Two pitchers, both with more than capable major league stuff, both struggling to execute their stuff at times. One stumbles again in October, the other has an “aha” moment and wins a ring. What can one learn from the other?
Luis Severino, at times, looks unbeatable. Fastballs that regularly reach 98 on the gun, sliders that taunt hitters to swing and miss, all tied together with a changeup that dips out of sight. Throughout his career, he has struck out five batters for every one he walks. He’s won six of ten decisions he has figured in during the regular season, and he’s been tagged as the ace of the Yankees staff.
And yet, he all but self-destructs during the all-important postseason. In six starts, Luis Severino has only one game in the win column, and only seven more strikeouts (21) than walks (14). His WHIP is a gargantuan 1.565. In two starts against Oakland and Boston this past season, he managed to last a total of seven innings. The year before, he had to be pulled by Joe Girardi against the Twins after 1/3 of an inning.
What’s up with this? It’s the same game in April as it is in October. The rubber is still 60 feet six inches from home plate. The batters Severino faced during the first half of 2018 when he was bulldozing his way to a Cy Young, are the same as those that stood in against him in October. Is Luis Severino Sonny Gray in disguise with that big deer in the headlights New York City stare?
It doesn’t appear so, but perhaps Severino can learn something from an arch-rival Red Sox pitcher, David Price. It was Price who coughed it up against the Yankees in his only appearance in the 2018 ALDS, leaving his critics in the media jumping over each other to take another shot at him. Who’s your Daddy, David? Look over there; they’re wearing pinstripes…
You’ll recall though; it was David Price carrying that $200 million contract on his back who shined in the World Series for the Red Sox, winning two games that included the clincher against the Dodgers. The 5-9 postseason record with an ERA over five, a mere memory.
But what did happen to David Price? What made the difference for him? Come to find out; there was no “aha” moment for Price. Instead, his was a season of adjustments. A simple mechanical change to his arm slot made all the difference, especially in jumping his fastball back up into the 95-96 range, instead of the 92-93 range that made Price very hittable.
Following his disastrous start against the Yankees, an ensuing bullpen session re-corrected the same arm slot problem, and the rest, as they say, is history.
But there’s more to it than that. And this is where Luis Severino can learn something invaluable from Price that his coaches can’t teach him.
It’s all about body language, self-control, and confidence. Of the three, self-control is the most important change noticed in Price during the World Series. Did you see how Price received the ball from his catcher after each pitch, turning to the outfield, and noticeably taking two deep breaths before turning around to get the sign for his next pitch? One pitch at a time, each one thrown with a purpose and a determination to execute the pitch. Concentration of the highest order, leading to the confidence to do it all over again on the next pitch, and the next.
The Yankees pitching coach, Larry Rothschild, has never said (as far as I know) there was anything mechanically wrong with Luis Severino during his playoff starts. So it must be something else, and what it is, is a lack of self-control and confidence, which not surprisingly results in Severino being all over the place during the playoffs when concentration must be at its highest.
This is not something new, and I’ve written on it before, with a wish and a prayer that Severino himself would take notice, or at least see what David Price was able to accomplish. Severino does not appear to be thick-headed as far as receiving advice, but at some point, you have to wonder, especially when you consider CC Sabathia is always on hand – if Luis Severino asks for guidance.
To his credit, Severino endures life with Gary Sanchez as his catcher, and we can all recall the game in Oakland during the regular season when a total of five passed balls and “wild pitches” in one inning hardly served as a confidence builder for Severino.
But somehow, someway, Luis Severino needs to step up his game. And the perfect place to look to see how it’s done is with David Price, and how he self-corrected his game – not only with his arm – but with his mind as well. Until that happens, Luis Severino will never be a complete pitcher, and someone the Yankees can rely on, especially in October.