In 2017, Luis Severino made the leap from two-pitch, potential elite reliever type to top of the line, borderline Cy Young Contender. Despite the usual home run per fly ball issues that exist for a pitcher who calls Yankee Stadium home, Severino succeeded in adequately commanding and managing contact. Indeed, before Severino’s public meltdown in the Wild Card round, the possibility of facing Severino once, even twice in a series was a daunting part of the Yankees roster. Of course, Luis Severino can bounce back, his stuff is elite, and a comfortable break between starts may have the Yankee starter prepared and stable. However, the Yankees whole season is on the line, and it rests in the hands of a 23 year old who less than a week ago could not make it out of the first inning.
Before diving into key individual pitcher versus hitter matchups, a consideration of the base-running portion of the offense. The Indians have one key advantage offensively as the margins narrow in the postseason: Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez. Sanchez has a competent arm—perhaps better than average—but the complexity and danger existing for the Yankees occurs in playoff arsenal changes. While the arsenal usage discussion below is important, playoff pitchers will generally lean on secondary offerings more to increase strikeout rates. The Yankees, however, are pitching to Gary Sanchez who has the blocking skills of a soup strainer. Sanchez leads the American League in passed balls and struggled again on Tuesday evening when the Yankees beat the Twins to punch their ticket to the ALDS. The Yankees can either be more careful throwing breaking balls with runners in scoring position, increasing the number of fastballs the Indians hitters receive, or they can risk giving away free bases with additional breaking ball usage.1
WFNY Projected Lineup:
1 Lindor SS (S)
2 Kipnis CF (L)
3 Ramirez 2B (S)
4 Bruce RF (L)
5 Santana 1B (S)
6 Brantley DH (L)
7 Chisenhall LF (L)
8 Perez C (R)
9 Urshela (R)
In regard to his arsenal, Severino relies on three pitches: fastball, slider, and changeup. Of those pitches, Severino throws mostly fastballs.
The reason Severino can lean so heavily on the fastball is mostly due to his elite velocity.
Sitting in the high 90s, and as you can see, Severino’s slider velocity spiked in his start in the wild card game. Potentially due to being amped up for his first playoff start.
Digressing to specific pitches, Severino lets the fastball ride on the outer third to left-handed batters. Of further note, Severino throws the fastball up with significant frequency.
The Indians need their stars to take over this game against an elite pitcher, Lindor using his skills against the fastball would be an important start.2
If Severino gets up in the count, he will then lean on the slider Of course, he attempts to bury it down to left-handed hitters but his margin for error is much larger than say a Gray or Tanaka. Severino frequently throws the pitch over the plate.
Speaking of stars who need to get going, Jose Ramirez. Ramirez is an offensive catalyst who frequently punishes sliders over the strike zone.
Finally, the changeup which Severino throws down, down, and also down.
While the Indians foolishly sat Chisenhall against an ideal matchup last night against Tanaka, Chisenhall likely starts this evening and his capability against the right handed pitchers changeup.
Ultimately, the Indians face a difficult task with a pitcher who has elite stuff. Yet, Severino faces his own challenges, a start for the sake of the Yankees survival. Finally, Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor can make Severino pay and it is time for the stars to execute.