What should the Yankees do with Luis Severino?

After yesterday’s (Tuesday, 4/26) abysmal start against the Texas Rangers, Luis Severino’s record fell to 0-3 on the season with an absolutely atrocious 6.86 ERA through four starts. He’s already allowed 15 earned runs this year in just 19.2 innings, and his pitches have not been located well, especially when his fastballs and sliders end up over the middle of the plate on two-strike counts. Severino seems to be struggling from the sophomore slump and has not been able to build off his great rookie year. Outside of Tanaka and Eovaldi’s last start, there has not been much to cheer for this year as a Yankees fan. With this in mind, the Yankees have three options with Severino: keep him in the rotation, send him down to Triple-A Scranton for a month and let him work on his pitches in a low-pressure environment, or send him to long relief in the bullpen. All statistics are current as of Wednesday, April 27. Other BBB writers will also deliver their verdicts, which will be at the end of this page.

Picture Credit: Associated Press/Frank Franklin II

Key Statistics
Even though Severino pitched well in his rookie season in 2015, he has not been able to translate that to this season. Here are some of the areas where he has sharply declined in this season.
  • Earned runs: 20 in 62.1 innings (2015) vs. 15 in 19.2 innings (2016)
  • ERA: 2.89 (2015) vs. 6.86 (2016)
  • Games in which he’s allowed 7 hits or more: 2 out of 11 starts (2015) vs. 4 out of 4 starts (2016)
  • Hits per 9 innings: 7.68 (2015) vs. 15.0 (2016)
  • Quality starts: 8 out of 11 starts (2015) vs. 1 out of 4 starts (2016)
  • Strikeouts per 9 innings: 8.12 (2015) vs. 5.63 (2016)
  • Games in which he throws an average of 15 pitches per inning: 4 out of 11 starts (2015) vs. 0 out of 4 starts (2016)
  • Games in which he pitched 6.0 innings or more: 8 out of 11 starts (2015) vs. 1 out of 4 starts (2016)
  • Opponent batting average: .229 (2015) vs. .372 (2016)
Severino has sharply decreased in areas such as strikeouts, quality starts, earned runs, and limiting runners on base, and he has not improved with being efficient and managing his pitch count. These issues are major and if he cannot fix them, he will not become the future ace the Yankees want him to be. Many of these issues stem from a lack of movement in his fastball and slider, which are especially true when the count has two strikes. He leaves many fastballs down the middle and they end up as base hits, which explains his 15.0 hits per 9 innings ratio, nearly double than last year. Let’s take a look at statistics on how batters fare after certain pitch counts:
  • After 0-2 count: .125 (2015) vs. .263 (2016)
  • After 1-2 count: .157 (2015) vs. .214 (2016)
  • After 2-2 count: .161 (2015) vs. .348 (2016)
  • At 3-2 count: .217 (2015) vs. .429 (2016)
  • After 2-0 count: .286 (2015) vs. .700 (2016)
  • After 3-1 count: .000 with 12 walks (2015) vs. .500 (2016)
Even when Severino is ahead in the count, he has trouble finishing off batters. As I mentioned earlier, there are three options the Yankees can do with Severino: a) keep him in the rotation and hope for the best, b) send him to Triple-A Scranton, or c) send him to the bullpen. I’ll review the pros and cons of each of these options.

Option 1: Keep him in the rotation (Status quo)
Pros: This allows Severino to work out his issues with batters in the majors, rather than lower-level batters in the minors. Severino won’t be able to fully know what works and what doesn’t until he faces experienced hitters such as Miguel Cabrera or David Ortiz. Throwing down in Triple-A Scranton or in extended spring training sessions won’t do him any good. Additionally, he’ll be able to continually improve every five days and work on his pitches in between outings. He’ll have the guidance of pitching coach Larry Rothschild as well as veteran catcher Brian McCann by him everyday as he throws his bullpen sessions. Being around the major league team will also ensure that his confidence won’t be affected (he’s only 22 years old) and he’ll be under the guidance and leadership of many veterans.

Cons: This option ignores the blatant fact that the Yankees have not won a single game in which Severino has started in. Sure, he pitched well in one outing, but even in that game against Oakland, he gave up seven hits and threw 103 pitches in just six innings. Not only is his efficiency a problem, he is unable to finish batters even when he is ahead of them. His short outings are hurting the Yankees bullpen because it puts them on short rest for the next day and the next series if there aren’t any off-days in between. Furthermore, there’s no doubt Severino is getting butchered in the majors. Opponents are hitting almost .400 off of him and Severino puts himself in a jam every inning and has to throw “stress pitches” where he’s in a high-leverage situation. For a 22-year old, that’s absolutely taxing and that may explain why he’s having issue finishing batters. Sending him to Triple-A or the bullpen allows the rotation to gain some consistency, and not just a 5-inning, 8-hit outing, which seems to be typical for Severino now.

Option 2: Send him to Triple-A Scranton
Pros: The Yankees would get the chance to test someone else out in the rotation, someone who would be able to give the Yankees a few solid starts, hopefully some depth into the 6th and 7th innings, and allow Severino to take a month in Scranton to figure out issues. He’d still face tough competition at Triple-A, even though they’re not all major-league level hitters. However, they would be low-pressure scenarios and he can take all the time he needs. He won’t be affecting the bullpen in the majors and also won’t be affecting the Yankees win-loss record, which seems to be gradually worsening every week. Severino is still young, and his pitch arsenal can still be developed and his location issues are fixable.

Cons: The biggest problem is that Luis Cessa, who is the only Yankees player on the 40-man roster at Triple-A Scranton and also a potential starter, is still being stretched out into a starter. Nick Rumbelow (injured), Tyler Olson, and James Pazos, the 3 other Triple-A pitchers on the 40-man roster, are all relief pitchers. Chad Green and Kyle Haynes are two other options to replace Severino, but neither are on the 40-man roster. If the Yankees send Severino down to Scranton, they’ll also have to decide who replaces him in the rotation. This is where the second problem comes in. Ivan Nova has had his fair share of struggles this year, and he did not finish last year on a strong note. He pitched to a 5.67 ERA in August and 6.20 ERA in September. I’m not even sure Nova is a better option in the rotation at this point. If Nova goes in the rotation, then this option becomes easier as Cessa, Green, or Haynes could serve as long relief. However, if Nova stays in the bullpen, there isn't necessarily someone at Triple-A that could jump right into the rotation and be ready.

However, Cessa has yet to be stretched out as a starter; the most he’s pitched this season is 5.1 innings on April 26th. Cessa did not have much success (4.52 ERA in Double-A and Triple-A last season) as a starter last year. He pitched 136.1 innings and gave up 70 earned runs and 163 hits. In Triple-A last year with two teams, he was 0-3 with a 8.51 ERA for the New York Mets' Triple-A team in 5 starts and then went 1-3 with a 5.97 ERA for the Detroit Tigers' Triple-A team in 7 starts. He gave up 86 hits in 61.3 innings at the Triple-A level and his WHIP was north of 1.50. These aren't good signs.

Luis Cessa | Picture Credit: NY Daily News

On the other hand, Chad Green, has been up-and-down this year, with a 3.2-inning outing on April 12 when he walked five batters and threw 95 pitches; but the next time out, he struck out five and threw six scoreless innings. In Double-A last year as a starter, he pitched 148.2 innings to a respectable 3.93 ERA, while allowing 170 hits and striking out 137. 

Chad Green | Picture Credit: YES Network

The third Triple-A call-up option is Kyle Haynes, who split time between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton last season. In Triple-A, he started 7 games and went 3-2 with a 4.54 ERA. He pitched 37.2 innings, allowed 38 hits, and struck out 28 batters. In Double-A Trenton, he went 2-6 with a 3.20 ERA, but started only 11 of the 27 outings he made. He allowed 79 hits in 78.2 innings and struck out 59 batters. 

Kyle Haynes | Picture Credit: MiLB.com

These aren't very impressive numbers. Lastly, sending Severino down may hurt his confidence. He’s only 22 and may not handle this demotion well.

Option 3: Send him to the bullpen
Pros: Instead of pitching every five days, Severino gets a chance to warm up in the bullpen as he wishes during games and may get more outings to fix his issues. Since sending him to the bullpen would essentially involve him and Ivan Nova switching places, he would serve as the long relief and mop-up man while Joe Girardi and the Yankees give Nova a chance to improve on his last year’s struggles in the rotation. CC Sabathia beat Nova in Spring Training for the final start, and even though Nova has not been very consistent out of the bullpen this season, putting him back into the rotation could spark something in him and see the 16-game winner in 2011 return back to his old dominant self. Severino would also get to stay around his veteran catcher Brian McCann and pitching coach Larry Rothschild, and they would be able to help him work on his location and pitches as he tries to fix his issues.

Picture Credit: Getty Images/Al Bello
Cons: The question remains as to whether or not Nova is actually a better option than Severino in the rotation. Severino’s struggles this year essentially match Nova’s at the end of last season, at least statistically. Doing so could also hurt how Severino has prepared in between starts, and Severino has never pitched out of the bullpen in his career. Additionally, it would take some time for Nova to be stretched out, because I doubt he’d be able to throw 100 pitches if he was sent out tomorrow or Friday. Therefore, sending Severino to the bullpen would also be at least a month-long trial, to stretch Nova out and test how Nova is doing in the rotation. Nova deserves at least a couple of starts; there’s also the risk that Nova does very well and that forces Severino to stick around in the bullpen, which in the long-run, doesn’t seem like a good idea given that he is allegedly the future ace of the Yankees.

Given the uncertainty of Luis Cessa, Chad Green, Kyle Haynes at Triple-A Scranton and Ivan Nova so far in the majors, Luis Severino should stay in the Yankees rotation. Even though he has struggled mightily, he has only pitched four times this season and his third start was actually decent, where he allowed seven hits (still too much) but only two runs in six innings. By staying in the rotation, Severino will get to work with Rothschild and McCann and get the chance to continually improve on his pitching on a set pattern. I’m optimistic that this is just an extended cold streak for Severino and I believe he will gradually improve. The Yankees pitching rotation continues to be a major issue, and although it continues to be a problem with every starter besides Tanaka, there isn’t a better pitcher waiting to jump into the rotation on a moment’s notice. Severino will eventually end his cold streak and return back to his old self, but he will need to make adjustments if he wants to be a major part of the Yankees future.

Other BBB writers' opinions
"To be quite honest, Luis Severino has been a massive disappointment so far this season. After he electrified New York in the 2nd half of 2015 going 5-3 with a 2.89 ERA, many expected Severino to take the next step and potentially become the ace of the staff. It is becoming clear that the 22-year-old is going through the dreaded "sophomore slump". Ultimately I feel that the Yankees would be best served to send Severino to AAA for some more work where he can refine is pitches. In his work so far this year, he has struggled with the command of his fastball, often serving up pitches right down the middle on 2-0 counts. He also has not developed consistency with his off-speed pitches. As it stands right now, I do not believe that the Yankees will actually send him to the minors because they know that behind Severino, there aren't many better options. However, If Severino can't rebound in his next few starts, a demotion to AAA might become necessary. Going back to the minors would and should not be viewed as demoralizing, instead it should be viewed as a necessary step in the process of grooming a huge piece of the Yankees future." - Phil Akre (@philakre)

“I think the biggest key for him is learning how to use his off speed stuff correctly., Everything he throws is hard so there isn't a lot of variation between his fastball and changeup. Another reason why he's struggling is because he's only 22 years old and faces the best hitters in the world every five days. Severino will be fine but it will take some him time to adjust. If the Yankees want to make a change, they should let Ivan Nova make a spot-start in Severino's place just to give Severino some time off and to build his confidence back up.” - Matt Cote (@mcote31)

“As a guy who just turned 22 years old a little over 2 months ago, Luis Severino is the currently youngest starting pitcher in the MLB. I feel like many fans are disappointed with him because of their incredibly high expectations, so I don't want to come across as being too hard on the kid, but I think he needs to be sent to Triple-A. His fastball and change are MLB-ready pitches but until he fully develops his slider he won't be the pitcher that Yankee fans are rushing him to be. Some may say that sending him to Scranton will hurt his confidence, but after 3 subpar outings out of the 4 total starts he's made this year, his confidence has to be pretty low as it is. My hope is that the Yankees send him down so he can get into a groove, develop the slider so it isn't just a spinner in the middle of the plate, and regain his lost confidence. If he can do all that, then he'll be back in the bigs in no time. Ideally, he gets demoted to Scranton, makes 3 or 4 starts and is back with the big league club in less than a month. However, if the Yankees decide to let him pitch through his struggles, I think he will figure himself out if does these things I wrote about yesterday.” - Chad Raines (@chad_rain)

“When it comes to Luis Severino all I can say is “Don’t Panic.” Let us not forget just a week ago when he had a quality start against Oakland (4/21) surrendering only 2 runs and striking out 4. The 22 year-old Severino is now only 15 games into his big league career, do we really expect a quality start every outing? Not to mention if the Yankees send Severino down to AAA, who would take his place in the rotation? Nova has been decent out of the bullpen and nothing more with his 5.11 ERA and 1.22 WHIP. Doesn’t sound like much of an upgrade to me. Yankee’s fans this is a long season full of ups and downs and I guarantee you the kid will figure it out. Just give it time.” - Aaron Carroll (@caaronll)

Article by: Bryan Peng
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