Yankees Need To Avoid a Joba-Sized Disaster With Luis Severino

Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports /
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The New York Yankees need to recall the mistakes they made with Joba Chamberlain in their handling of Luis Severino going into 2017.

During the 2007 season, the Yankees late-inning relief corps, save for Mariano Rivera, was a disaster. Instead of sacrificing the future for a bullpen arm, they turned to the future. Joba Chamberlain, who had pitched for the University of Nebraska just a year earlier, would be the setup man for Rivera going down the stretch.

Of course, Chamberlain came with a list of rules, if you will, regarding his usage. These were infamously known as the Joba Rules, and they became as legendary as the man himself.

As if any die-hard Yankee fan needs a history lesson, Joba was an instant hit. The 21-year-old could hit 100 on the radar gun and had a devastating curveball to boot. In 23 innings during that pennant race, he gave up exactly one run. His excited demeanor on the mound and interesting backstory made him something of a cult hero.

The Yankees were in the midst of an inconsistent season and were in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since 1995. That all changed when Joba arrived and gave the team a shot in the arm as well as the late-inning sidekick for Mariano they desperately needed.

Then something odd happened. The Yankees had always viewed Joba as a starter, and after starting 2008 with him back in a setup role, they slowly moved him into the rotation. In hindsight, it was a terrible move.

Chamberlain was different as a starter. The electrifying confidence he brought to the mound in the late innings was gone. Now, he was shaking off his catchers and taking long pauses in between pitches.

One problem may have been that instead of relying on two pitches, the fastball and the curve, he now had to add other pitches to his repertoire. Instead of coming into a game all guns blazing, he had to pace himself and face batters multiple times.

In the end, the confusion of being bounced between the rotation and bullpen somewhat derailed his career. While he would have a couple of decent seasons with the Yankees, he was never able to recapture the magic of 2007. Knowing his role early on might have prevented such a disaster. The Yankees are in danger of something similar happening with Luis Severino.

Luis Severino, like Joba, came up at a time when the Yankees needed pitching. This time it was starting pitching, and Severino was brilliant at first. After going 5-3 with an impressive era of 2.89, it seemed as if the Yankees had found an ace in the making.

Prior to the 2016 season, many in the media speculated that Severino might actually be the Bombers best starter. Then Severino went out and got bombed, with an 0-6 record and an ERA over six. It was time for the young pitcher to return to Triple-A to work on his mechanics.

When he returned to the Bronx, he was not a starter anymore. At least not a first. However, after pitching brilliantly out of the pen, he was moved back to the rotation where he once again got tattooed.

Severino’s problem seemed to be that he didn’t trust his secondary pitches, particularly his changeup. He would do a fine job the first or second time through the batting order but implode shortly after. The solution, once again, was to return him to the pen, where again he was lights out.

All in all, Severino went 0-8 with an 8.50 era as a starter, compared to 3-0 with a 0.39 era as a reliever. In 23 relief innings, Severino only gave up one earned run, numbers comparable to Chamberlain’s from 2007.

The Yankees have a tough decision regarding how Severino should be used going forward. On one hand, he showed a lot of promise as a starter in 2015, and starting pitching is hard to come by these days. Especially, young controllable starters that are cost friendly. However, one can argue that in 2016, he was exposed and unless he develops a third pitch, he’s doomed to repeat his awful season.

While Luis Severino may view himself as a starter, he’s more likely to find success in the late innings. There would be no third pitch to worry about. He would most likely never have to seen the lineup turn over.

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Since he’s primarily been a starter, he would be capable of pitching multiple innings if needed. Whatever direction the Yankees take with Severino, it would be best to keep him in that role and avoid bouncing between the rotation and the bullpen.

It may initially hurt his confidence if he were named a reliever, but the Yankees once had a starting pitcher who struggled in the rotation, only to find his true calling out in the pen. His name is Mariano Rivera, and Severino would be wise to seek his advice. Or, he could just call Joba Chamberlain.