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Luis Severino | A tale of two halves

Matt Gregory

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Brad Penner-USA Today Sports

Luis Severino has had a tale of two halves, with the second half being far below the expectations he set before the All-Star Break. Some have posited that Severino is tipping his pitches. There is also the possibility that Severino is slowing down because he has never reached 200 innings professionally. Neither of those will be the focus of this article, though maybe in the future it would be worth looking at Severino’s delivery in the first and second halves.

This article is going to focus on two of his pitches: the slider and the four-seam fastball. The first question would be the stuff itself. Has it regressed in terms of velocity or control?

In the case of the slider, this chart from Brooks Baseball shows the horizontal movement and vertical movement of all Severino’s pitches. A quick note: the closer to zero on both the X and Y-axis, the less movement horizontally/vertically there is. Further from zero means more movement:

The fastball movement is about the same, but the focus, for now, should be on the slider. Those dots closer to the zero are from the most recent months. Meaning, there has been less vertical and horizontal movement in his slider since the start of the season. In the case of horizontal movement, it’s only about an inch, but the vertical movement is closer to three or four-inch difference.

Has this led to any change in the performance of his slider? Not really. He did give up four home runs in July versus two in the first half altogether, but his K% and BB% with the pitch stayed consistent, as did the Whiff% (amount of swings and misses the pitch generates).

There is no straightforward explanation for the dip in slider usage over time without being in the clubhouse or watching the bullpens. However, it seems important to note when considering Severino’s four-seam fastball usage has increased.

The below chart shows the slugging percentage against each of his pitches. The black line shows his four-seam fastball. Since the beginning of June, opponents have been slugging better than .500 against his fastball, with a peak in the .700 range in August. Yet, Severino has double downed on using the fastball.

July was a bad month for all Severino’s offerings, but one thing that has stayed consistent in August is that opponents are slugging greater than .600 against his fastball. With that, Severino is getting fewer whiffs per swing on his fastball in the second half, shown below:

So, there’s a reason for this, right? As mentioned earlier, tipping pitches will not be touched on here, nor will the possibility of injury, but there was something interesting in this next chart. It covers the vertical release point of Severino’s fastball, put more simply, how high is his hand when he releases his pitches.

Now, all his pitches have increased in vertical release point, but none have suffered as much as his fastball has in terms of performance. Is this typical of Severino? Does he always increase the vertical release point over time? Well, no. But, the only other time Severino had a higher release point was during his 2016 campaign, when he posted a 5.83 ERA. That looks like a pretty consistent relationship.

There is no solid explanation as to why the increase in vertical release point would lead to poor performance. The only speculation could be that hitters are seeing it better out of his hands, especially since there is not too much movement to his four-seamer.

Now, going by his FIP in the first half, Severino overperformed by close to .5 ERA points. That can be explained by an extremely low HR/FB rate, which Severino has never been known for. He posted a HR/FB% around 6% for the first three months while he has posted a 20.5% HR/FB% in the second half.

That brings his overall season HR/FB% to 12%, much closer to his career average of 14%. It seems like Severino’s true homerun prevention talent lies somewhere between the 6% and 20% range, rather than sitting at either end of the spectrum.

To go along with this, Severino has seen his groundball rate drop 11 percentage points from 43.9% to 32.1%, while his line drive rate has jumped from 22.4% to 33%. That is going to contribute to more hits, as demonstrated by his .400 BABIP in the second half versus his .278 BABIP before the all-star break. His career average sits closer to .290, so again somewhere closer to that .278 he posted earlier this year.

All these regressions since the all-star break come back to that increase in his vertical release point of his fastball, which has led to a higher slugging percentage against the pitch and more home runs overall. That is reminiscent of his worst year as a professional in 2016. This really feels like a mechanical change, either knowingly or unknowingly, that has gone extremely wrong.

Born and raised in New Jersey in a Yankee household, Matt works with computers by day but has always loved baseball. When he's not doing either of those things, he's probably thinking about Villanova basketball way too much. Follow him on Twitter @MattchewGregory.

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New York Yankees

Yankees year in review | The starting pitchers

Matt Gregory

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to Yankees Year in Review. This is the third of four parts looking at each position group for the Yankees. This week, it’s the starting rotation’s turn.

If you had to pick one weakness of the Yankees in 2018, it would have to be the starting rotation. Going into the season, it looked like this:

Luis Severino
Masahiro Tanaka
Sonny Gray
CC Sabathia
Jordan Montgomery

Much like the infield, this is not what the rotation looked like by year’s end. That is not surprising, starting rotations rarely survive a whole year without injuries or poor performance. There was some good and some bad, let’s start with the bad.

The fifth starter was a rotating door, as the Yankees lost Jordan Montgomery after six starts to an elbow strain. That would eventually lead to Tommy John surgery, ending his 2018 and potentially his 2019 season. His initial replacement was Luis Cessa who was also bitten by the injury bug with a hip issue.

Domingo Germán would then get his opportunity to lock down the fifth starter. While he stayed healthy, the results were mixed. Germán has a starter quality pitch mix, the issue was walks and home runs, which kept him from holding onto the spot.

CC Sabathia was a consistent bright spot for the rotation and statistically the third best starter in his age 37 season. It was announced on November 7th that Sabathia signed a one-year contract for 8 million dollars. He also stated that 2019 would be his last season. Sabathia raised his K/9 (strikeouts per nine innings) from 7.26 in 2017 to 8.24 in 2018.

Additionally, he cut down his HR/9 (home runs allowed per nine innings) to 1.12 from 1.27 in 2017.
Getting 2.5 WAR from a 37-year-old back-end starter is impressive and if Sabathia can give the Yankees another 150 innings as he did in 2018, then it would be an undeniable success. One milestone to watch: Sabathia needs 14 strikeouts to reach 3,000 in his career.

That brings us to Sonny Gray. The Yankees dealt James Kaprielian, Jorge Mateo and Dustin Fowler for the righty in 2017 and he performed fine in those 11 starts. His first full season with the Yankees was bad. Gray walked 3.94 batters per nine innings and had an ERA of 4.90. He was sent to the bullpen where he would be used in long relief and an occasional spot start to end the year.

General Manager Brian Cashman has been rather open about his intent to deal Gray, telling Matt Ehalt of the Bergen Record that Gray “has got a good makeup, I just don’t think this is the right spot for him.” Unless he is packaged with some prospects, it seems hard to believe that Gray will bring much of a return in prospects, maybe some lottery ticket type players.

To replace Gray and strengthen the fifth spot, Cashman dealt from the surplus of players and prospects who were blocked for Lance Lynn and J.A. Happ. Both performed as good, if not better than what was expected of them coming over. Lynn was worth 1.8 fWAR in 9 starts while Happ was worth 1.1 fWAR in 11 starts. Both are free agents and potential targets for backend innings. Lynn can also provide extended innings out of the bullpen, something he did both in the regular season and playoffs for the Yankees.

Masahiro Tanaka was not healthy for the full year but still turned in one of his better seasons statistically. He sliced his ERA down by a full run to 3.75 and his HR/9 to 1.44. Still, he only pitched 156 innings. When healthy, he is arguably the second-best starter to Luis Severino in the rotation and will be with the Yankees for another two years since he did not opt-out of his contract.

Speaking of Severino, he started off the year with Cy Young caliber stuff. The problem was that his ERA in the second half was 5.57, which for reference was higher than Sonny Gray’s full-season ERA. Severino has the pure stuff: a high 90s fastball and a wipeout slider. He did not use the changeup much until the second half, but it showed flashes as a good pitch. There is also some evidence that Severino was tipping pitches, specifically in the playoffs. The hope would be that the team caught this, and it gets addressed going into next season.

Still, with Severino, Tanaka, and Sabathia there are two spots left in the rotation. There are three routes the Yankees could choose: internal promotion, free agency, and trades. Internally, the Yankees have Justus Sheffield, Chance Adams, and Jonathan Loaisiga. Adams and Loaisiga both made starts during 2017, while Sheffield made some relief appearances late in the year. Loaisiga performed better than Adams but he also dealt with shoulder issues. Expect all three to compete in Spring training 2019 for a spot.

This free agent class looked impressive for pitching a couple years ago and now, it merely looks okay? Clayton Kershaw was taken off the market by signing an extension with the Dodgers in early November. Hyun-Jin Ryu is rumored to most likely accept the Dodgers’ qualifying offer. So, those are two fewer options.

According to Keith Law (insider paywall), the best pitching options still left are Patrick Corbin, Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton and Nathan Eovaldi. Corbin would be an “ace” type acquisition, though he has been injured in the past. Keuchel also has missed some time in 2016 and 2017 but would be a great option as a mid-rotation starter. Morton is on the older side and the Yankees may be wary to sign Eovaldi again, especially with the workload he shouldered coming off Tommy John.

Finally, we come to the trade candidates. James Paxton, Carlos Carrasco, and Corey Kluber have all been rumored to be available so far this offseason as both the Mariners and Indians decide whether they want to shed payroll. Any one of the three would be welcome additions but come with hefty price tags, though it has not stopped Cashman from dealing before.
No matter what, the rotation will be the number one priority this offseason. Expect Cashman to get creative as he addresses the clear weakness of this Yankees team.

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Podcast

Gary Sanchez has shoulder surgery, will be ready Opening Day

Stacey Gotsulias

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Gary Sanchez
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

In today’s episode of Locked On Yankees, Stacey discusses Gary Sanchez’s shoulder surgery (try saying that three times fast), Luke Voit’s insane offseason workouts, Brian Cashman’s comments about Chris Sale and she takes you around the league.

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CC Sabathia signs one-year deal to stay with the Yankees in 2019

Stacey Gotsulias

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Brad Penner-USA Today Sports

In today’s episode of Locked On Yankees, Stacey discusses CC Sabathia’s latest one-year deal with the Yankees and she discusses Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson and much more!

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