New York Yankees’ success in 2022 depends on one starting pitcher

Apr 22, 2018; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Yankees pitcher Luis Severino (40) pitches against the Toronto Blue Jays in the first inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 22, 2018; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Yankees pitcher Luis Severino (40) pitches against the Toronto Blue Jays in the first inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports /

The New York Yankees hope that one of their starters will step up and become the number two man in the starting rotation behind Gerritt Cole. While Cole performed admirably as the anchor for the starting rotation last season, there remained a significant quality performance gap between him and the other starters (i.e. Nestor Cortes, Jordan Montgomery, Jameson Taillon, and the departed Corey Kluber).

The lack of a bonafide number two starter made it difficult for the Bombers to exert greater pressure on opposing teams and reduced their chances to consistently win series. The absence of a number two starter also placed a lot of pressure on Cole to perform at the highest level every start and pitch as many innings as possible. This mental and physical wear and tear may have contributed to his struggles near the end of the season.

Therefore, Yankees manager Aaron Boone and pitching coach Matt Blake are banking on Luis Severino returning to his old form and filling the void in the number two hole in the team’s starting rotation. Is it a wise gamble after so many false starts the past few years? We’d like some insurance imported, too. But adding the real Severino to the starting rotation will make the Yanks a more formidable opponent, especially when they play the powerful hitting teams in the American League East Division next season.

Severino throws three main pitches: a four-seam fastball averaging 96 MPH, a hard-breaking slider, and a changeup. His fastball was recorded at 101 MPH in 2017. His average spin rate for sliders alone was ranked second in the MLB (2910 RPM) in 2018.

Suffice to say, as Sevy goes, so goes the Yanks in 2022. The presence of a healthy Severino, who will be entering his age-28 season in 2022, can dramatically increase the chances of the Bombers not only making it to the playoffs but also finally reaching the World Series. The Yanks need Severino to pitch often and extremely well if they hope to meet next season’s playoff goals.

Severino can be a dominant force in the Yankees’ starting rotation in 2022

Sevy signed with the Yanks as an international free agent in December 2011 and received a $225,000 signing bonus. He made his pitching debut for the Dominican Summer League, and he was promoted to the Yanks’ stateside minor leagues in 2013. Sevy was only 19 when his fastball was clocked at 97 MPH while throwing for the Charleston RiverDogs. He pitched well in the minor leagues, consistently striking out more batters than innings pitched, walking few batters, and producing low ERAs each year.

Severino made his major league debut in 2015, replacing an injured Michael Pineda in the starting rotation. He completed his rookie season with a 5-3 won-loss record, earning 56 strikeouts in 62.1 innings and a 2.89 ERA. Not a bad start at all!

Sevy struggled in his second season with the Boys in Pinstripes. The Dominican native experienced a right triceps inflammation injury, and he was sent up and down between the Yankees and the minor leagues during the season. Also, he was being used as both a starting pitcher and a reliever. These disruptions probably explain his disappointing 3-8 record and 5.83 ERA in 2016.

In 2017 and 2018, Severino truly blossomed; he became an elite starting pitcher and one of the best hurlers in baseball. The righty was 14-6 and 19-8, with a 2.98 and 3.39 ERA, respectively. He also struck out 230 and 220 batters in 193.1 and 191.1 innings during those two years.

Sevy made the All-Star team both seasons, and he finished third and ninth in the Cy Young Award voting in 2017 and 2018. The right-hander led all major league pitchers with an average fastball velocity of 97.6 MPH in 2018. He produced a 5.4 WAR in 2017 and a 4.1 WAR the following season. Needless to say, the flamethrower had arrived, and the future looked bright for the young pitcher.

The Yanks decided to reward Severino for his outstanding pitching in 2017 and 2018. In February 2019, he signed a four-year, $40 million contract extension that contained a team option for a fifth season valued at an additional $12.25 million. While the young hurler desired security and more money, the Bombers wanted to lock him into a multi-year contract and control salary costs. While some analysts believed it was a smart move by the Yankees, others questioned the wisdom of entering into a multi-year agreement with such a young player.

Yankees co-ace Luis Severino may very well be injury-prone

Unfortunately, Severino was plagued by debilitating injuries in 2019 and 2020. In 2019, he had rotator cuff inflammation in his right shoulder. This injury was followed by a painful Grade 2 lat strain. He hardly pitched that season.

Then, in late February 2020, he was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery to repair a partially torn UCL in his right elbow and extract a bone chip. Severino missed the entire 2020 campaign.

Sevy continued his rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery well into the 2021 season. Along the way, he experienced a groin injury and later did “not feel right” while warming up before a minor league game. Finally, the Yanks activated him off the IL for the first time after 707 days this past September.

The fans in Yankee Stadium greeted him with a loud and extended welcome as he came out of the bullpen for the first time to pitch in about two years. During his short tenure in 2021, Severino threw six innings in relief, striking out eight batters, walking one, giving up two hits and no runs, and winning one game. He also made a brief appearance in the AL Wild Card Game against the Boston Red Sox, giving up one run in 1.1 innings at Fenway Park.

A review of his health history suggests that Severino may be injury-prone, which Boone and Blake will have to address during Spring Training and the 2022 season. We can expect them to monitor his pitch count during games and throughout the season in total. Thankfully, the Yanks have hired a first-class health, performance, and conditioning staff (with Eric Cressey as director) to help bring Severino along and regularly monitor his condition.

If Sevy can pitch most, if not all, of the 2022 season and throw well, the Yanks will very likely make the playoffs and possibly reach the World Series. He can be the number one starter on almost any MLB team when he is healthy. Cole and Severino can be one of the most (if not the most) formidable one-two punch in the MLB if the injury Gods stay away and do not intervene. We will have to wait and see whether or not this happens.

The Yankees MUST add another starting pitcher for insurance.

Nevertheless, the Bombers should not take a chance. They should hope for the best but plan for the worst.

Thus, it would be prudent for the Yanks to pick up another superior starting pitcher during the offseason (once the labor negotiations between the MLB owners and players are over) either through free agency or a trade. These days, a team can’t have too many quality starting pitchers.

Otherwise, if Sevy is seriously injured and is forced to miss many starts, and the club fails to add another proven starting pitcher, it could be a long and disappointing season for both the Yanks and their fans.

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