Last week, it was revealed that New York Yankees starting pitcher Luis Severino had right forearm discomfort. When you hear “forearm discomfort” with pitchers these days, the immediate fear is that Tommy John surgery will be required.
And on Tuesday, the Yankees announced that their star right-hander indeed needs TJS and will miss the 2020 season after a “Dye contrast MRI” showed that Severino has a partial UCL tear.
A dye contrast MRI finally revealed a partial UCL tear in Luis Severino. He is headed for Tommy John surgery and will miss the 2020 season. Testing also revealed pain in the area of the ligament for the first time. Brian Cashman said in-house competition will fill his spot.
— Sweeny Murti (@YankeesWFAN) February 25, 2020
That’s horrible, horrible news for the Yankees right as Spring Training begins.
Severino only threw 20 1/3 innings in 2019 (including two postseason starts) due to lat and shoulder injuries, but he was expected to be a full go for the 2020 season before experiencing forearm discomfort during a bullpen session last week.
The right-hander was a top-10 starting pitcher in MLB in 2017 and 2018, with a 3.18 ERA, 3.01 FIP, and 11.0 WAR (wins above replacement) according to FanGraphs in 384 2/3 innings over those two seasons. The ZiPS projections had Severino 10th among starting pitchers in WAR for the 2020 season, at 4.8.
Now, the good news for the Yankees is that they signed Gerrit Cole in the offseason, and ZiPS thinks he’s the best starting pitcher in baseball right now by a wide margin (a 6.4-WAR projection for 2020). We saw his talents on full display with a remarkable postseason for the Houston Astros (1.72 ERA in 36 2/3 innings), after he had a sensational regular season (2.50 ERA, 326 strikeouts in 212 1/3 innings, 7.4 WAR per FanGraphs).
It’s also worth noting that the Yankees won 103 games without Cole last season, and with Severino only throwing 12 of those innings anyway. But losing Severino is a huge blow, especially with James Paxton’s status uncertain (Paxton is set to begin throwing soon, but is coming off back surgery and may not be ready to pitch in MLB games for several weeks into the season), and with Domingo German suspended the first 62 games (due to the league’s domestic violence policy).
The Yankees are still AL East favorites; PECOTA’s most recent projected standings had New York winning the division by 12 games with an AL-best 99 wins, and ZiPS had the Yankees at an AL-best 100 wins in their initial projected standings. Let’s say Severino is worth roughly five wins as ZiPS suggests. If we take those five wins away, the Yankees are still looking like a 95-win team on paper, which is still at least four wins better than the computers think anybody else in the division is (the Tampa Bay Rays are currently projected for 91 wins by FanGraphs). And the Yankees do have decent internal depth options (such as using Chad Green as an opener), where they probably aren’t actually losing a full five wins.
However, there’s much less room for error now for the Yankees, and one more injury to a star player could be all it takes to give the Yankees no more than a coin-flip chance to win the division.
Luis Severino (ZiPS was already down to 120 innings in the sims) for the season drops Yankees Div%/Play%/WSWin% from 82%/98%/18% to 69%/93%/14%.
Rays go from 15/72/5.6 to 25/73/6.7.
Red Sox go from 2.6/29/1.6 to 5.2/31/1.9
— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) February 25, 2020
And perhaps the biggest thing: the Yankees are much less intimidating on the surface in a playoff series without Severino. Facing Cole and Severino in a short series, to go with the Yankees’ elite bullpen and powerful offense, would’ve been a terrifying task for teams. The Yankees would’ve been favored in just about any series right now — maybe not vs the Dodgers, but it’s close — with Severino a part of things. Without Severino, they’re quite a bit more beatable in a short series.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman is certainly aware of that, and will likely have his eyes open for another big-time starter to “replace” Severino before the July 31 trade deadline.