Yankee fans have been clamoring for Luis Severino for quite some time. He is not quite 21 and a half years old and the hopes are through the roof. His start tonight against the Boston Red Sox is one of the most highly anticipated events for a Yankee team built on veterans but thin in the rotation. Can Severino do what few others have done for this team over its history--be a powerful force as a call up in a pennant race?
It is a tall order and Severino is not very tall. Listed at six feet in height, he will look like a point guard next to Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda. But, we are not talking height here. We are talking about long odds and lack of precedents.
Think back, long-time Yankee fans. When was the last time a prospect was called up in a pennant race and met/exceeded expectations? Joba Chamberlain in 2007 comes to mind. Shane Spencer wasn't a touted prospect but crushed the ball at the Triple-A level. He took Yankee Universe by storm in 1998.
Who is before that? I am drawing a blank all the way back to Mel Stottlemyre back in 1964. And Stottlemyre was called up much earlier. The point here is that Luis Severino is fighting long odds and a lack of precedent to be who we want him to be for his five or so starts from now until the end of the season.
Highly anticipated prospects are a bit like coin tosses. For every Kris Bryant, you have a Joey Gallo. Up until now, Luis Severino has been an idea. Tonight, that idea will either become a reality, a bust or somewhere in between. We will just have to watch together to find out what happens.
There are mixed opinions on Severino from talent evaluaters. Keith Law of ESPN is not especially high on him and doesn't think Severino uses his legs enough to be a big league starter. ZiPS projections simulated him at 2-2 in his five starts with an ERA just over four runs per nine. Baseball America rates him highly.
It is hard to argue with Severino's Triple-A numbers this year. He has a perfect 7-0 record in eleven starts with a 1.91 ERA. However, his strikeout rate is down from when he pitched in Double-A by quite a bit and his BABIP against is a really low .237. That brings his FIP up to 2.52, but that is still very good. Yankee fans would take that for sure!
Luis Severino has two plus-pitches with his fastball and change-up. The latter is exciting. When is the last time a young Yankee pitcher had that pitch in his arsenal? It's almost like a Tampa Bay Ray dream. He does lack a strong third pitch, which is a bit worrisome the second and third time through a lineup.
Severino is also a right-handed pitcher pitching at Yankee Stadium. He was stingy in giving up homers his entire MiLB career. Will that translate to the Big Leagues? His walk rate is also a bit high to make me overly comfortable. I am becoming a bit of a Ron Gardenhire when it comes to my desire for a low walk rate.
Let's take this a step at a time, shall we? Let's not focus on his career or trying to project what he will do the rest of this season. Instead, what does he have to do to succeed tonight? Keys to me would be the same for any pitcher facing the Boston Red Sox: Get ahead on the counts and finish them off without nibbling.
The biggest obstacle for any young pitcher (and most established pitchers for that matter) is being afraid to throw too fat a pitch on a two-strike count and trying to be too fine. Severino's stuff has got him to this point. He needs to trust it. The best way to attack David Ortiz, for example, is to get ahead on him and keep the pressure up. So many times Yankee pitchers get ahead in the count on him and then nibble Ortiz back into a comfortable place.
There are two things working in Luis Severino's favor tonight. First, the Yankees are scoring a ton of runs and should keep that going against the knuckleball pitcher, Steven Wright. Wright is a feel-good story as everyone roots for the knuckleball. But the reality is that his home run rate per nine is 1.7 and his FIP is over five..
The second thing is that the Red Sox are in severe disarray right now. Last night's game was a prime example with sloppy play in the field and terrible pitching. (after Henry Owens left the game). Catching a team when it is down and with a hot offense behind him at home are all benefits that could make his debut a fun one for him (and us).
Hopes and expectations are two different things. It is hoped that Luis Severino will give us something to remember tonight with a big flashy performance. It is more expected to think he can at least be as effective as Owens was last night for the Red Sox in Owens' debut. I would take five or six innings with two or three runs allowed. If he can do that, he can give his team a chance to win.
And that is all that we should root for from Severino or any Yankee starter. Keep the team in the game and give them a chance to win. If Severino turns out to be Superman, all the better.