The Twins Can Sign A High-Value Pitcher By Turning To An Old Enemy

Photo Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

On the heels of its first playoff victory in 21 years, Minnesota Twins President of Baseball Operations Derek Falvey announced last week that the Twins will trim payroll for the upcoming season.

Last year, the Twins dished out $159 million in contracts and retained salary. But according to Falvey, Twins fans can expect that number to be lower, somewhere in the range of $125 to $140 million, according to The Athletic’s Dan Hayes.

Their 2024 payroll is already at $92 million, with a projected $27 million in arbitration salaries yet to be confirmed. Before even considering free agency options with Sonny Gray, Kenta Maeda, Michael A. Taylor, and others, the Twins will have a payroll of $119 million.

It may not matter because of Minnesota’s young, cost-controlled players, but it will be difficult for the Twins to bring in any new outside talent this offseason. Contracts for Jordan Montgomery and Aaron Nola are expected to be north of $25 million AAV, and Japanese ace Shota Imanaga may earn a contract between $10 and $15 million.

Whoever the Twins sign will likely have to be cheaper than $8 million, which theoretically caps that player’s skill level. That’s where Luis Severino comes in.

A two-time All-Star and 2017 AL Cy Young finalist, Severino has reportedly drawn interest from several teams in free agency. The Yankees signed him to a four-year $40 million deal in 2019, but they reportedly are not among those interested.

Severino posted a 6.65 ERA (65 ERA+) in an injury-riddled 89.1 innings this past season. He’s only pitched 209.1 innings, thanks to a diverse set of injuries, in the four years since he signed that contract.

A lat strain forced Severino to miss five months in 2019 after rotator cuff inflammation hampered him in spring training. Then, he underwent Tommy John surgery in February 2020, forcing him to miss all of that season and most of 2021. Things went relatively smoothly in 2022 when he finished 102 innings with a 3.18 ERA (124 ERA+).

Another lat strain earlier this year compounded with a painful oblique strain in September to sour his 2023.

Once famous for his overpowering four-seamer and knee-buckling slider, Severino has battled velocity dips and changes in his biomechanics.

In July, Yankees pitching coach Matt Blake relayed that Severino has modified his delivery to the point that he’s almost standing up and flinging the ball. He was clearly hampered by injury. The ability is still there.

Severino’s four-seamer was still in the 91st percentile in strike rate, the 70th percentile in swinging strike rate (SwStr%), and the 92nd in velocity (96.5 mph average). He touched 99 mph at times, as he did against Sal Frelick with two strikes here:

Recently, he’s also been able to jam righties with a sinker. He used it only 2.4% of the time in 2023. However, it’s pitches like this one to Javier Baez that display a niche skill he can use to earn foul balls for strikes or grounders:

On the other hand, his slider was quite poor in 2023. Once a 17% SwStr pitch in his prime, the pitch returned a whiff just 11.2% of the time (18th percentile). It still fell for plenty of called strikes, but its decline coincides with Severino’s poor strikeout rate in 2023.

He has thrown it more arm side in the past. Sometimes, pitchers miss arm-side because their lower body rotates too early before their upper body is properly synced, which could stem from a shorter stride. However, Severino got more extension on his slider in 2023 than in previous years.

Severino’s horizontal and vertical release points are in line with his past, so it’s tough to say exactly what went wrong for him. His slider’s troubles may very likely not be related to missing arm-side.

While the rate at which a pitcher gives up grounders and fly balls is predictable, that’s not the case with line drives. Suppressing line drives has more to do with luck or a batter’s skill than anything a pitcher does. Line drives comprised 27.6% of Severino’s batted ball events on the slider. He also had an abnormally high barrel rate.

As annoying as it may be, luck seems to play a part in pitching. Some hanging sliders get taken yard, as Marcell Ozuna does here on a middle-middle slider from Severino here:

Other times, batters aren’t able to do much of anything with hangers, like Jake Meyers against Severino here:

It’s a dissatisfying conclusion, but Severino may have been unlucky.

Like with his slider, opponents crushed Severino’s cutter. He threw it like a hard slider in 2022 and found success, but that success did not continue into 2023. Given that he used it like a hard slider before, the pitch should have a high low location rate (loLoc%) to see the biggest benefit. Severino left it up too often in 2023, only reaching loLoc% 53.5% of the time compared to 85.3% of the time in 2022.

Like many other pitchers, Severino may have introduced his cutter as a middle-man between his four-seamer and slider. Sonny Gray relayed this same sentiment in May. To account for a gap in movement between a four-seamer and a slider that is too large, a pitcher can add a cutter to fill between.

Severino has a nearly 12 mph gap in velocity, an 18-inch gap in induced vertical movement, and an 18-inch gap in induced horizontal movement. Such a difference may make it easier for batters to guess location.

If this is why Severino added the cutter, it’s unlikely he’ll scrap it next season due to its ineffectiveness. It could also mean the success of the cutter and slider will become linked, considering their grips are essentially the same, with just a slight shift of the fingers being the difference in pitches.

Improved command on those two pitches, which may come with improved health and better luck, will go a long way for whoever signs him this offseason. He still has a solid foundation in the form of his four-seamer and a new skill with a sinker to further earn strikes. He’s had success with all three of his pitches – the slider, cutter, and changeup.

It’s no wonder that Severino has drawn wide interest. If the bidding war he’s sure to create doesn’t reach above the $10 million that FanGraphs expects, he could be a steal on a one-year “prove it” deal while Louie Varland continues to develop and Chris Paddack returns to form.

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