The Yankees are Getting One of Baseball’s Best Starters Back. Here’s What to Watch for Tonight.

Happy Luis Severino Day, everyone. I can’t believe he’s actually making it back. For a while there, that felt like a pipe dream. But it happened, and that’s great news.

Anyway, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration at all to say that tonight is one of the most important games of the season thus far for the Yankees. We haven’t seen Severino on a big league mound since last postseason–and let’s not get into that start, ok?–but there is no question: when he is healthy, he is the Yankees’ best starting pitcher. In fact, he’s one of the very best pitchers in all of baseball when he’s going right.

I mean, check out Severino’s stats among qualified starters who pitched in both 2017 and 2018, with his rank in parentheses:

  • Wins: 33 (4th)
  • ERA: 3.18 (11th)
  • FIP: 3.01 (5th)
  • Innings Pitched: 384.2 (10th)
  • Strikeouts per 9: 10.53 (9th)
  • Walks per 9: 2.27 (13th)
  • HR per 9: 0.94 (17th)
  • fWAR: 11.2 (5th)

Now, everyone remembers his 2nd half struggles last season. He was one of the worst pitchers in the league for a few weeks–and, even including that stretch, those are his overall numbers. Luis Severino is a special one, folks. The Yankees were right to say, no matter how annoying it was, that adding Severino to their rotation was the single best acquisition the team could make in 2019. There are few pitchers like him and none were available.

However, with that all in mind, we can’t reasonably expect Severino to return in midseason form tonight. He’s only made a handful of starts, and this is mostly like the end of Spring Training for him. Here’s what I’ll be looking for out of the Yankees ace as he makes his first start of the 2019 season–and no, none of them are results. Those will come.

How’s His Stamina?

In his penultimate start with the Double-A Trenton Thunder, Severino threw 50 pitches. He threw 64 in his final start. The team hasn’t announced a pitch count for his start tonight that I’ve seen, but a general rule of thumb is to assume about 15 extra pitches per start to build back up to full strength. Using that as a framework, I think we can expect to see Severino throw about 75-80 pitches tops if all goes according to plan.

The good news is that is enough to get him up to about 95 in his next start, which theoretically puts him at full strength for the postseason. It’ll be cutting it close, but there is enough time to get him fully stretched out. That’s pretty amazing to me. Anyway, it will be critical to watch how his stamina holds up tonight, no matter what his pitch count is–that will determine how quickly he can ramp up.

When he’s right, Severino doesn’t miss a beat as the game goes on. He’s a traditional workhorse in that sense. Let’s take what was perhaps the best start of his career as an example, which came last May against Houston. This was the one where he shut out the Astros in Houston. He threw 110 pitches in that stellar performance. Here is his velocity chart from that game:

Yup. He was touching 100 in the last inning there, and that was just his average velocity. Here is his max velocity over that same game:

He topped out at 101 in the game during the 4th inning and was over 100 (100.51 mph to be exact) in his final inning of work. This is a cherry-picked example to be sure, but it’s reflective of who Severino is when he’s right: he is a flame-throwing ace capable of overpowering the best lineups in the league.

I will be watching tonight to see how he holds up as he progresses through the order. If he doesn’t lose too much bite or velocity as he gets up there in pitches, we can probably expect to see him have a longer leash next time out. That is the plan, after all.

How’s His Velocity?

Speaking of velocity, it will be really important to see where Severino is with his fastball tonight. I know I’m really going out on a limb with that one…but it’s true. Severino, as evidenced above, is a true flamethrower. He is overpowering. He’s also missed a lot of time.

In his last start with Trenton, reports were that he touched 97 on the gun. That’s more than enough to get the job done. It’s also a bit down from what we typically expect. Here is Severino’s average velocity in each year in which he’s thrown an MLB pitch:

The past two years, his average fastball has sat around 97-98 mph, with a maximum velocity north of 100. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him coming out throwing gas in the 1st inning tonight. I mean, he’s going to be amped up and I’m sure he cannot wait to let it fly in front of the Yankee Stadium faithful tonight.

How his velocity looks, though, and where it lands on average after his start will be important. If he is sitting 98, touching 100, and has no obvious repercussions, then it will be difficult to feel anything but unbridled optimism moving toward October. But realistically, he’ll probably be a bit below that–and that’s okay, too. The idea is to build up.

How’s His Secondary Stuff?

Finally, Severino is much more than just a fastball pitcher. He also features a devastating slider. I doubt you’ve forgotten it, but here are two examples of some extremely devastating offerings from Severino because they are just so beautiful to look at:

That was from the 2017 ALDS against Cleveland. That is freaking untouchable. Here is an example of the pitch with its tail:

There are some numbers to back up the eye test on the slider, too. Severino took a huge step forward in 2017 and 2018, so let’s look at the data from those two years, per Statcast:

2018

  • Batting Average: .191
  • wOBA: .227
  • Slugging Percentage: .297
  • Exit Velocity: 85.4
  • Whiffs-Per-Swing: 37%
  • Horizontal Drop: 10.1 inches (6.2 inches more than average, or 159%)
  • Vertical Drop: 38.3 inches (5.6 inches more than average, or 17%)

2017

  • Batting Average: .181
  • wOBA: .210
  • Slugging Percentage: .267
  • Exit Velocity: 84.3
  • Whiffs-Per-Swing: 34%
  • Horizontal Drop: 6.3 inches (3.4 more than average, or 116%)
  • Vertical Drop: 36.8 inches (6.1 inches more than average, or 20%)

Good lord. That is a ridiculously good pitch, isn’t it? Now, I don’t think we should expect that version of the pitch tonight. But maybe we can. It’ll be worth watching how the pitch breaks, what kind of bite it has, how it lasts over the course of the game, and if he’s getting swings-and-misses on the pitch. When he’s right, this pitch is one of the deadliest weapons in any pitcher’s arsenal.


Are you excited yet? I sure as hell am. What a player Severino is. I got pumped up just looking at his old data again.

I’ll be watching for all three of these things tonight. He may not return to regular Severino right away–he most certainly will not, in fact–but if he flashes encouraging signs on these fronts tonight, there will be positives upon which he can build in his final start of the season. And if he comes back throwing consistent gas that doesn’t diminish with that biting slider, well, the rest of the league had better watch out.

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