What Luis Severino must do to avoid a sophomore slump

At just 21 years old, Luis Severino made his highly anticipated MLB debut against the Boston Red Sox in Yankee Stadium on August 5th. Severino went on to have a marvelous debut despite only going five innings. He struck out 7 Boston hitters allowing 2 runs, including a homer to David Ortiz. This was only the beginning to stellar first season Severino enjoyed where he would go 5-3 with an ERA of 2.89. Coming into 2016 with incredibly high expectations where some expect him to anchor the staff and become the ace, he has gotten off to a slow start. But coming off a strong start last night against Oakland with plenty of time to have a great season, here are 5 things Severino has to do to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump.
Photo Via BronxBaseballDaily

1. Get ahead in the count
This should be a sticking point for every pitcher as it really sets the tone for each start. For Severino, these numbers absolutely jump out at me. To this point in his career, opposing hitters are hitting .346 off Severino when they’re ahead in the count and .298 when they’re even. To further break down his numbers, below is a table of what hitters are doing against him when they’re ahead in the count, or even with the count. I simply omitted 3-0 and 3-1 because although these numbers are small sample sizes, there was hardly any data for those two counts.
COUNT
AB
H
2B
HR
AVG
SLG
0-0
33
13
3
1
.394
.576
1-0
13
8
0
0
.615
.615
1-1
30
13
5
0
.433
.600
2-0
11
7
2
2
.636
1.364
2-1
22
6
2
1
.273
.500

Inversely, Severino tends to assert his dominance over hitters when he gets ahead in the count; hitters are hitting just .150 off him. He also seems to put hitters away with ease when he has 2 strikes on them, so I included those numbers as well. Here’s a further breakdown of the numbers.

COUNT
AB
H
2B
HR
AVG
SLG
0-1
23
7
1
1
.304
.478
0-2
32
2
0
2
.063
.250
1-2
52
7
0
1
.135
.192
2-2
73
14
3
3
.192
.356
3-2
29
7
1
1
.241
.379

Overall, Severino has to get ahead in the count early and often in the game. He tends to struggle in the first inning of games (more on this below), so if he can locate his pitches well from the start, he can string together solid outings.

2. Throw a scoreless first inning
For no apparent reason whatsoever, Severino’s worst inning thus far in his career is the first inning. Perhaps he comes in anxious, but his career ERA is 6.43 in the first inning and hitters are hitting .321 against him. Granted, this is where he faces some of the best hitters in the order, but if Severino wants to avoid the sophomore slump, he is going to have to get through the first inning unscathed. And of the 11 homers Severino has served up to this point, 4 of those have come in the first inning.

Now, Severino’s first inning woes look to have improved through 3 starts this year as he’s only allowed 1 run in the first inning out of the 9 total runs he’s allowed this year (all earned).

3. Establish the slider
Severino’s repertoire consists of 3 pitches that he throws consistently: a fastball, changeup and slider. He also sneaks in a cutting fastball occasionally but he usage of this pitch is sparse. The common scouting report of Severino is that his live moving fastball in the mid to upper 90’s is his best pitch, and his hard changeup thrown in the upper 80’s is a plus pitch at the big league level. However, his slider tends to spin on him and hang across the middle of the plate. We’ve seen this pitch get him into some trouble already this season when Mark Canha drilled a hanging slider into the seats in his last start. When his slider is moving to its potential, Severino has 3 above average pitches, and that is what can elevate him to ace status.

4. Avoid the big inning
When I say that Severino must avoid the big inning to put together a solid season, I mean pitches-wise just as much as I mean runs-wise. Severino tends to allow a string of 2 or 3 hits in innings where he allows a run or two, and this is what gets him into trouble from a pitches standpoint. Any inning where he allows a few hits and a run or two throwing 20+ pitches is a tough inning that happens far too often for the young talented pitcher. Obviously, these innings will happen, but if he can cut down on innings where his pitch count elevates, he’ll finish games with a better looking stat line. This is also a major reason Severino has not been able to get deep in games in his career so far (more on that below).

5. Get deep into games
In Severino’s 14 career starts, 11 in 2015 and 3 in 2016, Sevy has only gotten through 7 innings just once, in his final start of 2015. This was one of two starts last season in which Severino did not walk a batter. Now, Severino has had impeccable command thus far in 2016 with 11 strikeouts against just 1 walk, compared to 56 strikeouts to 22 walks in 2015. Consequently, he has allowed more hits per 9 innings this season (15.0) compared to 7.68 per 9 in 2015. So for Severino to get deep into games, he is going to have to do a combination of numbers 1-4 in this article.

Conclusion
The biggest thing Severino needs to do is command his pitches in his sophomore season as a big leaguer. If he hits his spots that are called from Brian McCann – who in my opinion is the best game caller in the league – then he should enjoy an abundance of success and turn things around from his slow start. Severino’s slow start is so frustrating for Yankee fans due to our astronomically high expectations for the 22 year-old. But it’s early in the season, and I fully expect him to turn things around and become a front-line starter by season’s end, we just need to be patient with the kid.

Article by: Chad Raines
Follow me on twitter @Chad_Rain
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