One of the biggest concerns for Yankees fans recently has been the health of Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge. Since both Judge and Sanchez have been on the DL, the Yankees are 10-8 and sit 10 games back of the Boston Red Sox for first place in the American League East. Both players, however, should return to full health sooner rather than later. Thus, it should not be a significant long-term concern.
The long-term concern that should worry the Yankees are the struggles that have hindered their young ace, Luis Severino. Since his start on July 7th against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field, Luis Severino sports a 7.50 earned run average over seven starts and had only had two starts with three or fewer earned runs allowed. To put that into perspective, Severino had 17 starts with three earned runs allowed or fewer up to July 1st, with just one start in which he gave up five earned runs against the Red Sox at Fenway Park on April 10th. So, what can we see as the issue here?
What appears to be Severino’s most prominent issue since July 1st is his slider. Though, Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild has said it is his fastball command. Looking at HeatMaps provided by Fangraphs on Severino’s fastball before and after his slump, the fastball location stays relatively constant.
Severino’s fastball command before his slump is the same as it has been during his slump. However, there is a marked difference in the location of his slider pre and post-slump. Post-slump, Severino has not been attacking the zone with his slider nearly as much. pre-slump, Severino pounded the strike zone with his slider.
What that means is that Severino has lost a bit of confidence in what used to be a wipeout slider. That loss of confidence is justified by the drop off in the slider’s break, vertical movement, and spin rate. Severino’s spin rate on his slider is down nearly seven percent compared to what it was when he was dominating.
Furthermore, he has seen a three-inch decline in vertical drop, from 40 inches to 37 inches. Lastly, his break has dropped two inches, from 11 to 9. All of this makes it easier for hitters to sit on his 97-100 MPH fastball. If he doesn’t have confidence in his Slider and throws it out of the zone more, hitters do not need to worry about it. Thus, as we saw with Jose Bautista‘s home run off of him Monday night, where he sent a 100MPH fastball on the black over the right-field seats, hitters seem prepared for the fastball without fearing the slider.
What’s to make of Severino’s slider issues? Perhaps he is just a little bit fatigued from the beginning of the season. Remember, he works at a fast pace, trying to pump fastballs and sliders into the zone, attacking hitters. That can take a toll on a young pitcher.
In Severino’s latest start against the Toronto Blue Jays on Saturday there were signs of improvement from the young starting pitcher. Severino went five innings, giving up two earned runs on six hits while striking out eight and walking two.
Where Severino ran into trouble was when he went out for the sixth inning after having thrown 90+ pitches. It made sense for Aaron Boone to allow Severino to go back out and attempt to go a full six, but he immediately gave up a triple to Curtis Granderson, followed by a hard RBI single to Justin Smoak before being pulled to the tune of a solid Yankee Stadium ovation.
Smoak would end up coming around to score with Tommy Kahnle on the mound, pinning Severino with his second earned run of the day. Despite being unable to get an out in the sixth inning, Severino was able to strike out eight batters, including a strikeout of Teoscar Hernandez to end the top of the 4th with a nasty 3-2 slider, something we have not seen in a bit. It seems like Severino could be returning to form, and it’ll be interesting to see if he builds off of this solid performance in his next start.