Is Luis Severino the most valuable Yankee?

ByColey Harvey ESPN logo
Sunday, June 17, 2018

NEW YORK -- Luis Severino has been so strong for the New York Yankees this season that even he is going on the record in recognizing his dominance. Asked during a media scrum Saturday afternoon to share his thoughts on his 10-2 season to this point, the 24-year-old right-hander flashed a smile and confidently said three words.

"It's been good."

No lie there; indeed, it has been. The numbers bear that out.

On the heels of another impressive pitching performance in Saturday's 4-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays, a case could be made that on a team full of potential All-Stars, the solid Severino has been the Yankees' MVP so far.

"Obviously, any time he goes, I feel great about it," Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. "He's a great pitcher. He's clearly establishing himself as one of the best in the game, and he gave us a lot [Saturday]."

Added early-season American League MVP candidate Aaron Judge: "When he comes out and dominates like that, that's what we expect out of him."

Lately, the expectation for Severino has been scoreless or one-run outings with a bevy of strikeouts scattered within them.

The past two seasons, Severino leads all major league pitchers in starts with one run or fewer allowed. His 23 such starts in that span outpace the likes of Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Chris Sale and Jacob deGrom, a group that entered Saturday with 21 such starts each. Saturday's performance was the 23rd such turn for Severino. To lead a group such as this in a statistic such as that is remarkable enough. Maybe there's a case for Severino to be this year's American League All-Star Game starter?

"I've played with him all the way through the minor leagues. This is what I expect out of Sevy: Go out there and just dominate," Judge said. "That's just what he does. It's fun to be around. You know, I've been spoiled getting to watch him over the years."

In this latest start, Severino struck out nine and allowed three hits across eight innings. As good as those numbers were, the ace will be the first to admit that it wasn't his sharpest outing overall, with two walks coming from the command issues he had early in the ballgame.

"I think my slider was too hard," said Severino, who recorded three strikeouts with the pitch. "I wasn't trying to throw it hard, but it wasn't like always."

His fastball was like always: blindingly fast. On average, the pitch hovered around 98.6 mph Saturday, and it tiptoed into triple digits on the radar gun several times. Severino's fastest strikeout came on a caught-looking 100.2 mph fastball in the fourth. In the eighth inning, his third-to-last pitch of the day was clocked at 99.7 mph.

Much like how his fastball seems to get better and adds life as games wear on, Severino's career has been improving as it continues.

"I remember pretty clearly when he first came up and first came on the scene. Obviously, there was a lot of talk about him," Boone said. "I mean, the stuff leaps off the screen right away. Obviously, he has some struggles, ultimately gets moved to the bullpen. There's a question: Is this guy going to survive as a starter? Does he have a third pitch necessary to be an elite starter?

"Adversity, experience goes a long way when you can persevere. And he, in a lot of ways, has persevered through a lot of stuff for a young man early in his career."

With the 3-8, 5.83 ERA season he had in 2016 -- which included demotions to the minors and the bullpen -- long behind him, this current version of Severino has made his struggles look like ancient history. This season, as some of the team's sluggers have gone through their own struggles, the starting pitcher's performance has been steady, helping right the Yankees' ship the few times that has been necessary. Aside from the five runs he gave up in a loss at Boston back in April, Severino has been a consistent force atop New York's rotation.

Severino has been particularly strong at home, registering a 1.52 ERA. If he continues to operate at that pace at Yankee Stadium, Severino will end the year with the lowest home ERA in franchise history (since ERA became an official stat in 1913). Severino also is the first pitcher in Yankees history to allow two runs or fewer in each of his first eight home starts in a season.

Forget handing the young pitcher team MVP honors for the season. Plans to put his No. 40 in Monument Park might one day take shape if he continues to pitch like this in the seasons to come.

"All of that [adversity] has made him a better pitcher, and now we're seeing, in a lot of ways, the finish of what an elite pitcher in the league looks like," Boone said. "He's a special one."

One of the up-and-coming leaders in the Yankees' young clubhouse, Severino asserted his authority on the field in the fifth inning Saturday, when he snatched a foul popup from catcher Gary Sanchez.

As Sanchez jumped out of his crouch and looked up and into the sun just after the ball was hit, Severino could tell the catcher initially had trouble locating the ball. He sprinted from the pitcher's mound and went into what Boone called "go-catch-it mode."

"He didn't say 'I got it' until I was there," Severino said.

By the time Sanchez got a read on the ball and called for it, Severino had already gone airborne, jumping over the catcher's mask that had been flipped to the ground and getting his own glove over the raised catcher's mitt. Out: P1.

"When I closed my glove, I just caught his glove," Sanchez said with a laugh through an interpreter. "It's an instinct just to make a play like that."

Judge had his own thoughts on the grab. "He's an athlete out there," he said. "He's just trying to win that Gold Glove."

Well, if Yankees MVP honors don't go to Severino at season's end, at least he might be in the running for another award.

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