July 1st, Yankee Stadium. The Yankees just beat the Boston Red Sox 13-2. Luis Severino shined as usual. Leading the way with 6.2 strong innings, striking out six Boston hitters while allowing three walks and two hits. He earns the win and improves his record to 13-2 and lowers his ERA to an other-worldly 1.98. Now, flash-forward to August 13th. The Yankees just lost to the New York Mets, and Luis Severino lasted just four innings and got pelted for four earned runs, again. This now marks seven consecutive starts where Severino failed to allow fewer than three earned runs.
Where it all went wrong
Luis Severino allowed over three earned runs only four times in his first 18 starts of 2018. He was battling Chris Sale for the right to start the All-Star Game and was anchoring the Yankees pitching rotation as the ace without question. But since then, he's gone 2-4 with an ERA of 7.50, while allowing 30 earned runs, 11 home runs, and hitters have a .346/.382/.635 triple slash over only 36 innings. This is after having a 1.52 ERA over 47.1 innings in his previous 7 starts.
Severino is primarily a three-pitch pitcher. He highlights his blistering four-seam fastball that's one of the fastest in baseball. His complementary pitches include an improved changeup and one of the hardest to hit sliders in the league. What stands out during his extended struggles is how well hitters are seeing and hitting his pitches, which is no doubt aided by a .434 batting average against with his fastball. However, there is certainly some bad luck in play for Severino recently, who owns a horrid .366 BABIP since his start on July 7th.
There are many possibilities why Severino has been awful for such an extended period. Some say he's hiding an injury, while others say he's somehow tipping his pitches to hitters, almost letting them know what pitch he's about to throw. Either way, he and the Yankees are running out of time to fix whatever Severino is doing to tip off hitters. He's thrown fewer changeups than customary, down from roughly 13% in his first 18 starts, to about 11% in his last seven outings. He's also suffered from a lack of swings and misses, which is down from about 13.50% to just under 11% during his recent struggles. That's devastating for a starter who typically benefits from fooling hitters with his amazing slider depth and blazing fastball.
Where do we go from here?
If there is any doubt about Severino's health, or if the Yankees believe he is truly tipping his pitches, then the best option for them is to give him a rest in the rotation. It may be a difficult decision to make, being he's the unchallenged ace of the rotation. But at this point, no Severino may be better than a terrible Severino as the playoffs draw nearer. The Yankees have shown that they're willing to give starting pitchers extra rest this season, so why not give Severino a day off, allowing him to fix whatever may be making a negative impact on him?
Can Sevy turn himself around and get back to being the ace the Yankees so desperately need him to be? Whatever the answer, his issues need to be resolved soon.
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