The New York Yankees newest relief ace, Luis Severino, might be following in the footsteps of the team’s closer and former starter Dellin Betances.
The difference between Yankees Luis Severino’s work in the rotation and out of the bullpen could not be more stark in 2016. In nine big league starts this season, the 22-year-old righty has a 8.58 ERA and 1.744 WHIP. As a reliever, Severino has not allowed an earned run over his first 16.2 innings of work.
Severino is not the only former heralded starting pitcher working out of the Yankees pen. Dellin Betances was a three-time Baseball America Top 100 prospect as a starter in the minor leagues before control issues caused him to move into a relief role full time.
The final straw for Betances came in 2012, when he walked 6.8 batters per nine innings over 131.1 IP split between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre, resulting in an ugly 6.44 ERA.
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After that performance, New York first began experimenting with Betances as a reliever in the Arizona Fall League, and the results were encouraging. In eight appearances for the Scottsdale Scorpions, Betances walked just three per nine, while putting up 11.2 K/9 in 12 IP.
"I think his comfort level is a lot better. He’s able to make adjustments pitch to pitch, hitter to hitter. Today was case in point: He went out, lost his feel for his slider, got it back the next at-bat. Before, he would just try to grip it and throw it harder. Now he’s settling down, hitting his spot. He’s a lot more productive."
Luis Severino also admitted to losing confidence, especially in his changeup, prior to his most recent demotion to the minors. He seems to have a renewed swagger since taking over the fireman role in September.
Like Betances, Severino has also ascribed his success out of the bullpen to improved command, telling Dan Martin of the New York Post, “I’m hitting the glove. Earlier, I wasn’t doing that. I was missing a lot pitches. Now I’m more focused.”
While Severino would obviously be more valuable as a starter, major league teams are risk averse. They tend to keep going with whatever is working rather than risk messing with success. The Yankees could have tried to move Betances back to the rotation following his dominant performance in 2014, but instead they rolled with it.
The team still insists that Luis Severino will be a starting pitcher long-term, but ironically, the more success he finds as a reliever down the stretch, the more the chances of him moving back to the rotation diminish.