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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yankees send Severino to Triple-A, place Ackley on DL

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

5:21pm: Joe Girardi told reporters this afternoon Ackley has a torn labrum in his shoulder and may need surgery. Ouch. Here’s the play where Ackley got hurt:

Dustin Ackley injury

The labrum tear likely ends his season, right? This definitely won’t be a short-term injury. If it does end his season, it figures to end his Yankees career too. Ackley was a prime non-tender candidate this coming offseason. Expect the Yankees to look for a backup first baseman in the coming weeks.

2:21pm: The Yankees have placed utility player Dustin Ackley on the 15-day DL with a dislocated right shoulder, the team announced today. Rob Refsnyder has been recalled to fill the roster spot. Also, the Yankees activated Luis Severino off the DL and optioned him to Triple-A Scranton.

The Severino move is far more notable. He made his first minor league rehab start last night, throwing three scoreless innings with High-A Tampa. Rather than keep him on rehab, the Yankees activated Severino and sent him to Triple-A, meaning he won’t accrue service time. By my unofficial count, 72 days in minors will delay his free agency a year.

Needless to say, the Yankees hope they don’t need to keep Severino in the minors for 72 days. They want him healthy and effective and in their big league rotation. He’s healthy. They wouldn’t have activated him if he weren’t. But effective? Who knows. Severino had a 7.46 ERA (5.48 FIP) in seven starts and 35 innings before the triceps injury. His command in particular was awful.

Aside from Michael Pineda, the Yankees have been getting good to great work from their rotation the last few weeks. Chad Green and Luis Cessa are available as depth options, so they don’t need to rush Severino back, which is good. He’s extremely important to the franchise going forward and they have to get him right. I’m on board with the Triple-A stint. It was time.

As for Ackley, he hurt himself diving back into first base on a pickoff throw yesterday. Mason Williams separated his shoulder the same way last year. (Williams eventually needed surgery.) With Ackley out and Refsnyder up, Austin Romine takes over as the backup first baseman by default. Mark Teixeira is expected to return to the starting lineup tonight after missing a few games with a neck problem.

DotF: Luis Severino throws three scoreless innings in first rehab game

Two quick notes:

  • IF Deibinson Romero has been released, according to Shane Hennigan. The move clears a roster spot for RHP Brady Lail, who was technically called up from Double-A Trenton. Lail never actually left Scranton though. He was between starts and it was a paper move to temporarily clear a roster spot for LHP Phil Coke last week.
  • 3B Miguel Andujar whacked two home runs yesterday and that landed him in today’s Prospect Report. As always, the Prospect Report is free. It’s not behind the Baseball America paywall. Make sure you check it out.

High-A Tampa (6-4 win over Brevard County)

  • 2B Jorge Mateo: 0-4, 1 RBI, 2 K
  • SS Abi Avelino: 2-5, 1 R, 1 K, 1 SB
  • 3B Miguel Andujar: 1-5, 2 K
  • DH Austin Aune: 1-5, 1 RBI, 3 K — leads the farm system with 59 strikeouts (33.1 K%)
  • RF Jake Skole: 2-3, 2 R, 2 HR, 2 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K — five homers in 34 games for the 15th overall pick in the 2010 draft … his career high is nine homers in 124 games back in 2011
  • RHP Luis Severino: 3 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 4/1 GB/FB — 27 of 43 pitches were strikes (63%) … Joe Girardi told reporters Severino was scheduled for 45-50 pitches or so, which indicates he’ll be making more than one rehab start … we know Severino can dominate at this level, so I wouldn’t focus on the numbers much … the important thing is that he’s healthy
  • RHP Gabe Encinas: 1.1 IP, 2 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 0 K, 1 WP, 1 HB, 1/0 GB/FB — 24 of 45 pitches were strikes (53%) … 8/18 K/BB in 14.1 innings this year
  • RHP Jordan Foley: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 1 WP, 1/0 GB/FB — 12 of 22 pitches were strikes (55%) … 32/15 K/BB in 24.2 innings

[Read more…]

Game 45: Going for No. 7

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees are back at .500 thanks to their six-game winning streak. Getting to .500 was the easy part though. Building the record up and winning more games than you lose going forward is where it gets difficult. The Yankees can begin that process with a win tonight to stretch that winning streak to seven games. It would be their longest since last June. The good news is they’re 85.7% of the way there already. Here is the Blue Jays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Carlos Beltran
  4. C Brian McCann
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. 1B Dustin Ackley
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. RF Aaron Hicks
    RHP Ivan Nova

It is legitimately hot in New York. The temperature has been hanging around 90 degrees all day, though it’ll be a bit cooler tonight. No clouds in the sky and no rain in the forecast. Nice night for a game. Tonight’s contest will begin at 7:05pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Injury Update: Alex Rodriguez (hamstring) is playing another rehab game with Double-A Trenton tonight and is expected to rejoin the team tomorrow … Mark Teixeira is out after his neck “locked up.” He’s been having on and off neck issues all season and ia going for an MRI. Joe Girardi admitted to being concerned … Brian Cashman reiterated to Shane Hennigan that Luis Severino (triceps) could be sent to Triple-A once healthy. “First, finish him off his rehab. We expect it to be a (one and done) situation there and then we’ll make a decision whether he gets placed back on the 25(-man roster) in New York or if we send him here to Scranton,” said the GM.

Blue Jays Roster Update: The Blue Jays activated second baseman Devon Travis off the DL today. Manager John Gibbons said that wasn’t the plan coming into the series. I guess they’re looking for ways to boost their offense.

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.

Game 44: Home, For Now

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees are back home from their seven-game West Coast trip but they’re not going to be here for long. They play three games against the Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium this week, then they’ll head right back out on a ten-game, four-city road trip. Blah. They’re in the middle of a stretch with 17 of 20 games on the road. Not ideal, but what can you do.

Anyway, hey, the Yankees are on a five-game winning streak! How about that? They hadn’t won as many as three games in a row this season before this five-game winning streak. The Blue Jays may be in last place, but that doesn’t matter to me. These games are always tough. If the Yankees are going to extend this winning streak to six games, they’ll have to earn it tonight. Here is the Blue Jays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. 1B Mark Teixeira
  4. DH Carlos Beltran
  5. RF Dustin Ackley
  6. 2B Starlin Castro
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. C Austin Romine
    RHP Nathan Eovaldi

Not the best weather in New York today. It was raining when I woke up and it’s been cloudy all day. There’s a tiny little bit of rain in the forecast tonight, though nothing heavy or prolonged. They might have to play through some rain drops for an inning or two. We’ll see. Tonight’s game is scheduled to begin at 7:05pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy.

Injury Updates: In case you missed it earlier, Alex Rodriguez (hamstring) is starting a rehab assignment with Double-A Trenton tonight. Joe Girardi seemed to indicate the plan is to give A-Rod two more rehab games, then activate him this weekend when the Yankees go to Tampa … Luis Severino (triceps) will make a rehab start for High-A Tampa on Sunday. Girardi said when he’s healthy, the Yankees could use him to give the other starters an extra day of rest during this upcoming stretch of 20 games in 20 days.

Blue Jays Rotation Update: The Blue Jays have changed their rotation for the series. They’re pushing Aaron Sanchez back a few days to give him extra rest, so he won’t start Thursday’s series finale. It’ll be lefty J.A. Happ instead. He’s been really good this year. Tough break for the Yankees.

The Yankees and the difference between actual velocity and perceived velocity

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Starters

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

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

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

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

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

The Relievers

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

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

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

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

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

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

Miscellaneous Arms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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