pitching both in and out. Or maybe felt he shouldn’t shake off as often. Who knows? At the end of the day it’s still up to the pitcher to execute the pitcher, but the catcher does play a role.

The Yankees lost last night’s game and it was a heart-breaker, but the silver lining was clearly Severino’s outing. He started slow, shook it off, and finished strong. That’s good to see. I wouldn’t say it’s more impressive than going out and dominating, but it is impressive in a different way. Those games where you have to figure things out on the fly are often the separators between good pitchers and great pitchers.

Going forward, it’ll be interesting to see whether Severino continues to pitch to both sides of the plate or again falls in love with the outer half to righties/inside half to lefties again, especially when he’s in a jam. That’s when pitchers tend to go back to their comfort zone. Severino’s first two starts have been pretty cool and we’re still very much learning about his style, but I find the fact he didn’t continue to stick to one half of the plate encouraging.