Thoughts after Luis Severino Returns to the Big Leagues

Well, yesterday sure was a day, wasn’t it? The Yankees pounded the Angels 8-0 in the highly-anticipated return of Luis Severino, but, this being 2019, lost Dellin Betances to a torn Achilles tendon. Even beyond all that, there are only 10 games left in the regular season and the Yankees and Astros each have a 99-53 record. As you might imagine, I have thoughts on all of that. Let’s get to it.

1. The Return of Severino: I don’t think we could have scripted a better start for Luis Severino if we tried. Given the circumstances–this was his first MLB start since the disastrous Game 3 of the 2018 ALDS–I thought his start was really, really impressive. His trademark fastball averaged 96.9 mph and topped out at 99 mph, which is really encouraging. Moreover, he threw 33 of them and 24 (72.7%) went for strikes.

Coupled with his slider, which was a bit more erratic (though it still had a 60% strike rate), Sevy generated 9 swings-and-misses in 67 pitches. He racked up 4 strikeouts in 4 innings of work with an average exit velocity on balls in play of just 83.4 mph. The stuff is clearly there. I think we can expect it to improve over his next few starts. He is still rusty. You could see it in the 11 pitch first at-bat, which resulted in a walk and 7 foul balls. He really settled down after that, though.

The Angels are terrible, to be fair, and they are missing both Trout and Ohtani, but Severino can only pitch against the team the other team puts out there. He has no control over the other team. What he does have control over is his stuff, and I thought he looked really strong in that regard. I was watching to see how he held up as the pitch count increased, his overall velocity, and the quality of his slider, results be damned. Well, this about says it all:

He kept his velocity consistent throughout the game. He even was throwing the hardest in his final inning of work. That’s all good. Very good. The slider was fine, too, as he did get some strikeouts with it. (As Derek noted last night, there was a lot of variation with the velocity on this pitch, which was also new.)

All in all, a very encouraging night for the Yankee ace. It’s tough to feel anything but positive after that. Besides, I really missed watching Severino pitch. What a player.

2. Severino’s Next Few Starts: That brings us to his next few starts. I think there’s a clear way to sneak in 2 additional starts for Severino before the end of the season. The Yankees only play 1o more games but they do have two more off days. Ultimately, it depends on how aggressive the Yankees want to be. He could start again on Sunday against Toronto in the Bronx or on Tuesday following the off-day in Tampa. That would be either 4 or 6 days of rest, respectively. After that, he would be ready to start either the following Saturday or Sunday (depending on his schedule) for the penultimate or final game of the regular season.

My guess at this point is that he starts on Tuesday with a pitch could of about 80. That gives him a full 5 days rest to recover from yesterday’s start–the Yanks will want to monitor him, after all. Then he can ramp up to about 95 pitches for the final game of the year on Sunday for one more tune-up start. That last game of the year is Sunday, September 29. The Yankees will begin their ALDS series on October 4 with the next Game 2 on October 5. That’s Friday and Saturday following the final game. October 4 is a Friday, so Severino will be on a full week’s rest before his first playoff appearance. He should even be fully stretched out by then. How about that?

3. Projecting the Playoff Rotation: Speaking of the playoffs, I think James Paxton will almost certainly be the Game 1 starter. He definitely deserves it. Plus, Boone said yesterday they view him as a “traditional” starter. That says Game 1 to me. I know everyone is all wrapped up with Boone’s comments to Verducci about the playoff pitcher usage, but I expect them to be more “traditional” than folks expect. At least at first, with Paxton, Tanaka, and Severino. They’ll have a quick hook, sure, but that’s nothing new. I can’t imagine a non-traditional starter in the early goings of the ALDS. I think the first 3 games are pretty clear. They’ll line up something like this:

  • Game One: James Paxton
  • Game Two: Masahiro Tanaka
  • Game Three: Luis Severino

Paxton is 9-0 with a 2.50 ERA (3.33 FIP) with a 29% strikeout rate against a 9% walk rate in 54 innings since the trade deadline. He’ll get the ball in Game 1. The other two games are a bit more interchangeable, but it’s hard to say until we see more of Severino. For right now, I think you have to expect Tanaka to get the ball ahead of Severino. He’s only made one start, after all. That could change though. Time will Tell™.

As for after that, gosh, I have no idea. A CC/Germán piggyback situation seems to make the most sense to me right now, but a lot will depend on matchups. We’ll have to see who finishes first in the AL between the Astros and the Yanks and who wins the Wild Card. There are still a lot of variables there, and hopefully the Yankees just sweep anyway and make this all irrelevant.

4. Stanton’s Return: Aaron Boone said yesterday that we can expect to see slugger Giancarlo Stanton back in action tonight at the earliest or tomorrow at the latest. That is just great news. It has always been great news, to be clear–did anyone actually prefer Mike Tauchman?–but given the sudden lack of outfield depth, it is even more obvious where Stanton fits in. The Yankees need him in left field. They really do. Hicks, although he is just starting a throwing program, is functionally out for the year in my opinion. At least until we’re told otherwise. Tauchman is officially done for the year. That leaves a playoff roster outfield of Cameron Maybin, Brett Gardner, and Aaron Judge. The return of Stanton obviously is a huge help. And that’s without factoring in the injuries of Edwin Encarnación and Gary Sánchez.

Anyway, I hope we see Stanton tonight. Time is running out to get him up to speed. He’ll have about 40 at-bats or so, give or take, which is about what Judge had last year. Fewer, actually, but in the same ballpark. I really don’t care how Stanton does when he comes back. He needs at-bats to get in the swing of things, and however many he gets will be too small of a sample to tell us anything meaningful, so spare your takes. What is really important is getting Stanton regular at-bats and steady time in the outfield. The playoffs are fast approaching.

He’s only played in 9 games all season, but given enough time, we all know he will hit. The dude is a lifetime .268/.358/.547 (142 wRC+) hitter in almost 5,000 MLB plate appearances, after all. The Yankees, much like any other team, are better with him. Welcome back, Giancarlo.

5. CC’s Final Bronx Start: It’s about to get real dusty up in here, folks. Tonight is probably CC Sabathia’s final start wearing pinstripes (road greys are another thing altogether). Well, it could be. It remains to be seen how he’s used in the playoffs. What we do know for sure is that this is his last guaranteed appearance and start in the Bronx. That is wild to me. Can you believe it’s been a decade since the Yankees brought him aboard? And what a decade it’s been. As you know, we’ve been paying tribute to the big man all week, with me making a case for his Hall of Fame candidacy and Steven outlining his heroic performance in the 2012 ALDS. There will be more to come later today, too.

No matter what CC does tonight, he deserves a lengthy and passionate ovation from the Yankee Stadium faithful. I have no doubt he’ll get it. CC is one of the most beloved players in modern franchise history. We all know that. We all know how important CC was to the 2009 title run and as the dominating ace on a team that went to 3 ALCS in 4 years. (Side note: I am still salty about the 2011 rain-shortened Game 1 against Verlander’s Tigers in the ALDS. That cost us a CC playoff start and he’d looked so good in it. I still think that cost the Yankees the series. Blah.) I will miss CC Sabathia’s presence on the mound and I will miss rooting for him. The dude is one of my favorite players I’ve ever rooted for in any sport.

6. A Chance to Wrap Up the Division: Speaking of…wouldn’t it be awesome if the Yankees won tonight’s game? It is always awesome when that happens, of course, but there would be something poetic if the Yankees clinch the division and pop the champagne in CC’s final regular season start in the Bronx. That can happen, too. The Yankees control their destiny: the magic number to clinch the AL East is just 1 after Tampa Bay lost last night to the Dodgers.

It’s been all but a formality for weeks months at this point, but it will still be great to see the team celebrate a division title for the first time since 2012. Can you believe it’s been since 2012?! 7 seasons! I know that is Spoiled Yankee Fan™ stuff right there, but it feels crazy to me that it’s been so long. The Yankees were obviously not the same from 2013-16, but they have been so good the last 2 years. It just feels like they should have won the division. In any case, it will be nice to not have to worry about the Wild Card game for once.

It will be even nicer to officially get to celebrate immediately following a Yankee win–would the players wait around for the end of the Dodgers-Rays game?–but even nicer to do so in Sabathia’s final regular season start in the Bronx. That’s Team of Destiny™ stuff. Would make a nice clip in the World Series video. Hey, I’m just saying.

7. The Fight for Home Field Advantage: After the division is formally wrapped up, the Yankees will officially set their sights on the best record in baseball. As I mentioned above, they’re all knotted up with Houston with 10 games to go. What that actually means, though, is that Houston has a 1-game lead. They own the tiebreaker, remember. In other words, our Yanks will need to finish a game ahead of Houston to secure HFA. Here are the remaining schedules, including tonight:

  • Yankees: 2 against the Angels, 3 against Toronto, 2 at Tampa Bay, and 3 in Texas.
  • Astros: 1 against Texas, 3 against the Angels, 2 at Seattle, and 4 in Anaheim.

The Yankees will play 2 in Tampa, but otherwise, 18 of those 20 games will be against non-contenders. Think MLB has a competitive balance problem or what? I have no idea who will emerge on top here. I hope it’s the Yankees. That would be nice. The Yankees are really good at home and I do believe Yankee Stadium is a force to be reckoned with during October.

That said, I do think some people are a bit too hung up on this. The Yankees are ridiculously good. The idea that they can’t win one (1) game in Houston during a potential ALCS matchup is utterly preposterous to me. I hope they get it. But the Yankees are about as well-positioned as you can be, and it’s important to remember that.

8. The Dellin Betances Injury: Sigh. Finally, the thoughts I didn’t want to have. What an absolute bumber this is. I think we were all feeling so good–so good!–after the Severino start last night. Stanton was coming back. Encarnación says he’s feeling good. Et cetera. And then Aaron Boone comes out and immediately announces that Dellin Betances partially tore his Achilles tendon. I mean, what!? The injury came on this play:

I was laughing about that at the time. Affiliated social media channels were sharing the moment. It was cute. It really was. Now, it is the opposite: it is the source of a brutal injury for one of our favorite players. I feel really awful for Betances. What a devastating and cursed year for the Yankees’ righty.

What I do have to say, though, is that Betances got capital-S Screwed by an economic system that is clearly broken for the players. This is just another example. He has been one of the best relievers in the league for a long time now. I mean, look at this:

Unreal. I feel like Betances, somehow, is criminally underappreciated. The dude is so good. Anyway, I noted this on Twitter last night, but Betances never really collected the payday he deserved. He went out there each day, dominated the opposition like nobody else, and helped the Yankees win game after game. For years. All that old SABR stuff about reliever fungibility was never true with Betances.

Despite that, though, he had a very difficult, ugly, and public arbitration fight with Yankees brass a few years ago. Arbiters sided with the team, costing him $2 million. And then this year, when he could finally leverage his situation into the payday he rightly deserved for years–which should have come right as relievers started collecting the big bucks, too–he got slammed with injuries and missed the whole season. Then he fights his way back, strikes out two guys in his first appearance, and tears his Achilles. Right before free agency. Brutal. It is just brutal.

I’m sure this makes it easier for the Yankees to re-sign him at a “favorable” cost, but honestly, who cares? Betances deserved his pay day a long time. Now he may never get it. That’s a tough injury, partial tear or not, to come back from–especially for a guy who has always struggled with command. Awful.

I want to end on a positive note, though, so here goes nothing: Betances has a 100% strikeout rate across the whole 2019 season. What a player he is, huh?

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9 Comments

  1. RetroRob

    Regarding 4, does anyone else find it even slightly peculiar that they don’t know if Stanton will be back tonight or Thursday? He’s either healthy or he’s not. One day won’t make a difference. Getting MLB ABs now should be what drives this.

    I doubt Stanton will get 40 ABs, even if activated tonight. He hasn’t even played in a minor league rehab game. They’ll need him to play the OF. They’re not going to throw him into full game action and have him play every inning of every game and in the OF and LF, which is a bit alien to him. Even with a rehab assignment, they traditionally don’t have the player appear in a full nine inning game immediately, while also giving the player a day off every few games. Based on that, my guess is he appears in eight of their final 10 games, and a couple of them will be at DH. Maybe he gets 30 ABs?

    It took Judge about 10 games last year before he started to look like Judge. It was about three games before the end of the season that he looked ready. Just in time for the postseason. 30 ABs might work for Stanton. Hard to say. Either way, he needs to get ABs right away. Hoping to see him batting tonight.

    • Bobby

      Agreed, I do find that a little weird. The injury skepticism is well-earned at this point, particularly with Stanton. But I’ve decided, against all reason, that I am just going to be optimistic. Maybe it’s a defense mechanism.

      • RetroRob

        I’m an optimist, so I’ll believe all is well until proven otherwise. It’s just, as I noted, seemingly odd that they don’t seem to know exactly which day he’ll return, with the difference being only a single day. That’s the perplexing part. I can’t figure out what would even be driving that. If it was a week, or even three or four days, that would make more sense.

        As for all the injuries, I’ve defended the medical/training staff all year, figuring it was just one of those things, a fluky situation. Randomness at play. I can’t anymore. They’re not going to make any changes this late into the season, but I’d be surprised if we don’t hear of changes in the training staff this off season.

  2. RetroRob

    A quick sidetrack rlated to Betances. The verbal attack against him by Levine several years back was weird, but not surprising in context. It wasn’t that Betances took the Yankees to arbitration that upset them. it’s that his handlers were attempting to elevate the importance of non-closers by introducing some different metrics into the arbitration hearing. A very strong argument could be made that Betances has been the top reliever in MLB for years, but the arbitration process and the agreed upon metrics wouldn’t fully recognize Betances for his accomplishments. It wasn’t only the Yankees that were determined to beat Betances; the front offices of every MLB team were rooting for the Yankees.

    Teams have been shifting innings toward the bullpen for years, while at the same time they were diminishing the importance of traditional closers and elevating the importance of just about every other bullpen arm. Problem is, the arbitration process doesn’t recognize this yet. This all helps MLB front offices reduce salaries. The two pitching classes traditionally most rewarded by arbitration — starters and closers — are more devalued, while the rest of the pitching staff arms who are absorbing more innings have yet to catch up in arbitration. The Yankees win against Betances has been paying dividends to the Yankees and other teams for several years and will continue to do so until the MLBPA forces MLB to update the arbitration process to reward non-closers. Randy Levine’s attack on Betances, and the unseemly press conference he called after they beat Betances was telling. It wasn’t personal, it was business. The Yankees were sending a message to other players: Don’t do this.

    Anyway, my hope is that didn’t leave any scars. I doubt it did. Betances has still made millions, and he’ll almost assuredly get a contract next year that will guarantee him several million, and millions more with incentives. The Achilles tear doesn’t look to be extreme as these things go. He was still walking about, even smiling. I’ve seen some Achilles injuries where the player drops like he’s been shot. Hopefully, he’s back and fully healthy for 2020, and pitching for the Yankees toward his big payday, delayed by a season.

    • Bobby

      I completely agree with all of this, to be honest. I guess I should have made that more clear in the post. What the Yankees did–and what any team would have done–absolutely makes sense, was strategic, and aligns with the systemic incentives that are out there. If I were a member of the Yankee front office, there is no doubt that this strategy is what I’d have recommended.

      From the outside, though, I am almost always going to side with the player (and the Player’s Association) on matters like this. You’re right about the metrics, but only if we consider saves–Betances had been durable, struck out a ton, a top 5 reliever by WAR and other evaluative methods, etc. There were metrics to support his argument. The league and the arbitration hadn’t yet caught up with new reliever usage. I just think it’s unfortunate that Betances was the guy who fell on this grenade. Ultimately, it’s business and this is a systemic issue.

      And yeah. I do think it’s possible–if not likely–that Betances has a full, or close to it, 2020 season. That makes me happy.

      • RetroRob

        Your post was clear. I was just jumping off on my own tangent. I just saw an opening to revisit the who arbitration debacle. I’ve always sided with the players. They have such short careers, it’s an entertainment business, and they’re reached the top of their profession. Get as much you can.

  3. Wire Fan

    3. With the travel days in the LDS, either the game 1 or game 2 starter can make the game 5 start on full rest.

    If Severino looked great in a game 2 and/or Paxton not so good in game 1, Sevy could get the ball in a game 5 on normal (4 days) rest. I don’t see the Yankees doing that, but it is a consideration. It also leaves both of your two best starters available for a game 5 on full rest if things go haywire – extra innings, rain delay/bad performance forces a short start.

    The other variable in the other direction is Tanaka has much better pitching at home this year (game 2). But with his experience I don’t know if it is a huge consideration.

    4. They need to maximize Stanton’s ABs… Do you bat him lead-off? At the very least bat him third – the earth will not stop spinning if the Yankees don’t put Didi, their worst hitting regular this year, in the 3 spot. It may mean just 1 or 2 extra ABs, but every little bit helps at this point.

  4. CountryClub

    I’ll be surprised if Sevy doesn’t get game 2.

    This isn’t anti Betances in any way. Other than late 17, he’s been a stud. And yes, based on other top relievers, he’s been underpaid. But, the guy did make over 12 mil in the past 2 seasons. It’s not like he’s been making 600k per year.

    • Bobby

      It wouldn’t surprise me to see Sevy get Game 2 either. He is clearly the best pitcher on the team when he’s right. I’ll just be more comfortable making that prediction after another start.

      And yeah, that’s 100% true regarding Betances. I don’t disagree with it at all. There are worse examples, and he’ll be set for life, but still.

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