Chad Green and optimizing the pitching staff around the All-Star break

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

Later tonight, rookie right-hander Chad Green will make his second straight start and third overall for the Yankees. His first start back in May — his MLB debut — didn’t go so well. Over the weekend Green rebounded to hold the Padres to one run on three hits in six innings of work. He fanned eight. That start combined with Nathan Eovaldi‘s recent struggles earned Green another start.

Tonight will be Green’s last start for a while simply because the All-Star break is next week. The Yankees will be off from Monday through Thursday, then they figure to go with their veterans arms right out of the gate to start the second half. That leaves Green somewhere in rotation limbo, which stinks for him because he wants to pitch, but it also presents an opportunity for the Yankees to maximize their pitching staff in the short-term.

In a nutshell, the Yankees can take advantage of the All-Star break by sending Green to Triple-A and calling up an extra reliever. It’s pretty simply, really. Green starts tonight, goes down tomorrow in favor of a fresh reliever, then comes back up sometime after the break. Here’s why it works.

1. Green won’t actually miss a start. As I said the other day, Green should get an extended look in the rotation because he’s pitched well in Triple-A, he pitched well Sunday, and he added a new pitch (cutter) in recent weeks. The guy did everything he had to do to earn a longer look. Green has a chance to be part of the rotation long-term — an ace? no, but a mid-to-back-end guy? sure — and the Yankees should give him a chance to show he belongs.

The ten-day rule — once a player is sent down, he has to wait ten days before being called back up (unless there’s an injury) — complicates things but it is not a deal-breaker. The Yankees could send Green down tomorrow and bring him back in ten days to make a start without any problem. Here’s a rough pitching schedule:

Friday, July 8th: Green starts @ Indians
Saturday, July 9th: CC Sabathia starts @ Indians (Green sent down, day one of ten)
Sunday, July 10th: Masahiro Tanaka starts @ Indians (day two of ten for Green)
Monday, July 11th: All-Star break (day three of ten)
Tuesday, July 12th: All-Star break (day four of ten)
Wednesday, July 13th: All-Star break (day five of ten)
Thursday, July 14th: All-Star break (day six of ten)
Friday, July 15th: Sabathia starts vs. Red Sox (day seven of ten)
Saturday, July 16th: Tanaka starts vs. Red Sox (day eight of ten)
Sunday, July 17th: Michael Pineda starts vs. Red Sox (day nine of ten)
Monday, July 18th: Nova starts vs. Orioles (day ten of ten)
Tuesday, July 19th: Green returns to start vs. Orioles

See? Nice and easy. The Yankees have the option of starting their four veterans in any order from the 15th to the 18th — I assume they’ll want to give Tanaka an extra day, so he probably won’t start the 15th — before bringing Green back to start the fifth game of the second half. Eovaldi could also be a factor here too. He could start in place of Nova or start on the 19th with Green’s return waiting one extra day until the 20th.

Point is, the Yankees have some options with how they can line up their rotation after the All-Star break. Every team does. The break is a chance to step back, catch your breath, and get your pitching in order. Everyone gets a nice breather. The All-Star break gives the Yankees the opportunity to send Green down and have him make his next start while dancing around the ten-day rule.

2. An eighth reliever is better than an unavailable starter. Once Green starts tonight, he’s won’t be able to pitch for a few days. That’s just the way it goes. Sending Green down allows the Yankees to bring up an extra reliever, who for all we know may not even be used this weekend. You never know though. Blowouts and extra innings happen. You’d rather have the extra reliever and not need him than need him and not have him.

Keep in mind this extends beyond the weekend. The Yankees would be able to carry this eighth reliever until Green returns after the All-Star break. The extra reliever would be available for two games this weekend plus another four games to start the second half. The high-scoring Red Sox are coming to the Bronx next weekend too. They can score runs in a hurry and having the extra arm could come in handy. Same with the first game of the Orioles series.

3. Who could the Yankees call up to temporarily replace Green? Almost anyone. Kirby Yates and Nick Goody are eligible to be recalled because their ten days will be up. There’s also Johnny Barbato, and heck, even Luis Severino. I wouldn’t count on Severino though. The only guy they couldn’t call up is Luis Cessa, who was just sent down Tuesday. Otherwise pretty much everyone is fair game. Finding a spare reliever for a few days won’t be a problem.

4. What does Green do in the meantime? Good question with a good-ish answer: he gets to play in the Triple-A All-Star Game. Would Green rather be on the MLB roster collecting service time and big league salary? Of course. But this is the life of a rookie with a few days in a show. You go up and down a few times until you’ve established yourself as one of the 25 best players in the organization.

Green was indeed selected to the Triple-A All-Star Game along with RailRiders teammates Aaron Judge, Ben Gamel, and Gary Sanchez. The All-Star Game is Wednesday in Charlotte, so Green lines up perfectly to pitch that day. In fact, he should start for the International League. He still leads the league in ERA (1.54) and FIP (2.17), after all. The temporary demotion gives Green the opportunity to pitch in the Triple-A All-Star Game, which would double as a tune-up appearance to help him stay sharp before coming back in a few days.

* * *

I don’t know about you, but this seems like a completely obvious move to me. So obvious that I don’t expect it to happen. The Yankees have had chances to pull similar roster maneuvers in recent years but declined to do so. I do think there’s something to be said for keeping Green on the roster through the All-Star break to let him know he is a big league player. Positive reinforcement like that can do wonders for a player’s confidence. (Scott Boras just ripped the Brewers for making a move like this with Zach Davies.)

In the cold and heartless “baseball players are robots, not human beings with thoughts and emotions” world, sending Green down for a spare reliever following tonight’s start is a perfectly sensible move. Being demoted is never fun, especially when it’s undeserved, but it does happen. The weirdness of the All-Star break and Green’s flexibility (read: ability to be sent to the minors without going through waivers) give the Yankees the option of beefing up their bullpen these next few games without having the young righty miss a start.

Sticking Eovaldi in the bullpen is a fine short-term move that creates some long-term questions


Although he did not appear in the game, Nathan Eovaldi was in the bullpen yesterday afternoon and available in relief in needed. It was Eovaldi’s normal throw day between starts and the bullpen was short-handed after being worked hard over the weekend, so to the bullpen he went. Teams do stuff like this all the time.

Prior to yesterday’s game Joe Girardi said the Yankees plan to keep Eovaldi in the bullpen through Sunday, the end of the first half. Chad Green, who pitched so well Sunday, is going to make Eovaldi’s next start Friday. That’s pretty cool. The Yankees will reevaluate their rotation situation during the All-Star break next week.

“I envision Nathan as a starter. This is not something we are saying is long-term,” said Girardi to George King yesterday. “We kind of have a need right now … Right now the plans are for him to help us in the bullpen. I know he wants to start and he will start again. If I had (Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances today), he probably would have started (Friday).”

In the short-term, moving Eovaldi to the bullpen makes total sense. Not only is there a need right now, but he’s also been historically awful recently, allowing 31 runs and 57 baserunners — including 12 (!) home runs — in his last seven starts and 30.1 innings. You can’t keep running that guy out there. You just can’t. Eovaldi had a 3.71 ERA (3.58 FIP) through his ten first starts and now has a 5.54 ERA (5.14 FIP) through 16 starts.

What about the long-term? Well that’s a little more up in the air. Girardi said he still views Eovaldi as starter and I do too. At some point the performance needs to improve though. He’s been so bad of late that I kinda sorta expected him to land on the DL following his start Friday. This seems like something that goes beyond a mechanical flaw or general suckiness. An injury would have not surprised me at all. So, where do the Yankees and Eovaldi from here?

It’s not Eovaldi or Green. It’s Eovaldi or Nova.

Green is going to make Eovaldi’s start Friday, but this shouldn’t be an “Eovaldi or Green” situation. This should be an “Eovaldi or Ivan Nova” situation. Nova, despite his fine start Saturday, has been pretty bad of late too, pitching to a 5.06 ERA (4.81 FIP) in 74.2 innings. That’s after he put up a 5.07 ERA (4.87 FIP) in 94 innings last year. His performance has not improved as he’s gotten further away from Tommy John surgery.

Remember, Nova is a goner after the season. He’s going to be a free agent this winter, and while we can’t completely rule out the Yankees re-signing him, I think it would be surprise. Eovaldi has another year of team control remaining before free agency. The guy who is going to be around longer should be the priority here. Eovaldi has a chance to help the Yankees win next season. Nova doesn’t. Whenever Eovaldi is ready to rejoin the rotation, be it after the break or later in the season, Nova should not stand in his way.

What if Eovaldi dominates in relief?


Good question, me. Most pitchers see their stuff tick up in the bullpen because they’re able to cut it loose for an inning. Pitchers have to pace themselves as a starter and hold a little something back for the second and third time through the lineup. Eovaldi is averaging a career high 98.0 mph with his fastball this season. Averaging. What’s he going to throw as a reliever? 106? Golly.

Should Eovaldi dominate in the bullpen, it would create something of a Catch-22. There would be the temptation to put him back in the rotation because he’s pitching well and would be more valuable there. At the same time, when a guy dominates in the bullpen, it’s really easy to just keep him there and stick with what works. What’s the right move? We can’t answer that without seeing Eovaldi in action in relief first.

In the short-term, reliever Eovaldi could shore up the middle innings hole that has hampered the Yankees all season. In the long-term, reliever Eovaldi could step into the end-game mix with Miller a trade candidate and Aroldis Chapman coming up on free agency (if he isn’t traded first). There is always room for another good reliever. Always always always.

* * *

Like I said, I still see Eovaldi as a starting pitcher, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t interested to see what he does in relief. He could very well end up throwing the fastest pitch in baseball history. That’s not hyperbole. This guy threw a pitch 102.5 mph last season while working as a starter. Eovaldi could be another Betances as a reliever.

For now let’s just worry about getting through the rest of the week. The Yankees have six games to go before the All-Star break, then everyone can catch their breath and figure out where things stand. Girardi made it sound like the team wants to get Eovaldi back into the rotation at some point, and these things usually have a way of working themselves out. Hopefully we see him in relief a few times before that just to see what he can do.

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. 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.