Programming note: Today’s live chat has been moved to tomorrow afternoon.
Earlier this month and before the regular season began, Matt covered one of the Yankees’ biggest storylines of the now underway season: Luis Severino’s return. Sevy is only two starts in, but so far, what we’ve seen has been encouraging, particularly his last outing against Toronto. And not only has he looked pretty sharp, but he also looks like a different pitcher, and for the better. Matt was on point regarding a reinvention:
…I look at his season in 2022 a lot like I did Jameson Taillon’s in 2021. It will essentially be a season of reinvention and a hope for success. Taillon threaded that needle fairly well in 2021. Let’s hope Severino can do the same.Matt
Indeed, Severino has changed his pitch mix, including the introduction of a cutter (or is it a hard slider?) that we’ve seen other Yankees newly incorporate this season too (Gerrit Cole, for one). I’m looking forward to Sevy’s start tonight against Detroit, particularly in light of how he’s looked in his first two outings. It’s still far too early (two starts, eight innings) to make any grand proclamation that Severino is back, but it’s definitely worth examining some of the adjustments he’s made post surgery.
Before Severino went under the knife, he was mostly a fastball-slider pitcher. He did offer a changeup, but it was clearly his third preference. That’s changed, pun intended. Severino has thrown his changeup 27 percent of the time in his first two starts, well up from the low-to-mid teens usage rates from earlier in his career. It’s now his second most used offering behind the four seamer.
It’s no wonder that Sevy is going to it more often. He’s getting a ton of whiffs on the pitch, though I’ll acknowledge the small sample size (40 total changeups). He picked up roughly 25 percent whiffs-per-swing against his change pre-2019, but so far in 2022, that mark is 38 percent.
Also notable: Sevy is unafraid to throw the changeup to right handed hitters. In the past, it was mostly utilized against lefties, but he’s effectively doubled the usage of his changeup in right on right matchups (up to 21 percent usage). For good reason, look at this thing:
It’s still a great pitch for him to throw to lefties, of course. In fact, 92.5 percent of pitches against lefties have either been four seamers or changeups in his first two starts. For example:
Aside from Sevy’s changeup simply being nasty on its own, there’s a clear organizational emphasis on lower spin rate pitches since the foreign substance crackdown. Sinkers and changeups, both low spin offerings, are now all the rage, so it’s no surprise to see Severino utilize it more often.
It’s not just the Yankees’ philosophy, though. There are some other differences in Severino’s changeup’s characteristics compared to the past. He’s throwing it harder in 2022 (90 MPH) compared to the past (88 MPH). Apparently, it’s not too big of a deal that he closed some of the velocity gap against his fastball.
velo diff to FB is far less important/linear than v break difference for successful CH— Cameron Levy (@levy_cameron) April 19, 2022
here is a viz from @Pitching_Bot showing that It doesn’t matter what the velo difference to fastball is for a good CH. But the V break diff should be between -12 to -22 in to have good CH https://t.co/xlKKRMKhit pic.twitter.com/z5obHcc5Aq
That said, Severino’s changeup’s vertical movement is currently below the ideal minimum difference of -12 inches against his fastball, but so far, that hasn’t mattered. Severino’s changeup looks like a weapon and he clearly has the utmost confident in it as an out pitch. You love to see it.
Is it a cutter, or two distinct sliders?
While Sevy’s changeup usage has jumped, his slider usage has decreased in turn. At least per Statcast’s pitch tags, which has his slider usage at 7 percent, well down from years past. However, if you tack on his cutter utilization (20 percent), you roughly arrive at his career norm in slider usage, which makes me wonder if this is really just a variation on his slider. Either way, the cutter is a new toy for the 28 year old righty.
Both his cutter and slider get a ton of horizontal movement, with the cutter getting roughly 3 inches more horizontal movement than average and the slider achieving about 5 inches more than the rest of the league. The main difference is vertical movement (the cutter drops a lot less, as expected) and velocity (5 MPH difference).
It’s also worth noting that Sevy’s slider velocity is down roughly 2 MPH from his pre-surgery days, which leads me to believe that there was some tinkering with his old slider to make the cutter (or hard slider) more effective. Pairing a slower slider (now 86 MPH, compared to 88 MPH in the past) with a sharp cutter (91 MPH) theoretically work better together.
Again, call the new pitch a cutter, call it a hard slider, it doesn’t really matter. It’s pretty clear that it’s already a really valuable addition to Severino’s arsenal. It’s got good movement, he throws it plenty hard, and his command of it has been very, very good.
Same old four seamer
Last but not least, Severino’s vintage four seamer is back. He’s averaged 97.6 MPH on the radar gun in two starts, which matches his career best from 2018. When he returned to the mound late last year, there was some concern in that he averaged just north of 95 MPH on the pitch. That’s not bad of course, but that also wasn’t what we had grown accustomed to with Severino.
Really, the only difference with Sevy’s fastball now is his usage rate, which is down a bit. In the past, the righty never went a full season using the pitch less than half the time. So far in 2022, his usage is just below 46 percent. That’s not a drastic variance, but certainly notable.
It makes some sense to use the fastball a little less, even though the velocity is back. It’s not a pitch with a ton of vertical movement or spin compared to his counterparts, for one. Plus, with apparently improved secondary offerings, there’s less of a need to rely on his heater. Granted, he’s still more than capable of blowing it by hitters.
It should be fun to watch Severino toe the slab tonight in Detroit. It’s going to be cold again (April baseball in Michigan doesn’t seem ideal!), so this could be a challenging outing for the righty, but it’ll be fun to keep an eye on his tweaked arsenal in his start this evening.
As Matt wrote, this year represents a chance for Severino to reinvent himself after Tommy John surgery. The early returns have been excellent in terms of pure stuff and usage. Yes, it’s still very early, but I’m already pretty excited even though I’m trying not to get ahead of myself.