Thoughts after the Luis Severino Injury

There are real Yankee games back and all of that. There are many more to come. This is very good. What is very bad is that Luis Severino will not be taking part in any of them because he needs Tommy John surgery. It still hurts to type, honestly. Here’s what is on my mind following this devastating news…but first, a tribute to a slider we won’t see for at least another year:

1. Honestly, This Just Sucks: As I said last night on Twitter, there is considerable fallout in baseball terms from the Severino news, but it doesn’t immediately come top of mind. I’ll get to that in a minute – and Randy covered it yesterday in real-time, too. But first the personal impact. You just have to feel for Luis Severino. I know I sure as hell do. Think about it: just last year, twelve months ago, Severino was one of baseball’s top young arms. He’d struggled in the second half of 2018, sure, but there was no denying his talent (or his results).

There’s more to this, too. Severino was the first of the new homegrown core – Judge, Sánchez, Torres (yes, he counts), etc. – to reach the Majors. He was the only one who arrived in 2015 (remember his 2.89 ERA in 62 innings?) and was a shot of youthful enthusiasm in the arm of an aging, decrepit team standing on its last legs. While he struggled in 2016, he emerged on the scene in 2017 as every bit an ace. He was as vital to that season as Aaron Judge — Severino finished third in AL Cy Young voting, remember – and took the ball in the group’s first playoff game. It will be weird to watch this team without him. Again. I’m sure he and his teammates alike are extremely disappointed.

Personally, I was stoked to see him this Spring and watch him hopefully rebound and firmly re-establish himself after a lost 2019. Instead, Severino will be on the shelf again for all of 2020. He’ll miss the start of 2021, too – and that’s assuming all goes well. Since the disastrous Game 3 of the 2018 ALDS, Severino has thrown just 20.1 innings as a Yankee, which includes the 2019 postseason, by the way. That harrowing statistic will be true at this time next year, too, and likely as late into the season as next May or June. It is very unfortunate and I have spent the last few hours since the official announcement pretty damn bummed out. It’s just a shame. Baseball, guys. It’ll break our hearts. Severino, for his part, is publicly handling the news about as positively as one could expect:

2. Shades of Zack Wheeler, if You Squint: But enough of that. I’ve seen several people compare Severino to Zack Wheeler. That makes sense. Both pitchers were successful at 23- and 24-years-old and both suffered debilitating injuries. Wheeler, who is again an effective big league pitcher once more, is also an optimistic comparison. Wheeler even underwent Tommy John surgery. In other words, I get the comparison. But it still falls flat to me for one reason: Luis Severino is a much, much better pitcher. Check out Wheeler’s first two full seasons (2013-14) against Severino’s (2017-18):

IPERAOPSK%BB%HRbWAR
Severino (’17-18)384.23.18.63528.8%6.2%2.6%10.1
Wheeler (’13-14)285.13.50.68422.1%10.2%2.0%2.1

Yeah. Not much of. a comparison there, is there? Severino was a more complete – and therefore better – pitcher in nearly every regard. He had better control, missed more bats, threw more innings, and was hit less hard. I could go on and on. Of course, I understand the comparison. The point is not to compare them as pitchers. It’s about the injuries. And there’s a good case here: since returning, Wheeler has pitched 377.2 above-average innings. He still has his good stuff. He has a nine-figure contract. All of this makes me feel better and it should make you feel better too.

But I can’t help myself from comparing them anyway. The loss of Severino is such a devastating blow in every way precisely because there are few comparisons that work in a baseball sense. He is one of the finest young arms in baseball. A true top-10 talent. Injuries have derailed all of that. It sucks! No matter which way I try to spin this, I just end up sad about it. Gah.

3. Offseason Hindsight is 20/20…Kind Of: In addition to the Wheeler comparison – and also the second-guessing of the medical staff, which I understand but won’t touch myself – the other big conversation happening is a re-litigation of the 2020 offseason. This makes sense. Just about a month ago, we all thought this was the Yankees’ rotation:

  1. Gerrit Cole
  2. Luis Severino
  3. James Paxton
  4. Masahiro Tanaka
  5. ?? (J.A. Happ/Jordan Montgomery/Deivi Garcia/Mike King etc.)

Now, what once looked like one baseball’s best rotations looks like this:

  1. Gerrit Cole
  2. Masahiro Tanaka
  3. J.A. Happ
  4. Jordan Montgomery
  5. ??? (Jonathan Loaisiga/Deivi Garcia/Mike King/Clarke Schmidt etc.)

Talk about a steep decline. The next bullet will address what this means for the upcoming season. But first, let’s look backwards. Neither James Paxton’s injury nor Severino’s is a new one. The Yankees knew about both before the season began and before last season even ended. (As I’ve said before: 2019 is dead; long live 2019.) That is important because it gives us a new lens through which to evaluate the offseason. It would be one thing if these injuries happened in camp. They didn’t. The Yanks knew that Paxton and Severino may miss time with these injuries – how could they not at least think it was possible – and added just Cole anyway. Yes, I know how ridiculous “just Cole” is. Honestly, I do. He is a huge signing and the single-best upgrade they could make. Imagine this team without him!

But still, oblige me. Obviously, this explains why Happ wasn’t traded. (Separately, Happ may be around next year now, too. It’s hard to imagine his option not vesting now!) What it doesn’t explain is why the team didn’t add more pitching depth. I’ll admit that I rolled my eyes at the Twitter complaining a few weeks ago about “just adding Cole.” Now, though, knowing what the Yankees knew all offseason, I’ll admit that I was wrong. It looks like a mistake. (Or, perhaps, it shows why Patrick Corbin’s non-existent candidacy before 2019 remains so frustrating to me.)

4. So, What’s Next?: But all is not lost. The Yankees are worse now – do yourself a favor and don’t look at the ZiPS projections with and without Severino – but they’re still in good shape. They should win the division. The “Opening Day” rotation doesn’t matter all that much, anyway. Paxton should be return sooner rather than later. Domingo Germán will eventually return to the team, too. Moreover, Yanks do, in fact, have some depth and MLB-ready arms. Of course, they showed that the opener works just last season. It depleted the bullpen, I think, but they won a lot of games utilizing it. In other words, there are options. The Yanks will use those options and they will win a lot of games. Mark my words. I am very confident in this team and still believe that they should be in the conversation for World Series favorite.

It’s important perspective to keep because the trade and free agent market is pretty thin right now. Colin McHugh makes the most sense to me but we’ll see. For his part, Cashman said that the Yanks will look internally only. That will change around the deadline, I’m sure. But for now, the Yanks are going with what they’ve got. This is not surprising. At the very least, though, Spring Training just got a lot more interesting. Hooray?

5. Two Good Things: This has been a very depressing thoughts post. As an optimist by nature, I don’t like it. So, I’m going to close out with some positive words. One, Gerrit Cole made his debut. He touched 98 miles-per-hour in his Spring debut (lol) and continues to just be a freakin’ awesome interview and player. This guy is going to be so easy to watch. Even though Severino won’t follow him every fifth day, Cole is going to be so damn fun. I cannot wait for the games to count, even though they matter now.

The second good thing is that we get to laugh at Boston. I mean, they just traded their best player and second-best pitcher across the country because they didn’t think they could be competitive. And now the Yankees look much weaker than before that move. But they did it anyway and it’s made this latest slate of injuries much easier to stomach as a Yankee fan. Some big competition is much worse, after all, and they did it to themselves. That’s pretty hilarious, to me. Laughing at Boston has a way of making things feel a bit better.

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9 Comments

  1. MikeD

    A “skill” that was unappreciated during the last Yankees dynasty in the ’96-’03 run is how consistently healthy the core of the team was. Jeter, Posada, Bernie, Pettitte, Rivera were pretty much always available, and when there was an injury it was pretty isolated. Being able to depend on a player to take the field is critical. That even extended to other players post those years when Cano, Swisher, etc. also were healthy players for the most part. Gardner remains because he’s someone they can depend on. Those things are really hard to predict, but in time you will see trends. The player develops a track record. Sevy, Judge, Stanton, Sanchez, Hicks and…Bird (RIP). Perhaps the Yankees current group, while very talented and loaded with skill, may lack that key skill or remaining healthy.

  2. JG (Melky Mesa)

    STANTON GRADE 1 RIGHT CALF STRAIN

    FIRE DR. AHMAD, HE’S A QUACK

  3. RetroRob

    A few random thoughts based on random thoughts:

    1) Agreed, the Red Sox throwing in the towel before a pitch thrown is funny considering what’s happened to the Yankees early on, but also add that’s it’s sad too in what it says about the game. The Red Sox trading Betts and the Yankees not adding another starter do come down to the same thing–money. Teams are either tanking (not being competitive) or managing in some capacity to the luxury tax tiers (meaning not being fully competitive). Somehow, MLB owners have convinced fans it’s ok to not be competitive in sports. Not good entertainment, and that will continue to hurt attendance.

    2) Mildly disagree that It’s hard to imagine Happ’s option not vesting, although it may not matter. Remember, last year he only pitched a total of 161 innings despite being in the rotation from day one and expected to be one of their better pitchers. He needs to either pitch 165 innings, or start 30 games this season for the option to vest. He missed on innings last year and was only three starts over. He’s the third starter for now, but Paxton’s target return in May, and German’s in June and Montgomery available from the start will put pressure on Happ to hit those targets as the season progresses. Add your young arms like Loaisiga, King, Garcia, Schmidt, potential use of the opener, and the Yankees likely adding a starter as the season progresses, and it will be a challenge for Happ to hit his targets UNLESS he pitches well. If he does, the Yankees will be more than fine if his option vests. They can either keep him for next year, or trade him since his value would be restored and the financial commitment by the acquiring team minimized.

    3) McHugh makes sense. He could start for a bit, then transfer to the pen where he’s been quite good. The fact that McHugh hasn’t signed anywhere, including with his former team, may indicate there is some medical concern here.

    4) Beware the Rays. With a weakened Yankees staff and a strengthened Rays staff, they could definitely challenge for the division. They’ve won 90 or more the last two years, including 96 last year and gave the Asterisks a run for their money in the postseason.

    5) I’m not into second guessing if a dye-cast MRI should have been done earlier, or if Paxton should have had surgery earlier. I’m not a doctor, and I don’t play one on the Internet. I’ll leave that to the rest of you. I will second guess not adding a starter, which circles back to point one.

  4. Too damn many optimists around here.

  5. dasit

    if glasgow/snell/chirinos/morton stay reasonably healthy the division might go down to the wire

  6. chip56

    A bit new and a bit of a repost:
    First the new: If the Yankees were really concerned about Paxton and Sevy based on the way they finished up last season, that still doesn’t justify keeping a guy who was, objectively, one of the worst starters in the American League (if not all of baseball) last season. Happ should have been dumped and the Yankees should have taken steps to further fortify their rotation options.

    Repost: This lays squarely at the feet of Cashman and the former training staff. Their mishandling of injuries that occurred last year are the reason why Paxton and Severino are now out this year. While 2019 may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back, it was far from the first time this training staff had proven itself inept.

    2016: Mark Teixiera has a “bone bruise” except it’s not a bone bruise, it’s a fractured leg and he’s out for the season.

    The litany of undiagnosable injuries that Greg Bird was complaining about

    The complete whiff on Aaron Judge’s shoulder injury coming off the HR derby; and the handling of his wrist injury.

    I’m sure there are others that just don’t come to mind right now. That Cashman allowed this training staff to remain in place after years of evidence of their ineptitude is on him; but Cash has always been slow to react to organizational ineptitude, be it in the form of Mark Newman or Nardi Contreras.

  7. DJ Lemeddardhieu

    1. I just feel so bad for the kid, Bobby. He worked his tail off to return this year only to have this quack medical staff ruin yet another good ballplayer. How many players have they ruined over the past decade? This should have been caught in the offseason and surgery done to minimize the time missed. He missed all last year, all this year and most of next year. He’s the new Carl Pavano, who may have gotten a bad rap because the team doctor is Dr. Nick from the Simpsons.

    2. Sevy was better than Wheeler ever was so it’s not a good comparison. A better comparison would be a Hughes or a Joba or a Kennedy or any one of the many pitchers that this medical staff ruined over the years. They’re butchers.

    3. It was a world series winning rotation. Now it would be lucky to finish 6th in the division. I just don’t see us competing this year. Cole and Tanaka are sitting ducks. If they even get so much as a scratch Dr. Ahmad will find a way to turn it into the coronavirus. Paxton I don’t see coming back any time this year. Kevin Youkilis had back problems with us and ended up being a giant waste of money. Happ is an aging 5 ERA pitcher. Monty I think will be solid. The kids could be good but they should have signed depth. Hal saved all his coupons a decade to sign Cole and didn’t want to spend a penny more so help is not on the way.

    4. Just face that it’s over, Derek. I already have come to that realization and won’t be disappointed later on. The only goal this season was to win the WS and now we won’t do that. Now they’re going to have to use Green in the opener role, which just tired him out come the postseason. They screwed up not firing the entire medical and training staffs and just doing half measures and we’re the ones that have to pay for it by enduring yet another season that doesn’t end in a ring. If George were alive he’d be down in Cuba right now finding the next El Duque but instead we’re left with Hal looking for change in the couch cushions.

    5. It’s just a matter of time before Cole gets hurt. And when he does he’ll be misdiagnosed and out for the season. Laughing at Boston is no solace. I’d rather be them right now. At least they know what they are and are rebuilding towards the future. We were supposed to win the WS for the next decade and that dream is now gone. Everything is gone and nothing matters.

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