Thoughts following Luis Severino’s debut

We’ve been having some pretty serious technical problems here — the front end of the site was working fine for the most part, but the back-end was completely borked, hence the recent lack of posts — but things seem to be working fine now.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Top pitching prospect Luis Severino made his big league debut Wednesday night, holding the Red Sox to two runs in five innings. He struck out seven, didn’t walk anyone, and allowed only two balls to be hit out of the infield. I was planning some kind of breakdown post, but when I started writing it I found myself jumping all over the place, so I guess it’s better to put it in thoughts format. Here it is, a day late because of our technical issues.

1. Overall, Severino looked very impressive while also looking very much like a 21-year-old kid making his MLB debut. He faced 18 total batters and a) threw only five first pitch strikes, b) went to six three-ball counts, and c) threw at least five pitches to 12 batters. On the bright side, he got to 14 two-strike counts. Otherwise Severino was behind in the count a whole bunch and had lots of long counts, which is one of those “21-year-old kid making his MLB debut” things. Severino also put a 2-0 fastball on a tee for David Ortiz, which he promptly hit halfway up the right field bleachers. Not the most well-pitched at-bat:

Luis Severino David Ortiz

Yeah. Rookie mistake. Don’t do that again, Luis. Giving up a long homer to Ortiz is something of a baptism for a rookie Yankees starter, I suppose. At least Severino got his out of the way early. Otherwise yeah, the long at-bats were annoying but expected. They come with the territory when breaking in a rookie hurler.

2. The initial PitchFX data said Severino threw only four changeups, but that didn’t seem right. The reclassified data at Brooks Baseball shows he threw 17 changeups, which makes much more sense. That matches up with the eye test. The data says Severino had a nice pitch mix — 51 fastballs, 26 sliders, 17 changeups — and that backs up the scouting reports. He was billed as a guy with a big fastball (averaged 96.5 mph) and secondary stuff that ranged from ordinary to excellent depending on the day, though he is not afraid to throw anything at any time. Severino’s a 21-year-old kid, remember. He’s not a finished product. His offspeed stuff is still being refined. That he threw plenty of sliders and changeups was very encouraging though. Lots of pitchers get fastball heavy early in their careers — especially if they have mid-90s heat — because they’re most confident in that pitch. Severino used everything.

3. I’m curious to see how Severino’s fastball plays going forward. Yes, he has a ton of velocity (topped out at 98.3 mph) but his stride is pretty short, so he’s releasing the ball further away from the plate. David Robertson sat 91-92 mph for the most part but hitters reacted like it was 97 because he had that long stride. Severino’s kinda the opposite. He’s not that tall (6-foot-0) and the Red Sox swung and missed only three times at his heater, or 5.9%. The league average swing-and-miss rate for a four-seamer is 6.9%. It’s one start, so we have to watch this going forward, though I do wonder if Severino’s fastball will “play down” relative to the velocity because of his lack of extension, so to speak.

3. Severino almost seems to be throwing a cutter, not a slider. The break is so short and he throws it very hard. Look at this thing:

Luis Severino slider

PitchFX clocked Severino’s slider at 90.3 mph, which is bonkers. The fastest slider among qualified starters this year belongs to Jake Arrieta at 90.2 mph, and Arrieta does not throw a normal slider. Jacob deGrom (89.6 mph) has a slider in the “Severino range” and that’s about it. It’s unusual to throw a slider that hard. The Yankees are a cutter organization, they teach one to most pitching prospects — Manny Banuelos and Ian Clarkin both added one, for example — so it wouldn’t be a surprise if Severino added one as well. If Severino was indeed throwing a slider, then boy is it short and snappy.

4. It could simply be a product of facing so many left-handed batters, but geez, Severino loves that outer half to righties/inner half to lefties. He lived there all night (this is from the catcher’s view):

Luis Severino pitch location

That’s another thing to watch going forward. Every pitcher has a comfort zone and maybe Severino’s is that side of the plate. His fastball is so good and his slider/cutter is sharp, so it won’t be a huge problem if he gets predictable and lives on that side of the plate every start, but at some point you want to see him come inside to righties and stay away from lefties, just to keep them honest. Again, one start, no big deal right now. Just something to watch.

5. I still wish the Yankees would have traded for a starter at the deadline and yes, I still would have traded Severino for David Price or Cole Hamels. Give me the no-doubt ace. The last two months of a postseason race are not exactly the ideal time to break in a rookie starter, at least not to me. Don’t get me wrong, Severino looked very good and I’m excited to see him again on Tuesday. But, for the purposes of winning the division and making a deep run in October, another starter sure would have helped. This rotation is basically the bare minimum for contention.

Vintage Sabathia, Ellsbury’s late homer give Yankees 2-1 win over Red Sox

The game was a little closer than I think we all would have liked, but the Yankees were able to grab a 2-1 win over the Red Sox in their series finale Thursday night. The Bombers are now 8-0-1 in their last nine series, dating back to the series in Anaheim at the end of June. Pretty, pretty good.

Angry CC is the best CC. (Getty)
Angry CC is the best CC. (Getty)

Cy Sabathia
Okay, maybe calling him Cy Sabathia is a bit too much, but CC Sabathia turned in his best start of the season by Game Score (67) on Thursday. He allowed just one run on three singles and three walks in six innings, striking out eight. Sabathia hadn’t struck out that many batters in any of his previous 13 starts. He had four 1-2-3 innings and scrunched the six base-runners into the other two innings, including two singles and two walks in the fifth.

That fifth inning was by far the Red Sox’s best chance to put up a crooked number against Sabathia, who has been prone to crooked numbers this year. It started with a one out single by Ryan Hanigan and started to spiral out of control from there. Sabathia walked the awful Jackie Bradley Jr., served up a dinky ground ball single to Rusney Castillo to drive in a run — Didi Gregorius probably should have at least knocked the ball down to keep it on the field, but alas — then walked Xander Bogaerts to load the bases with two outs.

I was calling for the bullpen at that point and I know many of you were too. We’ve seen this movie before. The ending sucks. Joe Girardi opted to stick with Sabathia and the big lefty rewarded his manager by striking out David Ortiz to strand all three runners. Sabathia went full Joba after the strikeout:

CC Sabathia David Ortiz

Sabathia has not been good this year, he’ll be the first one to tell you that, but man, you can’t question the dude’s compete level. That’s a full season’s worth of frustration coming out right there. I still love Sabathia and it pains me to see him to pitch the way he has this year. That strikeout right there was pretty damn awesome.

Anyway, here’s something cool: PitchFX says Sabathia averaged 92.9 mph with his fastball and topped out at 94.7 mph. I mean, what!? The last time his fastball averaged at least 92.9 mph in a game was September 2013, in his third to last start of that season. The last time he threw a pitch at 94.7 mph or better was again in September 2013, in his second to last start of the year. I don’t know what caused the velocity spike, but hopefully it’s not just a one start blip. Those extra few miles an hour mean a lot to Sabathia. Either way, he did a helluva job Thursday night.

(Getty)
(Getty)

Two Is Enough
The Yankees scored their first run the same way they’ve scored many other runs this year, by relying on the duo of Brett Gardner and Alex Rodriguez. Gardner laced a two-out single to center then came around to score on A-Rod‘s double to left field. Alex worked a great seven-pitch at-bat and fouled off some tough put-away sliders. Nice little quick strike two-out run. Good hitters will do that.

A-Rod’s double gave the Yankees a 1-0 lead in the third inning and, after the Red Sox knotted the game up in the fifth, Jacoby Ellsbury untied it in the seventh with a solo homer into the second deck in right field. It was no cheapie. Eduardo Rodriguez pitched pretty well in this game but man, he made an awful pitch to Ellsbury, leaving a flat slider right out over the plate in a 2-1 count. Good hitters are supposed to hammer a pitch like that, and while Ellsbury has been struggling big time of late, there’s still a good hitter in there somewhere. Hopefully the homer helps get him out of his slump.

Of course, the Yankees had a golden opportunity to break the game open in the fifth thanks to consecutive singles by Brendan Ryan and Ellsbury leading off the inning. Gardner bunted them over, which I hated for a few reasons, include the fact that A-Rod was likely to be intentionally walked as the next batter. Sure enough, the Red Sox walked Alex. The bunt took the bat out of the hands of one of the team’s very best hitters in a tie game. Blah. (For the record, I think Gardner bunted on his own.)

The intentional walk loaded the bases with one out for Mark Teixeira, and hey, that’s still a pretty good situation. Unfortunately Teixeira popped a 2-0 pitch up in foul territory, then lefty masher Chris Young popped up the first pitch he saw to end the inning. Blah. That felt like a blown opportunity that would come back to bite the Yankees. Thank goodness it didn’t. That was not a fun inning.

Awkward hand-to-glove high-five. (Getty)
Awkward hand-to-glove high-five. (Getty)

Leftovers
Andrew Miller made things unnecessarily interesting in the ninth — he gave up a two-strike single to the lefty hitting Travis Shaw, then walked Bradley on four pitches (!) to put the tying run in scoring position — but eventually nailed down his 24th save in 24 chances. Dellin Betances struck out one in the eighth and Justin Wilson struck out the side in the seventh. The bullpen threw ten scoreless innings in the series.

Ellsbury and A-Rod each had two hits while Gardner had his lone single. The rest of the lineup? They went 1-for-19 (.053) with a walk. Zoinks. Teixeira drew the walk and Ryan had the base hit. Only eight base-runners on the night, including an 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position. Remember though, first base is scoring position with A-Rod at the plate. He proved it in the third inning.

Sabathia got into it with home plate umpire Rob Drake over a non-strike call in the fourth inning. Drake walked out to the mound to talk to Sabathia because apparently he didn’t like that CC took his time walking around the mound after the missed call. Whatever.

And finally, Ellsbury now has five home runs on the season, including four since coming back from his knee injury. Two of ’em are off Rodriguez. He got him Thursday and once at Fenway Park right before the All-Star break.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Here are the box score and video highlights, and here are the updated standings and postseason odds. Also make sure you check out our Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages. Now here’s the win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The Blue Jays are coming to the Bronx for a pretty big three-game weekend series. They’re gunning for the top spot in the AL East, no doubt about it. Nathan Eovaldi will take on R.A. Dickey in the series opener Friday night. Check out RAB Tickets if you want to catch that game or either of the two games this weekend live at the Stadium.

DotF: Bird and Sanchez stay hot, Judge continues to struggle in Scranton’s win

Both C Gary Sanchez and RHP Luis Severino made Baseball America’s All-Prospect Team for July. Sanchez has continued to mash in August. Severino? He’s a big leaguer now.

Triple-A Scranton (7-6 loss to Columbus)

  • CF Ben Gamel: 2-3, 1 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 1 BB — 18-for-45 (.400) in his last 12 games
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 1-4, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 2 K, 1 E (throwing)
  • 1B Greg Bird: 2-5, 1 RBI, 1 K
  • C Gary Sanchez: 2-5, 1 K — he and Bird are locked in right now, gosh
  • RF Aaron Judge & LF Slade Heathcott: both 0-5, 3 K — Slade stole a base … Judge is in a 2-for-30 (.067) slump with 17 strikeouts
  • LF Jose Pirela: 1-2, 2 R, 2 BB, 1 K
  • DH Tyler Austin: 1-2, 2 R, 1 RBI, 1 BB — he’s been a bit better the last few weeks, but it’s probably too late to salvage his season … not a good one at all
  • HP Kyle Haynes: 3.2 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 4/1 GB/FB — 56 of 85 pitches were strikes (66%)
  • RHP Caleb Cotham: 2.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1 WP, 0/4 GB/FB — 29 of 42 pitches were strikes (69%) … kinda hope we get to see him a few more times in September
  • RHP Nick Rumbelow: 2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 1/1 GB/FB — 19 of 34 pitches were strikes (56%)

[Read more…]

Game 107: Please CC

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

After scoring 90 runs in their previous ten games, the Yankees were held to one stupid run by knuckleballer Steven Wright last night. Bah. Frustrating. But it happens. Can’t win ’em all.

The Yankees turn to CC Sabathia tonight for the series win, which is not exactly encouraging. He doesn’t belong in the rotation and yet here he is, starting every fifth day even though he is the team’s what, eighth best starter? Please, CC. Do a good tonight. Here is the Red Sox’s lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. RF Chris Young
  6. 3B Chase Headley
  7. C John Ryan Murphy
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 2B Brendan Ryan
    LHP CC Sabathia

It’s on the cool side and a little cloudy in New York but there’s no rain in the forecast, so that’s good. This weather is borderline autumnal, I’d say. Maybe if it were a few degrees cooler. Anyway, tonight’s game is scheduled to begin at 7:05pm ET and can be seen on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Rotation Update: Luis Severino will make his next start next Tuesday against the Indians, Joe Girardi announced. Just in case you thought they were lying about him being in the rotation for good.

Severino sharp in debut but Yankee bats falter in a 2-1 lost to the Red Sox

So we’ve been looking forward to this game for a while. Luis Severino showed a lot of the promise that he’s shown in minors with five solid innings in the books. However, the offense was mostly silent against the knuckleballer Steven Wright and their ninth inning rally didn’t come to much fruition – the result was a tough 2-1 loss to the Red Sox.

Sevvy Baby

On his first ML pitch ever, Severino caught the inside corner with a 94 mph fastball against Brock Holt. He induced a grounder to first against Holt. Against the next batter, Xander Bogaerts, Severino got a call on the 3-2 count cutter for strike three. A grounder and then a strikeout, progress!

In the second, he got first two easy outs against Hanley and Sandoval. Against Napoli, Severino induced a grounder to Headley and the third baseman completely botched the throw. Napoli reached second as a result and De Aza drove him in on a big double to right. 1-0 Red Sox. Welcome to the majors, Luis.

Severino’s third was quite nice – he struck out Bradley Jr. and Holt and popped out Bogaerts. In the fourth inning, with a 2-0 count, Severino missed the spot on the outside corner and left a fastball up the middle for David Ortiz… and the Red Sox slugger missed none of it. Ortiz hit it way deep into the bleachers (441 ft – the second longest dinger in YS3 this year) for a solo homer. 2-0 Red Sox. That was the only major mistake Severino made all night. In the fifth, he had another nice three-up-three down inning (pop out from De Aza, grounder from Swihart and strikeout from Bradley Jr.). At the time, Severino’s pitch count reached 94 and Girardi replaced him with Warren for the sixth.

All in all – good debut from Severino. He went five innings, allowed only two hits (both were pretty big XBH’s though), one earned run and struck out seven. He showed that he can use any of his pitch in any count. Another impressive thing – he reached to two strikes against 14 out of 18 batters faced. I feel, as he pitches more in majors, he’ll figure ways to put them away more efficiently.

Silence of the Bats

Yankee hitters didn’t have much going on against Steven Wright tonight. Steven Wright! To be fair, it seemed like his knuckleball movement was on its game tonight. They struck out a good amount and made a lot of weak contacts. In the fifth inning, Didi Gregorius singled through the middle to break up the no-no.

Leading off the seventh, Carlos Beltran hit a solo homer to put the Yankees on board. 2-1 Red Sox. And that was about the only thing that the Yankees had going against Steven Wright. Eight innings, four hits, one run and nine strikeouts.

What made it scream more of “it’s not our night” was when Ellsbury grounded into double play in the eighth. With no out, John Ryan Murphy on first, Ellsbury hit a sharp grounder up to middle that deflected off of Wright’s leg and rolled easily to the shortstop Bogaerts. That was only the third GIDP of the season for Ellsbury. Welp.

Before tonight’s game, Wright had a 4.53 ERA and 5.24 FIP in 59.2 IP – that’s not good, but he did seem to have a lot of things going on tonight, which happens. Yeah, we could talk about Headley’s second-inning error that became one of the differences of the game but let’s also not forget that the bat didn’t do much.

Rally falls short

The Red Sox pitching staff really isn’t what it used to be but Koji Uehara is still a very good reliever (2.33 ERA/2.34 FIP before tonight’s game). Uehara came in the ninth to get a save. With one out, Teixeira hit a liner to right that Castillo dove and got to… after the ball bounced right in front of his glove. Initially, the first base umpire called it an out but they reversed it after replay.

During Beltran’s at bat, a wild pitch by Uehara let the pinch runner Chris Young advance to second, putting the runner in scoring position. Beltran ended up flying out to the center, failing to advance the runner (let alone drive him in). Headley followed it up with inducing a five-pitch walk. Girardi then summoned Brian McCann to pinch hit for Didi Gregorius. On the fifth pitch of the at-bat, McCann hit a flyball to center for a routine out. Game over, Red Sox win 2-1. Oh well.

Leftovers

After Severino’s departure, Adam Warren tossed three solid innings in relief. He allowed only one baserunner (a double by Sandoval in the seventh) and struck out two. I know that it’s good to have depths in bullpen but he could be one of the more consistent starters along with Eovaldi, I feel like.

Chasen Shreve, however, was not as reliable. After getting two outs, he allowed a double to Sandoval and intentionally walked Napoli to face Rusney Castillo. After a 7-pitch at-bat, Shreve walked Castillo and had to face Swihart with bases loaded. Fortunately for New York, Shreve struck out Swihart looking on the pitch no. 30 of the inning to get out of the trouble.

Yankees have stopped stealing bases, but they don’t need them either

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

Coming into the season, the Yankees seemed likely to rely on the speed of Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner to create runs because the middle of the order was loaded with questions. And, for a while, the Yankees did rely on those two to create runs. The Yankees as a team stolen eleven bases in their first 16 games and 21 bases in their first 27 games. Ellsbury and Gardner accounted for 19 of those 21 steals.

Lately though, the speedy game has been a non-factor for the Yankees. They stole one base during the recent ten-game road trip, and that was Mark Teixeira taking advantage of the defense paying no attention to him in the late innings of a game the Yankees were losing by six. After stealing those 21 bases in the first 27 games of the season, the Yankees have stolen just 18 bases in 77 games since.

Obviously the speed game took a hit when Ellsbury spent seven weeks on the DL with a knee injury. He is their best and most aggressive base-stealer. Ellsbury has attempted just one stolen base since coming back and that wasn’t even a real steal attempt — Eduardo Rodriguez picked him off first and Ellsbury got caught in a rundown. (It was scored a caught stealing.) Between the time on the DL and not wanting to push the knee since coming back, Ellsbury’s been a non-factor stealing bases for almost three months now.

Gardner, on the other hand, has a history of stealing early in the season but not so much down the stretch. Throughout his career he has made 38.4% of his steal attempts in April and May, so that’s basically 40% of his steal attempts in the first 33% of the season, give or take. (For what it’s worth, the league average last year was 34.8% of steal attempts in April and May.) Gardner doesn’t run much later in the season and I’m sure fatigue and general wear and tear have something to do with. Stealing bases is a great way to get banged up.

Between Ellsbury and the Gardner, the team’s stolen base game has been non-existent for a few weeks now. And it hasn’t mattered one bit. The Yankees are still scoring a ton of runs — they averaged 4.95 runs in April, 4.10 in May, 5.07 in June, and 5.54 in July — without stolen bases because the rest of the order is picking up the slack. Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann got over their early season struggles, specifically, and the bottom of the order has been much more productive of late as well. The Yankees don’t need to steal bases to score now.

“I think it’s a calculated risk. Our guys don’t just run recklessly … If it’s a 50-50 chance, it doesn’t make sense with the hitters that we have behind us,” said Joe Girardi to Ryan Hatch recently. Girardi and I seem to be on the same page — I want Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira batting with as many runners on base as possible. First base is scoring position with those two at the plate. Stolen bases are an unnecessary risk.

Now, that said, the Yankees shouldn’t shelve the stolen base entirely, just limit their attempts. Stolen bases are most helpful in the late innings of a close game, when one run can make a huge difference. That’s when Ellsbury and Gardner should be on high alert looking to take that extra base. Also, if there’s a pitcher and/or catcher prone to stolen bases — Ubaldo Jimenez, Rick Porcello, and Drew Hutchison are all among the MLB leaders in stolen bases allowed and are AL East rivals, for example — then run like wild. As Girardi said, take those calculated risks.

The Yankees do have the ability to steal bases. Gardner and Ellsbury are historically high-percentage stolen base threats — Gardner’s been successful in 79% of his steal attempts the last three years, Ellsbury 88% (!) — who surely make opposing pitchers nervous when standing on first. There’s no doubt opposing teams are aware of their stolen base ability and try to game plan a way to stop them. That threat of a steal still exists and has value.

Overall, the Yankees are a station-to-station club with two prime speed threats in Gardner and Ellsbury. The offense has been so dominant that their stolen base ability has been unnecessary, however. They can score runs without those extra 90 feet. They couldn’t in April because the lineup was thing, but they can now, four months later. The Yankees don’t steal many bases and that’s okay.

The Majors’ deepest lineup is in the Bronx

(Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)
(Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

If there was one thing that defined the Yankees for the first three months of the season, it was inconsistency. Every three-game win streak seemed to be followed by a three-game losing streak, every surge in the standings muted by a subsequent slide back to the pack in the crowded AL East.

The erratic performance of the rotation was undoubtedly a huge reason why the Yankees struggled to build momentum in the early part of the season. The steadying force of their lockdown bullpen, though, helped to offset some of those problems with the starting staff. However, it could do little to counter another key roster issue that frequently stalled the team — a top-heavy lineup featuring four bright, shiny stars and five massive black holes.

Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira shouldered much of the offensive load from the one-through-four spots in the order during the first few months, while the bottom half of the order languished, providing little support to the Big Four. This imbalance did have one positive by-product — first-inning runs! — but the lack of length in the lineup also made it really difficult to manufacture any sort of rally when the Yankees’ starting pitcher inevitably coughed up that early lead. Through the end of June, the team had yet to come back and win a game after trailing by more than three runs.

Over the past few weeks, however, the bottom of the lineup has suddenly caught fire and started to pull its weight on offense. Since the All-Star break, the regular bottom-of-the-order hitters — Chase Headley, Didi Gregorius, John Ryan Murphy, Stephen Drew, Brendan Ryan — are each hitting at least .275 with OPS’s above .800.

bottom statsPerhaps the most important part of their offensive surge is that they’ve also become key run producers. In the second half of the season, the 7-8-9 hitters have combined for 39 of the team’s 114 RBIs (34 percent), a much higher rate than came from those same lineup slots in the first half of the season (21 percent). That’s led to some explosive innings and high-scoring games recently. They’ve scored 12-or-more runs four times in their last seven games, after doing that just four times in their first 92 games.

With this dramatic improvement from the bottom of the order, the Yankees now have arguably the deepest and most dangerous lineup one-through-nine in the majors. They have eight guys with at least 200 plate appearances and a park-adjusted OPS better than the league average, the most such players of any team in baseball. They also have an MLB-high seven guys with an offensive WAR of 1.5 or better, and not a single position player on the active roster has a negative total WAR.

A lopsided lineup that once was riddled with question marks and clogged by inconsistency at the bottom has been transformed into a balanced, machine-like offense capable of putting up crooked numbers on a daily basis. With few automatic outs in the lineup and more guys capable of providing an offensive spark, the Yankees should present a ton of problems for opposing pitching staffs over the final two months of the season. Now, about stabilizing that rotation …