Words With Friends Teammates: Garcia & Nova

Take it away, Joel Sherman

When I was at Yankee Stadium on Saturday, a member of the team told me something I found interesting: After Ivan Nova’s poor relief appearance on April 19 in Toronto, Freddy Garcia pulled the young righty aside. Usually pitchers pair up with the same partner every day to play catch and Garcia and Nova are partners. Garcia asked Nova what pitch he thought was most important to his repertoire. Nova replied his curveball. So Garcia told Nova that the youngster was not working on the pitch enough. So Garcia said this is what would be done moving forward: While the two played catch, Nova would flip 40-plus curveballs. Garcia’s point was that catch is not just about loosening an arm or keeping it fit. The idea is never to do anything without meaning. Garcia wanted Nova to get such a good feel for the curve that he could throw it in any count comfortably.


On Sunday against the Blue Jays – the team that crushed him in relief a few weeks earlier – Nova struck out five: The finishing pitches on each were curves and three of those were called third strikes. With runners on in the second, fourth, fifth and sixth, Nova recorded the final out of the inning with his curve.

Both the increased usage and effectiveness of Nova’s curveball was obvious in his last two starts. PitchFX says he threw just 37 curves (14.5% of his total pitches) in his first three starts (not counting that relief appearance), 21 for strikes (56.8%) and just one for a swing-and-miss (2.7%). His last two starts have featured 58 curveballs (30.5%), 36 for strikes (62.1) and five for swings-and-misses (8.6%). In terms of effectiveness, the pitch went from almost exactly average in the first three starts to more than two runs above average in the last two starts. It’s a big difference.

All the extra curveballs have come at the expense of the changeup, which he’s thrown just twice in his last two starts (one in each) compared to 43 (!!!) in his first three starts. Nova’s never missed bats with his fastball despite solid (but not great) velocity and probably won’t ever miss bats with it because he has almost no deception in his delivery, so it’s going to be tough for him to succeed long-term as a guy that throws 98% fastballs and curves. Phil Hughes had success with that approach in 2010 because he could actually reach back and throw a fastball by hitters (9.2% whiff rate on the fastball, 11.5% on the cutter last year). Nova has gotten a swing-and-miss on 3.8% of his fastballs this year and just 1.8% last September. They’re completely different animals.

That doesn’t mean anything for right now though. The curveball heavy approach is clearly working and there’s no reason for Nova to change it, but there’s a pretty good chance that the league will adjust at some point. It’ll then be up to Ivan to adjust back if he wants to remain a successful starter. It’s the baseball circle of life.

Series Preview: Detroit Tigers

(AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

The Yankees kicked off the 2011 season with a three-game series against the Tigers, taking the first two games at home. Now they head to Detroit for a four-game series, catching Jim Leyland’s squad at just the right time.

What Have The Tigers Done Lately?

How about lose six games in a row? The Tigers are coming off consecutive sweeps at the hands of the Mariners and Indians, getting outscored 41-17 in the process. They had won four straight and nine of 12 before that, but that must feel like ancient history in MoTown. Detroit is currently 12-16 with a -22 run differential, the third worst mark in the American League and sixth worst in all of baseball.

Tigers on Offense

(AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

Miguel Cabrera. That’s pretty much all I have to say, because the guy is a one man wrecking crew, one of the three best hitters on the planet at any given moment. He’s got a .452 wOBA on the season, a top seven mark in the game and a number not too far removed from his true talent level. It wouldn’t matter if he had been slumping of late (he’s not), the guy is as good as it gets.

Behind him, well that’s where the Tigers have problems. Victor Martinez is on the disabled list with a groin strain, but he’ll be on a minor league rehab assignment early this week and could return as soon as Wednesday. Magglio Ordonez, the supposed other big bat, has been atrocious this season, with a .185 wOBA (.078 over the last week). Second baseman Will Rhymes, center fielder Austin Jackson, and left fielder Ryan Raburn have picked it up lately; all three have five hits in their last 15 at-bats, while the first two added three walks as well. They’re still sporting .270, .246, and .322 wOBA’s on the season though, respectively.

That’s pretty much it though, Miggy and those three on their three game hot streaks. The left side of the infield – Brandon Inge and Jhonny Peralta – has 21 hits combined in their last 110 at-bats, and although catcher Alex Avila is hitting .316/.326/.500 since V-Mart hit the shelf, that’s propped up by a 5-for-7 showing (with two doubles and triple) against the ChiSox two weeks ago. Brennan Boesch is enjoying about strong first half, but he hasn’t hit for much power lately and can still swing and miss with the best of ’em. The key to shutting down the Tigers’ offense is rather simple: just don’t put men on base in front of Cabrera. He’s going to get his hits and homers, it’s inevitable, but minimize the damage by getting the guys at the top of the order out. That means Jackson, Rhymes, and Raburn mostly.

Tigers on the Mound

Changeup! (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Monday, Justin Verlander: There’s really not much to say about Verlander that you don’t already know. He’s one of the very best pitchers in the game, a guy that legitimately sits in the high-90’s with a devastating curveball and now a really good changeup as well. He’s struck out 43 and walked just 13 in 42 innings this year, allowing just 30 hits. Verlander has been a bit homer prone of late, giving up three to the White Sox two starts ago then one to the Mariners last time out. Just hope he has an off night or that the Yankees can wait him out and get to the bullpen.

Tuesday, Brad Penny: If it wasn’t for seven scoreless, one-hit innings against the ChiSox two starts ago, Penny would have a 7.62 ERA and a 1.62 WHIP right now. Instead, those totals sit at 6.11 and 1.39, respectively. The Yankees traditionally pound the guy, and did just that in the second game of the season by hanging eight runs on him in 4.1 IP. He hasn’t fooled anyone with his low-90’s fastball, mid-80’s changeup, and upper-70’s curveball yet this year, and I really don’t expect him to anytime soon.

Wednesday, Max Scherzer: It’s been a season of two extremes for Scherzer so far. His first start (against the Yankees): 11 baserunners and six runs in five innings. His last start (against the Indians): 11 baserunners and five runs in 6.2 IP. The four starts in between: just five runs total and 35 baserunners in 24 IP. It’s been four really good starts sandwiched around two awful ones. Scherzer is a typical power pitcher, with a mid-90’s fastball and a slider and changeup that both hover around 80 mph. He certainly misses bats (8.84 K/9 and 8.9 swing-and-miss rate), but he’ll walk himself into trouble (4.30 uIBB/9) and he gives up a lot of fly balls (just 37.7% grounders). It won’t be an easy assignment, but there’s blow up potential here.

Good grief, someone needs to fatten this kid up. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

Thursday, Rick Porcello: Still just 22 years old, Porcello is in his third year as a big leaguer and seems to have figured out a way to get strikeouts in addition to all his grounders. He’s whiffed 17 batters in his last 19.2 IP (three starts), and it appears to stem from scrapping his curveball and going heavy with his slider and (especially) changeup. Aside from Verlander, Porcello might be the toughest matchup for New York if the strikeouts are real, since most of the contact he does induce will be on the ground. The Yankees have hit him hard in the past, but this might not be the same guy anymore.

Bullpen: Remember that three-year contract the Tigers threw at Joaquin Benoit? Well he’s allowed ten runs and eight hits while walking three and striking out just one in his last 1.1 (!!!) IP. That’s a 60.75 ERA and a .727/.750/1.000 batting line against. He was awesome before that (0.93 ERA in 10.2 IP), but the wheels have completely fallen off the bus. The three appearances that make up those 1.1 IP have come in the last five days, so expect him to get at least tonight off, if not tomorrow as well.

Detroit does have a super secret weapon though: Al Alburquerque. Laugh at his name if you want (it’s not spelled the same as the city), but the dude has the slider from hell and 16 strikeouts in 8.1 IP. The good news: he threw three innings on Saturday, so he’s probably off limits until tomorrow, if not Wednesday. Ryan Perry was on the disabled list for a while and has only thrown 5.2 IP, but after appearing in three games over the last four days, he’s another guy that might be off limits tonight. Danny Schlereth throws hard from the left side, but the Yankees have had their way with him in the past and he’s thrown in four of the last six days. Another guy that might not be able to pitch tonight. Lefty specialist Brad Thomas and closer Jose Valverde are probably go to go though. Knocking Verlander out of the game early is damn near impossible, but it would completely wreck the Tigers bullpen for the series.

Recommended Tigers Reading: Tiger Tales and Bless You Boys.

The Yankees remaining pitching depth

In today’s game it is the rarest of feats for a team to last an entire season using only five starters. It’s not even common to see a team use only six. Pitching depth has become an important aspect for any contending team. That puts the Yankees in a tough position. They came into spring training with two open rotation spots and few arms to fill them. What would happen if someone didn’t work out? Worse, what would happen if someone got hurt?

The Yankees got the answer to the latter question pretty quickly. Phil Hughes hit the DL after three terrible starts. Thankfully, the Yankees did have a surprise replacement in Bartolo Colon. That has worked out well so far, as have the other two non-household names in the rotation: Freddy Garcia and Ivan Nova. But sometimes it feels as though the Yankees’ rotation is held together by CC Sabathia and some duct tape. What will happen, then, when they need a seventh starter?

Yesterday one of the depth options, Kevin Millwood, left the fray. That doesn’t represent a huge loss, since the Yankees reportedly weren’t impressed with his stuff. Still, he was a veteran option who could have stepped in if the Yankees needed an extra starter. They’ll have to move onto the next guy. Here’s who we could see in the case that Garcia, Colon, Nova, or even Burnett becomes a problem down the line.

Carlos Silva

(Morry Gash/AP)

Signed to a minor league contract last month, Silva just threw his first extended spring training start on Saturday. He’s still a little ways off, which is fine. The rotation is going well right now, and barring injury they probably won’t need someone for at least another two or three turns through the rotation. Silva pitched well for the Cubs last season — under Larry Rothschild‘s tutelage — with a 4.22 ERA and 3.75 FIP. At this point in his career he’s not going to dazzle anyone, but he can definitely serve a purpose in the back of the rotation. As long as the Yankees don’t need another starter in the next two weeks, I presume he’s first in line when that need does arise.

David Phelps

He got some hype this winter as the Yankees tried to build the staff, but there was no realistic way he was making the Opening Day roster. A rough spring made that took away unrealistic chances. His 2011 season has been ho-hum so far, a 4.15 ERA in 30.1 innings. A couple of short outings at the start of the season depress his numbers a bit, but it’s not as though he’s been dominant since. His maturity as a prospect and his good control will probably put him next in line for a call-up.

Adam Warren

I was surprised to see Warren start with the AAA team, but he’s made a fair run of it his first five starts. That is, he’s experienced good results. The inputs — specifically his 17:13 K/BB ratio — haven’t been that encouraging. He’s also a fly ball guy, which makes him more of a liability at Yankee Stadium. Again, the stat sheet looks fine, but given his lack of experience (just 84.1 innings above A-ball), his current profile as a fly ball guy, and his spotty control, I’m not sure he’s taking the shuttle to the Bronx this year unless there is a major catastrophe.

Andrew Brackman

(Charlie Neibergall/AP)

At some point this season Brackman figures to make a Bronx appearance. Whether that’s as a starter or in relief remains the question. His first four starts at AAA haven’t been great, as he’s been a bit wild at times. The Yankees clearly want to get him more experience in the minors, so I assume he wouldn’t get the call until mid-June at the earliest. Even that might be stretching it. He’s in line for sure, but he doesn’t appear to be near the front.

Hector Noesi

Sitting in the bullpen rather than pitching didn’t help Noesi’s case. He’s on the 40-man roster and because of that he’ll always be near the front of the line. But he will probably need some more work if he’s going to take a spot in the rotation, even if temporarily. Clearly, he was an emergency-only option during his brief sting with the team earlier in the year.

D.J. Mitchell

I don’t think he’s much of an option, but he’s at AAA so he at least gets a mention. A two-pitch guy without much of an out pitch, he’s probably bullpen-bound anyway.

Schaeffer Hall, Craig Heyer, Manny Banuelos

They’re all off to good starts in AA, but I doubt they’re ahead of any of the AAA guys, except maybe Mitchell. Maybe later in the season they’ll move up a level and get a longer look, but until then I doubt the Yankees think about adding any of them to the 40-man and then the active roster.

The RAB Radio Show: May 2, 2011

It’s been a good five-game run for the Yankees. We’re back on the podcast to talk about what’s been working — yes, Brett Gardner — and what hasn’t. There’s plenty of preview talk about the Tigers and how similar they are to a recent opponent, the White Sox.

Podcast run time 22:31

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Intro music: “Die Hard” courtesy of reader Alex Kresovich. Thanks to Tyler Wilkinson for the graphic.

New design(s) added to the RAB Shop

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Podcast Note: It’ll be up a little later today, we’re slacking this morning. Blame Osama.

2011 Draft: KLaw’s Updated Top 50 Prospects

ESPN’s Keith Law posted his updated list of the top 50 draft prospects late last week (Insider only), though he still has UCLA RHP Gerrit Cole, Rice 3B Anthony Rendon, and HS OF/RHP Bubba Starling in the top three spots. Since the Yankees don’t pick until 51st overall, pay extra attention to the players at the back end of the list, a few of whom I’ve written about here. Get ready for some HS RHP Hudson Boyd (ranked 46th) coverage this week, he’s a personal fave.

TCU LHP Matt Purke fell off the list completely due a shoulder issue that was recently diagnosed as bursitis. He will begin a throwing program this week, and is expected to be ready in time for the NCAA postseason. He’s not in the clear though, Purke needs to look something like his old self if expects to go first round. If he doesn’t, he’ll be a prime candidate to fall due to injury concerns.

Fan Confidence Poll: May 2nd, 2011

Record Last Week: 4-3 (30 RS, 20 RA)
Season Record: 16-9 (139 RS, 102 RA, 16-9 pythag. record), 2.5 games up
Opponents This Week: @ Tigers (four games, Mon. to Thurs.), @ Rangers (three games, Fri. to Sun.)

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Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
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