The 2018 rotation is starting to take shape for the Yankees

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

How many teams have a comparable young position player core to the Yankees? The Cubs and Astros for sure. The Dodgers? I suppose so with Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger. They’re in the conversation. Point is, there aren’t many teams with an Aaron Judge and a Gary Sanchez at the MLB level, a Greg Bird working his way back, and a Gleyber Torres and a Clint Frazier in Triple-A. It’s pretty awesome.

The pitching staff is another story. The Yankees have sneaky good pitching depth in the farm system, though coming into the season, the future of the big league rotation was uncertain. It still is, really. Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia will become free agents after the season, and Masahiro Tanaka can opt-out as well. The holdover youngsters from last season (Luis Severino, Luis Cessa, Bryan Mitchell, Chad Green) offered promise. That’s about it.

Now, two months into the 2017 season, next year’s rotation is beginning to take shape. Who knows how things will play out the rest of the season, but at least things are moving in a positive direction. So far two things are true that we hoped would be true when everyone reported to Tampa in February:

  1. Severino can bounce back from his rough 2016 season and be a dominant starter.
  2. Jordan Montgomery can be a cheap and serviceable rotation piece.

We all kinda thought and hoped those two things would be true, but we didn’t know they would be true. And we still don’t, really. The evidence is pointing in that direction though. Severino has been very good overall and occasionally brilliant, such as last night. He’s been even better in 2017 than he was in 2015 in more ways than one. Severino looks like an entirely different pitcher than last season.

“Really good again. If we wouldn’t have pushed him the other day I probably would have left him in,” said Joe Girardi following last night’s game (video link). “… He had a lot of depth to his slider tonight. I thought his fastball, he hit a lot of locations with it … You feel good when he takes the mound. You really do. Because of the stuff that he has. I’ve seen the improvement in his slider. It has a lot more depth. And when he has the depth to it, it’s really tough to hit.”

Montgomery, despite Monday’s clunker, has been solid through his first nine big league starts. The walks are kinda annoying (8.9 BB%) though I think it’s only a matter of time until those come down. Montgomery has a long track record of throwing strikes. He’s walking a few too many right now because many rookie pitchers walk a few too many. That’s how it goes. The most important thing is you can see Montgomery sticking in an MLB rotation. He has the tools to do it.

The Yankees went into Spring Training with a lot of pitching inventory and that’s good because you need depth, but they were still trying to sort out who can help them, both short and long-term. Who can they build around going forward? Who can soak up some innings to get them through the coming season? Those questions had to be answered. And so far this season, Severino sure looks like a keeper. Montgomery does too, even if he doesn’t offer the same upside.

Make no mistake, the Yankees are not out of the woods yet. They still have three more rotation spots to figure out going forward. At least right now they have a pretty good idea that Severino and Montgomery will be two of their five starters heading into next season. As recently as two months ago it wasn’t clear where those two fit in. Now they’re part of the solution both this year and the future.

Yankeemetrics: Pitching, Power and Wins (May 22-24)

(Newsday)
(Newsday)

Bronx Bombers Born Again
The Yankees returned to the Bronx on Monday and kicked off their seven-game homestand with a sweet comeback win over the Royals, 4-2.

Michael Pineda continued to shed the enigma label that had defined his time in pinstripes leading up to this season with his eighth straight start of at least five innings pitched and no more than three earned runs allowed, easily the longest streak of his career. He didn’t have his dominant stuff, but executed well in tough spots as the Royals went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position against him.

That’s been one of the biggest keys to his resurgent campaign this year – remaining focused and poised while getting big outs when he needs them. Pineda has held batters to a .143/.162/.229 line with RISP in 2017, and most impressive is that .162 opponent on-base percentage, the lowest in the majors (min. 35 batters faced) through Monday.

Down 2-0 early, Brett Gardner ignited the Yankees rally with a third-inning solo homer, his ninth dinger of the season. All nine of those homers came in a span of 80 at-bats from April 29 through Monday, an at-bat per homer rate of 8.9 that should be familiar to Yankee fans: during Babe Ruth’s 60-homer campaign in 1927, he homered once every 9.0 at bats.

Another key moment in the game was the Yankees’ successful replay challenge prevented tying run from scoring in the seventh inning. That was their 14th challenge in 2017, and the 12th time they’ve had the call overturned. Thanks to our unsung hero of the season – coaching assistant Brett Weber – that “replay win percentage” of 85.7 was the best in the majors through Monday.

(AP)
(AP)

Magnificent Monty
The Royals handed the Yankees a rare loss on Tuesday night in the Bronx, one where the home team saw its normally lock-down bullpen implode in the late innings after an unprecedented outing by one of its young pitchers.

The Yankees wasted a historic gem by Jordan Montgomery, who was nearly perfect as he took a one-hit shutout and a 2-0 advantage into the seventh frame before giving up a solo homer to Lorenzo Cain. The bullpen then coughed up the lead and more, allowing five runs on four hits, including three home runs.

Let’s put all that craziness into context:

  • Before Tuesday’s meltdown, the Yankees were 15-0 when taking a multi-run lead into the seventh inning.
  • The bullpen entered the game with the fewest homers allowed (5) and the lowest homer rate (0.32 per nine innings) in the majors.
  • The final longball was surrendered by Chasen Shreve, who had not given up a single run, let alone a homer, in 2017. His 44 batters faced prior to Tuesday were the most of any pitcher in MLB that had yet to be scored on this season.
  • At the age of 24 years, 147 days, Montgomery became the youngest Yankee in franchise history to produce this impressive pitching line: at least six strikeouts, zero walks, no more than two hits allowed and six-or-more innings pitched.
(Getty)
(Getty)

Ace Sevy
Luis Severino made sure there would be no chance for another bullpen disaster on Wednesday as he delivered a dazzling performance with a 114-pitch, three-hit, eight-inning, scoreless gem in the Yankees 3-0 win.

It’s crazy but true: this was the first time the Yankees shut out the Royals since September 15, 2004 in Kansas City. They were the only AL team the Yankees hadn’t blanked in that span of nearly 13 years. Also crazy but true: it had been more than 16 (!) years since the Yankees shut out the Royals in the Bronx – the last time it happened was April 5, 2001. They were the only AL team the Yankees hadn’t yet held scoreless at the new Yankee Stadium.

Back to the highlight of the night … Severino’s ace-like domination of the Royals lineup. The 114 pitches were a career-high, and most impressively, he averaged 98 mph on his four-seamer in the seventh and eighth innings (!). He faced just one batter with a runner in scoring position all game, and nobody even reached third base against him.

One of the key at-bats came in the fourth with a man on first and two outs and the Yankees clinging to a 1-0 lead, when Severino struck out Eric Hosmer looking on a 3-2 changeup to end the inning. It was a perfectly placed pitch in the zone that completely fooled the Royals lefty:

hosmerseverinok2gif

Severino’s changeup has been a surprising weapon for him this season, as he’s allowed just two hits in 19 at-bats (.105) with four strikeouts ending in the pitch this season. While the pitch doesn’t generate a ton of whiffs, it’s super-effective at keeping hitters off-balance thanks to a 46 percent foul rate that is the second-highest among all major-league starters (min. 50 pitches). This command and confidence in his changeup has helped him hold lefties to a .600 OPS this season, a nice improvement from the .727 OPS he allowed to opposite-handed batters in his first two seasons.

How impressive was Severino’s masterpiece? Consider this fun nugget: Severino became first Yankee age 23 or younger to pitch at least eight scoreless innings and strike out seven-or-more batters in a game since a 23-year-old Dave Righetti on May 22, 1982 vs. the Twins.

Finding a second gear after a sizzling first act

(Elsa/Getty Images)
(Elsa/Getty Images)

There are always certain phases of the major league season. The highs and lows, the streaks and skids, fluctuating from month to month and week to week.

Unlike last season, the Yankees began 2017 on fire. The start seemed reminiscent of 2010, when the team got off to a roaring start coming off a championship. The funny thing about that 2010 team is they didn’t soar to a division title. They struggled. They blew their early division lead, gained it back and then lost it in the final weeks of the season, settling for a wild card.

I don’t mean to make a straight side-by-side comparison between the 2010 Yankees and the current squad, but the lesson is important: There are going to be lulls in the season and the team can’t let up, allowing a division rival to sneak ahead. This year, the Yankees likely won’t be overcome by a pesky Rays squad, but the Orioles and Red Sox are enough to handle.

And in April, the Yankees handled them well enough. They split their six games with the O’s and took both contests with the Sox. Considering they had to face AL Cy Young favorite Chris Sale and started 0-2 against the O’s, that’s a strong result.

It was all part of a magical month where everything seemed to go right. Aaron Judge, Starlin Castro, Chase Headley, among others, put up surprising numbers en route to a 15-8 record. The only thing perhaps more eye-catching was the rotation, which consistently worked deep into games despite most assuming it would be a liability going into the season.

That’s the catch: It wasn’t supposed to go that way. One would have assumed coming out of the spring that if the team caught fire early, it’d be on the backs of Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird and a knockout bullpen alongside Masahiro Tanaka as the ace. Well, Sanchez and Bird got hurt. Tanaka was off on Opening Day and despite a 5-3 record, hasn’t looked quite right since. The bullpen was quite good, perhaps even better than expected, but it was overshadowed and not asked to perform many herculean tasks.

And now that we’re late in May, phase two is well underway. The team is 6-8 in their last 14 dating back to May 8 and have seen some stinkers out of the rotation. Castro and Judge have looked more Earth-bound recently and Headley has crash landed. Early expectations have proved more prescient with the bullpen carrying a bigger load, Tuesday’s blown lead notwithstanding. Sanchez has taken off and so has Brett Gardner, who seems to have found the hitting stroke that earned him an All-Star appearance just a few seasons to go.

Despite this sub-par stretch, the Yankees still hold a 2.5 game lead in the division over the Orioles, 3.5 on the Red Sox. That lead is actually their largest this season.

But the team has an upcoming stretch that could help define them. After this homestand with the Royals and Athletics wraps up, they play 13 straight games in division, including six with the O’s and three with the Red Sox, all condensed into two weeks. You’re not going to win the division with a good two weeks, nor are you going to lose it with a lousy fortnight.

(David Banks/Getty Images)
(David Banks/Getty Images)

Yet this is the time when the Yankees need to begin figuring out who they are long-term, finding that second gear that can help carry them throughout the summer. The 11 wins by five or more runs have been nice and so have the standout starts from guys like Luis Severino and Michael Pineda, who would have castoffs this offseason if certain sections of the fan base had their way. But is this young crew really going to dominate all season? Is this team actually arrived ahead of schedule and not just showing glimpses of 2018 and beyond?

The team’s diverse set of skills in the lineup serves them well if sustained success is indeed in the cards. If, let’s say, Matt Holliday and Judge going into month-long slumps, the team can rely on hitters like Gardner or Didi Gregorius to carry them in a different way, not needing to pound home runs game-by-game.

It doesn’t hurt to have that sturdy backbone of a bullpen, which may end up as the defining positive for this team. Even with Aroldis Chapman out, Dellin Betances, Tyler Clippard and co. are a force that can hold down most leads. With a few quality long relievers, the team can withstand a few 4-5 inning outings and keep the team within striking distance.

Or maybe the rotation with a rejuvenated Tanaka can lead the way. With Jordan Montgomery and CC Sabathia as strong back-end starters, perhaps Tanaka, Severino and Pineda can carry the team every five days and enable more winning streaks.

So that second gear doesn’t necessarily have to look all that different from the first one. It can be a continuation. But in order for the Yankees to sustain their early success, they’ll need to figure out just what makes this team special and utilize those defining characteristics in the crucial weeks ahead.

Yankeemetrics: Roughed up in Tampa (May 19-21)

(AP)
(AP)

No relief
In a season defined by so many improbable wins and stunning comebacks, the Yankees fell just short of adding another one on Friday night, falling 5-4 to the Rays. It was just the Yankees’ fifth loss this season when holding a lead at any point in the game, the fewest in the AL and second-fewest in the majors behind the Rockies (3) after Friday’s slate.

Luis Severino struggled early but gave the Yankees five solid innings and a chance to win the game, exiting with a 2-1 lead. He threw 30 pitches in the first inning and 59 in the next four frames, allowing just one run on five hits while striking out seven.

Severino’s slider was in peak form, generating a career-high 11 whiffs on 24 swings (45.8%) among the 42 sliders he threw. The pitch netted him four of his seven strikeouts and four of his five groundball outs, as he mostly buried it at the knees while also mixing in a few swing-and-miss sliders up in the zone:

luis-severino

His slider has emerged as one of the nastiest in baseball this season. The pitch has been responsible for a total of 36 strikeouts and 25 groundball outs in 2017; both of those numbers were the second-most among all pitchers through Friday, trailing only Chris Archer (48 strikeouts, 36 groundball outs).

Severino’s gutsy performance was wasted, though, as the bullpen imploded and blew the lead late. The Rays’ rally was capped by a tie-breaking RBI single in the eighth inning off the bat of notable Yankee killer, Evan Longoria. Friend of Yankeemetrics, Mark Simon, tells us that it was Longoria’s 13th career game-winning RBI against the Yankees, which is the most among active players.

Before Longoria’s hit, it looked like Matt Holliday might wear the hero’s cape. His two-run homer in the top of the eighth knotted the game at 4-4, and was his first game-tying homer in the eighth inning or later in more than seven years (April 11, 2010 vs. Brewers).

Even more impressive is that the pitch he crushed was a 100-mph fastball from Ryan Stanek, the fastest pitch hit out of the ballpark by any player this season. Prior to the at-bat, Holliday was just 2-for-10 (.200) with three strikeouts in at-bats ending in a 100-plus-mph pitch dating back to 2008.

(Getty)
(Getty)

Tanaka The Terrible
There is no sugarcoating the fact that Saturday’s loss might have been the ugliest of the season. The numerous ejections, the beanball war that erupted in the late innings and the glacial pace of the game were mere footnotes in what has easily become the Yankees biggest worry of the season:

Tanaka was clobbered yet again, giving up three homers and six runs before getting pulled with no outs in the fourth inning. This disaster performance somehow was an improvement statistically on his last start a week ago against the Astros, when he gave up even more runs (8) and homers (4) and pitched fewer innings (1 2/3).

That string of back-to-back train wreck outings put him in ignominious company: he is the only pitcher in Yankee history to allow at least six earned runs and three homers in consecutive games while getting fewer than 10 outs in each game. In fact the only other player in major-league history to do that was Mike Lincoln for the Twins in 2000.

Any way you slice it, his recent numbers are awful:

  • Dating back to the fifth inning of his May 2 start vs the Blue Jays, Tanaka has coughed up 10 homers and 22 runs in his last 14 innings pitched.
  • Dating back to the seventh inning of his May 8 start at Cincinnati, he’s surrendered 16 (!) runs and eight (!) homers in his last 5 2/3 innings pitched.

One of the few highlights was yet another dinger by Aaron Judge, his league-leading 15th of the season. He is one of five Yankees to hit at least 15 homers in the team’s first 40 games, joining this exclusive group of sluggers: A-Rod (2007), Tino Martinez (1997), Mickey Mantle (1956) and Babe Ruth (four times).

Super-Judge (AP)
Super-Judge (AP)

Strikeouts are overrated
The Yankees avoided the sweep and snapped their three-game losing streak with a 3-2 win on Sunday. Despite the Yankee victory, the Rays remain the only AL team with a winning record against the Yankees since 2010 (71-68).

Brett Gardner delivered the game-clinching blast with his tie-breaking two-run homer in the second inning. It was his eighth longball of the season, surpassing the number he put over the fence all of last year (in 148 games and 634 plate appearances). All eight of his homers have come since April 29; the only player with homers in that span is Dodgers rookie Cody Bellinger (9).

They overcame a whopping 17 strikeouts, tying the franchise record for a nine-inning game, done three times previously, including once already this season (3-2 win over St. Louis on April 15). They are the only team in major-league history to win two nine-inning games when striking out at least 17 times in a single season.

The heart of the order — 3-4-5 batters — were the biggest culprits, fanning 11 times in 12 at-bats. Matt Holliday and Aaron Judge were both 0-for-4 with four Ks, becoming the first set of Yankee teammates to whiff four-plus times in a non-extra-inning game. This was also the first time in any game (regardless of innings) that the Yankees had two players go hitless and strike out at least four times.

Judge redeemed himself in the field, with a spectacular game-saving catch and double play, robbing Evan Longoria of extra bases with a man on in the sixth inning.

Entering the day, Judge ranked second in the majors in Defensive Runs Saved (6) among rightfielders behind the Cubs’ Jason Heyward (7).

Yankeemetrics: Rising Legend of Aaron Judge (May 1-3)

(AP)
(AP)

Blue Jays at home in the Bronx
Looking to get back on track after dropping the final game of their weekend set against Baltimore, the Yankees were hardly thrilled to see the Blue Jays as the next opponent on their homestand this week.

After beating the Yankees 7-1 on Monday night, Toronto improved to 13-7 in the Bronx since the start of the 2015 season, the only visiting team with double-digit wins at Yankee Stadium over the last three years.

Luis Severino was coming off the finest performance of his career — seven shutout innings vs. Boston last week – but he produced his worst outing of the season on Tuesday, an unsurprising result given the opponent. Severino entered the game with a 5.89 ERA vs. the Blue Jays, his highest against any team he’d faced more than once, and that mark grew to 6.38 after he allowed five runs in 5 2/3 innings.

The Yankees were down only a run through five frames, but the Blue Jays broke the game open with a three-run sixth inning that included the rare 2-RBI sacrifice fly, on an acrobatic catch by Jacoby Ellsbury near the wall.

This was just the fifth time since the statistic was first tracked in 1954 that the Yankees had surrendered a multi-RBI sac fly in a game. The others: Sept. 16, 2014 vs Rays (also the last time it happened in MLB and also involving Ellsbury); July 24, 1990 vs Rangers; May 15, 1983 vs White Sox; July 9, 1961 vs Red Sox.

(AP)
(AP)

Aaron Judge, probably human?
The Yankees first losing streak since the opening week of the season ended nearly as quickly as it began thanks to an easy 11-5 win on Tuesday night, snapping their mini-two-game skid.

The Bronx Bombers lived up to their famous nickname, scoring those 11 runs on 16 hits, including five homers. This was their second five-homer game in 2017 (also on April 28 against Baltimore), making it the first season in franchise history that the Yankees produced multiple five-homer games within the team’s first 25 contests.

The homer barrage was led by the starting outfielders, with Aaron Hicks contributing a solo shot while Aaron Judge and Brett Gardner belted two homers each. It was just the second time in the last 50 years that two Yankee flycatchers each hit multiple homers in the same game. The only other instance was when Mel Hall and Jesse Barfield went deep twice on May 27, 1991 against the Red Sox.

(Newsday)
(Newsday)

It was Gardner’s second multi-homer game in the past four games, a notable feat considering that Gardner had only two multi-homer performances on his ledger in his first 1,085 career games.

Even more improbable is the fact that G.G.B.G. had yet to record his first RBI this season prior to the start of this power outburst on April 29 – in fact, his 76 plate appearances through April 28 were the most by any zero-RBI player in MLB.

Despite the huge contributions up and down the lineup in this game – six players had multiple hits and five players drove in at least one run – of course it was Judge that stole the show with his 11th and 12th home runs of the season.

Judge’s first one in the third inning was a 337-foot wall-scraper that just made it over the fence in right field, the shortest home run he’s hit so far in his career. The second one was a moonshot with a launch angle of 38.7 degrees, the highest for any home run he’s hit so far in his career.

After Tuesday’s two-homer, four-RBI night, Judge’s numbers reached historical proportions for a player this early into the season. He is the:

  • Third Yankee ever to hit at least 12 homers in the team’s first 25 contests, joining A-Rod (14 in 2007) and Babe Ruth (12 in 1921). Notably, A-Rod finished that 2007 MVP season with an MLB-best 54 homers while the Great Bambino led the majors with 59 homers in 1921.
  • Second player in MLB history at the age of 25 or younger to compile at least 12 homers and 25 RBI within the team’s first 25 games of the season. The other was Eric Davis in 1987, who went on to have an All-Star campaign with 37 homers and 100 RBI for the Reds.

Judge also etched his name in the record books with his singular performance at the plate on Tuesday night. He is the:

  • Third Yankee right fielder to have at least two homers, two walks and four RBIs in a game, a list that also includes a couple franchise legends in Dave Winfield (1985) and Joe DiMaggio (1936).
  • Youngest Yankee (at the age of 25 years, 6 days) with a multi-home run, multi-walk game since a 24-year-old Mickey Mantle in 1956.
(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

Judge re-writes record books, again
No deficit is too big for this team, which celebrated yet another improbable come-from-behind victory on Wednesday night. Down 4-0 before they came to bat in the first inning and 6-3 after two frames, the Yankees rallied to win 8-6 and reclaim sole possession of first place in the AL East. This was their fifth comeback win when trailing by at least three runs this season, matching the Cubs and Astros for the most in the majors.

Matt Holliday got the scoring started early, crushing a three-run, 446-foot bomb in the first inning. It was the 300th career home run for the 37-year-old veteran, a milestone blast that confirms Holliday as one of the game’s rare sluggers with an elite hit tool: He is one of three active players to have at least 300 homers and a .300 career batting average, along with Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera.

Aaron Judge added to his ever-growing legend with his 13th dinger of the season in the third inning. The unprecedented 435-foot blast to dead-center made the 25-year-old power-hitting cyborg the youngest player in major-league history to hit at least 13 homers within the team’s first 26 games.

Looking for another impressive #AaronJudgeFact? Here’s the short list of right-handed batters since 1950 to match Judge’s 13 homers within the season’s first 26 games: Nelson Cruz (2015), A-Rod (2007), Pujols (2006), Mark McGwire (1992), Mike Schmidt (1976) and Willie Mays (1964).

Yankeemetrics: Whiteout in the Bronx (April 17-19)

(Getty)
(Getty)

The Judge and The Mick
The White Sox were the latest team to try and slow down the Yankees juggernaut, a feat that seemed improbable based on their recent struggles at the House That Jeter Built.

The White Sox entered this series with a 7-20 record at the new Yankee Stadium, the second-worst win percentage (.259) by any American League team (only the Angels, 8-24, were worse). The Yankees made sure they didn’t improve that mark on Monday with a 7-4 win in the series opener.

Matt Holliday broke the game open with a monster three-run, 459-foot home run in the third inning. It was the fourth-longest homer by any Yankee in the Statcast era (since 2015), behind three homers by A-Rod in 2015. With an exit velocity of 113.9 mph, it was also the third-hardest hit homer in that span behind an A-Bomb in 2015 (116.5) and an Aaron Judge blast last year (115.2).

Judge joined the powerball party in the fifth inning, extending the lead to 7-0 with his fourth home run of the season. He’s just the second Yankee outfielder under the age of 25 to hit four homers within the team’s first 13 games. The other? Oh, just some guy named Mickey Mantle in 1956.

Jordan Montgomery picked up his first major-league win, showing the same toughness and poise he displayed last week during his debut, pitching out of jams in the first and sixth innings. Overall this season, he’s allowed just one hit in 10 at-bats (.100) and struck out four batters with runners in scoring position.

Adam Warren relieved Montgomery, and kept his Hidden Perfect Game intact until he walked Tyler Saladino with two outs, snapping a streak of 22 straight batters retired to start the season.

Warren is the only Yankee pitcher since at least 1913 to not allow a baserunner in any of his first four appearances, while retiring more than 10 batters during the streak (Warren set down 20 batters in a row during his first four games).

(Getty)
(Getty)

Eight is Enough
All good things must come to an end … Thanks to an anemic showing by the Yankee offense and an unexpected masterful performance by White Sox journeyman pitcher Miguel Gonzalez on Tuesday night, the Yankees lost their first game since April 8 and suffered their first home loss of the season.

The Yankees eight-game win streak was tied for their second-longest in April in franchise history, bettered only by a 10-gamer in 1987. And their 7-0 start at Yankee Stadium was just the sixth time they had won their first seven home games; the good news is that of the previous five seasons it happened (1943, 1949, 1951, 1987, 1998), four ended with the Yankees hoisting a World Series trophy.

Gonzalez held the Yankees to just four infield singles and one run in his 8 1/3 innings of work on a frosty night in the Bronx. How unlikely was this standout performance?

He had been winless in his previous 18 road starts entering the game, which was the longest active streak among major-league pitchers. And it had been over three decades since a White Sox pitcher allowed one-run-or-fewer and four-hits-or-fewer in an outing of more than eight innings at Yankee Stadium: Neil Allen was the last to do it, tossing a two-hit, no-strikeout (!) shutout in July 1986.

Luis Severino‘s final line (four runs allowed) underscored the dominance he showed in striking out 10 guys, including six with his devastating slider. Overall, the pitch has been a key weapon for him this season: of the 31 two-strike sliders he’s thrown, 13 have resulted in strikeouts, good for a 41.9 percent slider “putaway rate” that ranks second behind only Noah Syndergaard (43.5%) among starters.

Coupled with his 11-strikeout game in his previous start, Severino became the youngest Yankee with back-to-back double-digit strikeout games since lefty Al Downing in 1963. Even more impressive is this golden nugget:

At the age of 23 years and 57 days, Severino is the youngest pitcher in franchise history with at least 10 strikeouts and no walks in a game.

A new win streak
Death, taxes … and the Yankees beating the White Sox at Yankee Stadium. Three things you can pretty much count on these days. With their 9-1 victory in the rubber game on Wednesday night, the Yankees are now unbeaten (10-0-2) in their last 12 home series against the White Sox. The last time they lost a series in the Bronx to the Pale Hose was Aug. 8-10, 2005.

Masahiro Tanaka didn’t have ace-like stuff but still delivered his best performance of the season, limiting the White Sox to one run on six hits in seven innings. He’s now won six straight home starts dating back to last season, setting a record at the new Yankee Stadium. The last Yankee pitcher to win six starts in a row at home was Chien-Ming Wang in 2006.

Aaron Judge did Aaron Judge things once again, crushing a towering homer into to the left field bleachers in the fifth inning to give the Yankees a 8-1 lead. The absolute bomb went an estimated 448 feet and left his bat at 115.5 mph. His assault on the Statcast record books continues unabated:

  • The distance of 448 feet is a career-high for Judge, and is the third-longest homer at Yankee Stadium in the Statcast era (since 2015).
  • The exit velocity of 115.5 mph makes it the hardest-hit homer by any player at Yankee Stadium in the Statcast era.
  • Judge now has six batted balls with an exit velocity of at least 115 mph in pinstripes; since 2015, all other Yankees have combined to hit three batted balls with an exit velocity of 115-plus mph.

Luis Severino is showing why the Yankees were smart to stick with him as a starter

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

The pitching line does not do Luis Severino justice. Last night he was charged with four runs in eight innings, though it was one run through six innings before the White Sox rallied for three runs in the seventh. Those three runs came after Pete Kozma booted what appeared to be an easy double play ball. At the very least, Kozma should have gotten one out. Instead, he got none.

Severino should not get a pass for allowing the three-run home run to Avisail Garcia because, my goodness, it was a horrible pitch. He left a cement mixer slider here:

luis-severino-avisail-garcia

Dude. You can’t leave a hanging slider there. Severino made a terrible pitch and he paid the price. That home run was basically the difference in the game. A 1-0 deficit in the late innings is a heck of a lot different than a 4-0 deficit.

That home run pitch to Garcia was also Severino’s only terrible pitch of the night, or at least that’s how it seemed. He struck out ten in eight innings and also generated ten ground ball outs. Severino faced 28 batters total and only five (five!) hit the ball out of the infield. He did a nice job holding down an admittedly weak White Sox lineup aside from the Garcia dinger.

Three starts into 2017, Severino has a mediocre 4.05 ERA in 20 innings, but the underlying stats are more important. In those 20 innings Severino has 27 strikeouts and only two walks, as well as a 50.0% ground ball rate. That’ll play, young man. Keep in mind this is the same pitcher who had an 18.8% strikeout rate and a 6.6% walk rate as a starter last year. Those numbers are 35.5% and 2.6% this year, respectively.

Now, I don’t think anyone expects Severino to maintain those strikeout and walk rates because basically no pitcher does that — Clayton Kershaw came close last season! (31.6 K% and 2.0 BB%) — but the fact he’s missing bats, limiting walks, and getting grounders early on is very encouraging. Severino really does look like a completely different pitcher. The guy we saw in 2016 is gone.

There are two big differences between the Severino we’ve seen so far this year and the Severino we saw last year. One, his changeup. He’s actually using it! He threw 12 changeups last night and eleven changeups in the start before that. (I’d tell you know many he threw in his first start if Trackman had, you know, recorded the data.) That’s on par with what he did in 2015. About a dozen changeup per game. Last year he lost confidence in the pitch and threw 12 total in his final four starts.

And two, his confidence. That’s not something we can quantify. It’s something we have to observe. Severino is throwing with conviction this year and he’s aggressively attacking hitters. He’s not nibbling and not shaking off the catcher. He’s getting the ball and throwing it. It’s almost like Severino has taken his reliever mentality from last season out to the mound as a starter this year. That’s how he looks. Like an amped up reliever as a starter.

Considering how bad Severino was as a starter last season and how great he was as a reliever, I totally understand why many folks wanted to keep him in the bullpen. I get it. I do. A kid struggles as a starter, shows lights out stuff in relief, and it’s tempting to just keep him there because hey, bullpens are important too. Why mess with success? Pair him with Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman and turn it into a six-inning game. Surely Adam Warren could be a competent fifth starter while Severino dominates in relief, right?

The Yankees never stopped believing in Severino as a starter though, and it certainly doesn’t hurt his case that the team is short on established arms under contractual control beyond this season. They need starters long-term and Severino, who turned only 23 in February, has by far the highest upside among the club’s young arms. Guys like Bryan Mitchell and Luis Cessa and Chad Green have shown promise, but not as much as Severino. Not close, really.

Three starts into the season, which is obviously a tiny little sample size, Severino looks like a very different pitcher than the guy we saw last year. He looks like the guy we saw in 2015. Better in some ways, really. This level of overall aggressive plus confidence in his changeup are two things that were desperately missing last year. Severino has gotten off to a great start this season and he’s justifying the club’s faith in him as a starting pitcher. Now it’s time to build on this start going forward.