A Luis Severino Update

After his first nine Major League starts, Luis Severino has somehow failed to excite any of us RotoGraphers enough to convince us to write an article about him. So here it is, finally. Before the season, Kiley ranked Severino as the Yankees top prospect and the 26th best prospect in baseball. He figured that Severino would get his cup of coffee late this season or first debut in 2016. So pitching his first game on August 5th was probably earlier than most expected.

In those nine starts, Severino has posted an excellent 3.10 ERA, though lots of good fortune is mixed in there. One doesn’t have to look any further than his 3.99 SIERA to figure out that Severino hasn’t actually pitched as well as his shiny ERA would indicate. Though for a rookie in the American League East, even an ERA right around 4.00 is respectable.

The large ERA-SIERA discrepancy is primarily driven by his 85.1% LOB%. If he qualified for the leaderboard, that would easily rank at the top among American League starters. The current leader sits at 82.2%, while the league average is 72.0%. Amazingly, a quick peek at his situational peripherals immediately explains how his LOB% has been so inflated. Check ’em out:

Situational K% BB% xFIP
Bases Empty 20.3% 9.8% 4.14
Men on Base 28.0% 10.7% 3.37
Men In Scoring 31.0% 9.5% 2.45

So his strikeout rate rises and xFIP falls the “clutchier” the situation. That’s cool and all that this has happened so far, but it just cannot be sustainable. Because then the question becomes, why doesn’t he just pitch that way with the bases empty! So perhaps this suggests he actually is deserving of the sky high LOB%, but deserving at the moment or not, I can’t imagine he can maintain those skills with runners on and in scoring position.

Another thing that he has done to his credit, which is unlikely to be sustained, is maintained a slight ground ball tilt, yet post a high IFFB%. His 15.9% mark would easily lead the American League, but you typically expect fly ball pitchers to be the ones with the high pop-up rates. So again like the LOB%, here’s an example of some additional support for the 3.10 ERA, but something we just don’t expect Severino to be able to continue doing as well.

Some more good news — his 95.5 mph average fastball would tie for second in velocity in the American League and the pitch has generated an above average SwStk%. Furthermore, his changeup has been fantastic, generating an 18.3% SwStk% and tons of ground balls. But oddly, he has only thrown the pitch 13.1% of the time. His favorite secondary pitch has actually been his slider, which he has thrown about a third of the time. This is strange though because from a swing and miss perspective, it’s been a rather ineffective pitch. It’s been getting grounders though, but a slider, especially one you learn on once every three pitches, should be generating a SwStk% well above 8.8%.

The fact that he has still managed to strike out 23% of the batters he has faced despite throwing his meh slider so frequently is actually rather intriguing. It means that he could potentially improve the slider, induce more whiffs with it and up his strikeout rate even further, or reduce its usage in favor of the changeup, and increase his strikeout rate that way. Of course, this assume the change will remain just as effect with greater use, which is no guarantee.

The only real negative so far has been his walks. He had never posted a walk rate above 7.5% at any stop in the minors, but has walked 10.1% of the batters he has faced with the Yankees. His strike percentage has been just below the league average and his xBB% of 9.5% essentially validates that his control has been worse than expected. Luckily, control is what is most frequently improved upon for young pitchers, so this isn’t a real concern at this point.

So far, so good for Severino. It will be interesting to see what happens with his slider vs changeup usage in the future, but even with a weird mix, he’s been quite the fantasy asset. He’s at around 150 innings pitched this year, so next year we shouldn’t have to worry too much about any innings cap, though 180 would seem like the best projection.

Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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danny c
danny c

maybe severino should always pitch from the stretch