What Went Right: Ivan Nova

Chavez would "deeply consider" a return to the Yankees in 2012
What Went Right: Russell Martin
(AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

It’s hard to believe that given all the uncertainty surrounding the Yankees rotation coming into the season, things were actually worse down the stretch in 2010. Andy Pettitte was on the shelf, Phil Hughes was fading, and both Javy Vazquez and A.J. Burnett were disasters. Dustin Moseley drew some spot starts, as did the young Ivan Nova, a kid the Yankees left exposed in the Rule 5 Draft just one year prior. He pitched well (but not great) last September, enough to earn him a long look in Spring Training this season.

It was going to take a lot for Nova to pitch his way out of the rotation in camp, and he did no such thing by allowing just eleven hits and four runs in 20 IP across four starts and one relief appearance. Much like the end of 2010, Nova struggled to get through a lineup multiple times in April, completing five innings just once in his first three starts of 2011. A rather pointless extra innings relief appearance against the Blue Jays on April 19th seems to mark the end of his problem with retiring matters the second and third times around.

Nova allowed a total of four runs (three earned) in his next three starts, keeping the White Sox, Jays, and Rangers in check for 20 IP. The Royals roughed him up for eight runs in three innings on May 12th, but he rebounded and allowed no more than three runs in four of his next five starts. His best start of the season came on June 20th in Cincinnati, when he held the Reds to one run on four hits and no walks in eight innings, striking out seven. Nova was sporting a 4.12 ERA with rather mediocre peripherals (5.0 K/9 and 3.6 BB/9 with ~55% ground balls) on July 1st, a performance that earned him a trip to the minors when Phil Hughes was ready to come off the DL.

(Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

The Yankees wanted Nova to focus on improving his slider in Triple-A, promising him a return trip to the bigs at some point. He made just three starts in the minors, allowing six runs in 16 IP, but the important thing is that he struck out 18 and walked just two. A line drive to the ankle put him on the shelf for about a week, but Nova returned to the Major League rotation at the end of July and looked like a change man. He dominated the Orioles and ChiSox in his first two starts back, allowing just three runs and one walk against 16 strikeouts in 14.2 IP. The Yankees planned to send him back to minors after the start against Chicago, but he pitched so well they just couldn’t do it. Nova allowed more than three runs just twice in eleven starts after coming back up, pitching to a 3.18 ERA with 5.7 K/9, 2.4 BB/9 and ~52% grounders.

That post-demotion performance earned Nova the Game Two assignment in the ALDS, though some rain shenanigans meant he was technically coming out of the bullpen in relief of CC Sabathia in Game One. He held the Tigers to two runs in 6.1 IP in the win, and both runs were inherited runners that came around to score while he sat in the dugout. Nova’s season did end on a bit of a sour note, as he allowed two homers in two innings of work in the deciding Game Five, leaving the game with a tight forearm. An MRI revealed a Grade I flexor strain, an injury that is expected to heal during the offseason and have him ready in time for Spring Training.

Nova will get some serious consideration for Rookie of the Year after going 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA, the most wins by a Yankees rookie since Stan Bahnsen won 17 games in 1968. Only two rookies have won more games this century (CC Sabathia and Justin Verlander with 17 apiece), and his season-ending stretch of 16 straight starts without a loss was the longest by a rookie in at least 25 years. Nova was a touch better than league average with a 4.01 FIP thanks to his 0.71 HR/9, the 23rd lowest among the 94 starters that qualified for the ERA title. Thank his 52.7% ground ball rate for that. All 13 of the homers he allowed were solo shots, and only three came at homer-happy Yankee Stadium.

It goes without saying that Nova was one of biggest bright spots for the 2011 Yankees, and he will be counted on for much more going forward. His confidence was through the roof late in the season, and that slider the brain trust wanted him to work on improved to the point where it was his go-to pitch by the end of the season. The flexor strain is a bit of a concern, but it’s the first arm-related injury of his entire career and he’s got all winter to rest. The hard part comes now, and that’s doing it again for a second year in a row. I’m sure Nova knows this and is ready for the challenge.

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Chavez would "deeply consider" a return to the Yankees in 2012
What Went Right: Russell Martin
  • Monteroisdinero

    Stan Bahnsen? He was no Mel Stottlemyre. Let’s hope Nova has a better Yankee career.

    • Kosmo

      Bahnsen was a very good SP. Go check his 1967,1969 and 1970 seasons with NY. I think it was Gabe Paul who admitted it was the dumbest move he ever made trading Bahnsen to the Pale Hose. The manager of the White Sox proceeded to burn the Bahnsen burner out.
      No one ever suggested he was a Mel Stottlemyre.

      • Monteroisdinero

        I know and was kidding about Mel although he wasn’t as successful as Mel. Bahnsen was good on some pretty bad teams. I saw him pitch.

        • Kosmo

          I saw him pitch too. I remember his rookie year .He could easily have won 22 if backed with a better offense and defense. He also lost playing time that year because of his army reserve status.

    • 7commerce

      Stan won 146 g over a 16 yr career pitching for some bad Yankee teams & so-so CWS teams after a trade. No MelS, to be sure, but a workhorse who would have won 200 pitching a career on teams like the NYY of ’96–’11.

  • Doc Holliday

    Ivan Nova is your 2011 AL ROY. He will be our #2 starter next season and is better than both Hughes and Joba have been. Maybe the Yanks have finally done something right with young starting pitching.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

      When compared to the league average, 2011 Nova and 2010 Hughes were basically the same pitcher.

      2011 Nova: 165.1 IP, 96 FIP-, 103 xFIP-
      2010 Hughes: 176.1 IP, 99 FIP-, 99 xFIP-

      • gc

        Narrative killer! :)

      • CP

        As an aggregate, I would agree. The difference is that Nova improved as the season went along, while Hughes struggled down the stretch. It’s a relatively small difference, but it would lead me to have more confidence in Nova’s ability to repeat his 2011 next season.

        • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

          I agree. I have more confidence in Nova repeating his season because he didn’t have an 80-something inning spike from one year to the next.

          • nsalem

            Ron Guidry had a 154 inning spike from 1976 to 1977 and than increased his workload another 63 innings in his legendary 1978 season. I want Phil to succeed also and still think he might. I think there are other more primary factors other than increased workload which would account for his not living up to expectations.

        • nsalem

          I think it’s much more than a small difference due to the consistency that Nova displayed and that Hughes failed to.

          • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

            Consistency in baseball is total myth when talking about within a single season. Nova’s ERA/FIP by month…

            April: 5.82/3.72
            May: 3.90/5.00
            June: 3.58/4.74
            July: 2.25/3.36
            Aug: 3.82/3.00
            Sept: 2.67/3.74

            Year-to-year consistency is a real thing, but start-to-start, month-to-month, it just doesn’t happen. It’s the nature of a 162-game schedule.

            • nsalem

              That is true because one bad start can really spike the numbers such as ERA and FIP over the course of a month and is not a true reflection of a pitchers performance over a 30 day period.

      • Spreadsheet Sam

        Hughes started off brilliantly and tailed off; whereas Nova was pretty consistent, even getting better as the year went on. So in terms of projecting the following year, I think there is good reason to believe Nova’s 2012 will be better than Hughes’ 2011.

        • Spreadsheet Sam

          Sorry, was busy composing and researching while the previous comments were entered.

        • William

          Nove won’t be elite by any standards…but he’s a good no.2

      • 7commerce

        Nah–Ivan contributed steadily. Phil was TWO pitchers in ’10.

    • Kosmo

      I really don´t think you can annoint Nova as the Yanks number 2 SP next season.

      • nsalem

        Who would be your choice?

      • Slugger27

        check out the 40man right now. as of 10/27, he’s absolutely their no. 2 starter.

        • Ted Nelson

          Season doesn’t start in October…

          • Slugger27

            what about my comment implied that the season started in october? the words “right now” or “as of 10/27″

            • Ted Nelson

              What part of Kosmo’s comment “I really don´t think you can annoint Nova as the Yanks number 2 SP next season” made you think Kosmo was referring to 10/27 and not “next season?”

  • pat

    That forearm strain worries me. Supposedly sliders are hell on the forearm if you’re not used to throwing them, and consider the fact that he threw more “high-stress” innings than ever before in his career? I don’t want to think about it.

    • http://www.twitter.com/ngoral Jake LaMotta’s Left Hook

      Fair enough, but the forearm strain did happen at the end of the season, in what was his last start, no? He has all winter to rest, and he’s going to build up arm strength and be conditioned well by the time he next needs to throw that slider.

      • pat

        Very true, just being a worrrywart.

  • Paul D

    “Only two rookies have won more games this century (CC Sabathia and Justin Verlander with 17 apiece)”

    you mean american league rookies?

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

      … maybe. Who’d I miss in the NL?

  • Paul D

    off the top of my head i know Tom Browning won 20 games as a rookie

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

      Yeah, but that was a long time ago. In the post I said “two rookies have won more games this century,” meaning since 2000.

      • Paul D

        oh….

        • Bryan

          I knew Mike had that trick qualifier up his sleeve.

  • http://n/a LC

    any thought as to the slider being the reason for the flexor strain? We’ve seen a lot of pitchers who favor their slider end up hurt. Joba and Nova being examples I can readily recall – also leaves me a bit worried about CC in the long run.

    • S

      Its an unproven myth besides, Nova doesn’t throw his slider like a slider; he uses a modified cutter grip for it. Wouldn’t worry much about it.

  • BK2ATL

    I’m a fan of Nova. He can pitch, is still improving, and has heart.

    Also, he doesn’t suffer any fools. Brushing back Bautista 2x in his 1st MLB start in Toronto in 2010 showed that. Then not backing down from him either. I love it.

    We might be on to something. I could care less if he’s a #2 or #5. As long as he continues as he did in 2011 or even improves, he deserves to be in the rotation. He kept us in games and gave us length. We can’t ask for more. Hopefully he continues to pleasantly surprise us.

  • LiterallyFigurative

    Nova is the #2 Sp for next season, unless CJ gets signed. And even then, I would put CJ #3. Split the lefties and let him kind of start off with less pressure (if it’s even possible).

    The development of the cut-slider has made him a more dominant pitcher and able to get out of rough situations. This might be the main difference between he and Hughes. Nova is far better at getting outs by using fewer pitches than Hughes. Saves your arm and your innings.

    Sometimes you just have to be patient with your young guys and let them learn.

    • Jose M. Vazquez..

      That is what I have been saying all along. Patience and more patience as in raising your kids.