One reason the Yankees have difficulty developing pitchers is that their win-now mentality is often at odds with the struggles young pitchers face. Rare is the instance that a pitcher, fresh from the minors, pitches to his potential from Day 1. There are certain pains each one goes through, and those pains often hurt his team’s current standing. The team accepts those wounds with an eye to the future. But the Yankees, with their championship-or-bust mantra and their toughest-in-baseball division, often have to cut short those experiments in order to keep the focus on the present. That’s why it came as a surprise when Joe Girardi announced that the Yankees would stay on rotation this weekend, even though they have a days off on Thursday and Monday.
The reason for the surprise, of course, is Ivan Nova. His turn comes Thursday, and with the way he’s pitched this season, and particularly of late, skipping him seems like a fairly easy and obvious move. That would line up Sabathia, Colon, and Garcia for the weekend, and then, after a day off, the Yankees could attack Boston with Burnett, Sabathia, and Colon. Instead they’ll head to Anaheim with Nova, Sabathia, and Colon scheduled. For the Boston series they’ll have options, but none of them include Burnett, Sabathia, and Colon all pitching. Instead, CC can go in the finale on Thursday, preceded by, in all likelihood, Garcia and Burnett. The chances of them going Garcia-Burnett-Nova, I think, are slim to nil.
More important than the discussion of rotation order, though, is the discussion of Nova’s place in it, period. Again, this harkens back to the idea that the Yankees need to keep an eye on the present as well as the future. Nova certainly has potential, but as it stands now he’s not doing much to help the team win. His ERA currently ranks 92nd among 113 qualified starters, and that’s just the start. His FIP ranks 87th, and his xFIP ranks 107th. As Mike noted, his swinging strike rate, just 3.9 percent, is dead last among those 113 pitchers, and his contact rate is the highest. He mitigates this somewhat with ground balls, but it’s not nearly enough. Combined with a crappy walk rate, it adds up to a 1.59 WHIP, which is fourth worst in the league.
If this were a matter of Nova experiencing typical rookie struggles while putting up decent results, it would be one thing. But as nearly all the numbers indicate, he ranks among the worst regular starters in the majors. Worse, there is no real reason to believe that he’ll suddenly improve. That is, maybe he will improve down the road — his minor league control numbers were better, for example — but in the here and now there is no indicator of impending improvement. The Yanks will probably get a decent start out of him here or there, but chances are he’s going to roll along in roughly the same manner he is now. That’s not going to work for the Yankees this season.
There are reinforcements, of course. Hector Noesi, once Girardi found his name on the bullpen card, has done a decent job in limited action. He was already going to be one of the first rotation reinforcements from the minors, so they have little to lose by giving him a shot. There is also Carlos Silva, who has done an OK, decent, even fine job during his stint in the minors. He has a mid-June opt-out, and so will warrant consideration soon enough. Nova shouldn’t have much time, in other words.
If the Yankees do stick with their announced plans to start Nova in Anaheim, it could be as a last chance scenario. But that could end up being a mistake. The Angels have some decent hitters, but they lack power. Nova might be able to cover up some of his shortcomings if there isn’t someone who can punish him for all the walks and base hits. If good results mean an extended stay in the rotation, that would render the Anaheim game a bad audition environment. It means he’ll get a start against the Red Sox (probably not) or the Indians, both of which have produced some of the best offensive numbers in baseball this season.
There are benefits to having a young starter in the rotation, and further benefits to letting him work through his troubles. But a team in the Yankees’ situation can’t afford an extended audition. Nova has shown little to this point that indicates he will help throughout the 2011 season. It was a worthy experiment, but it should be coming to an end. The Yankees have a few arms they can call upon to take the fifth spot in the next few weeks while Brian Cashman looks around for a more suitable replacement. In the long-term, Nova might help the team as a fourth or fifth starter who can deliver some league-average innings. In the short term he’s shown that he’s something less than that, and it’s something the Yankees can’t afford.