Tuesday Night Open Thread

The World Series resumes tonight with Game Six at Progressive Field. The Indians lead the series three games to two, so a win tonight will clinch their first championship since way back in 1948. The Cubs are trying to force a Game Seven tomorrow night. I’m pulling for the Cleveland Andrew Millers, but I’d be cool with a Game Seven tomorrow. Tonight’s game will start at 8pm ET and you can watch on FOX. Josh Tomlin and Jake Arrieta are the scheduled starters.

Here is tonight’s open thread. In addition to the World Series, the Knicks, Islanders, and Rangers are all playing as well. You folks know these things work by now, so have at it.

Sherman: Dellin Betances on preliminary Team USA roster for 2017 World Baseball Classic

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

According to Joel Sherman, Dellin Betances is among the 50 players on the preliminary 2017 World Baseball Classic roster submitted by Team USA last month. Andrew Miller is on the preliminary roster as well, though Betances is the only Yankee.

The preliminary roster is just that: preliminary. Players can still back out and be added. Neither Mike Trout nor Bryce Harper are on the preliminary roster because they’re unwilling to commit to the event at this point in time, says Sherman. The rosters do not have to be finalized until January.

Betances is, by far, the Yankees best candidate for Team USA. Who else could they send? Brian McCann behind the plate? That’s it. Masahiro Tanaka (Japan), Didi Gregorius (Netherlands), and Gary Sanchez (Dominican Republic) are among the Yankees who would can land on other WBC rosters.

I’m fairly certain teams do not have any control over their players participating in the WBC unless they’re coming off some sort of injury. Betances finished the year health, so it’s essentially up to him whether he wants to play. The Yankees can’t stop him. The WBC begins March 7th and continues through the 22nd.

Over the last three years Dellin has pitched to a 1.93 ERA (1.97 FIP) in 247 innings with a ridiculous 392 strikeouts. Miller is second among in relievers in strikeouts over the last three seasons. He has 326. It is in no way a surprise to see Betances on the Team USA roster.

The Underwhelming Jacoby Ellsbury [2016 Season Review]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Three years ago, amid all the talk about getting under the luxury tax threshold, the Yankees committed over $400M to a quartet of free agents following the team’s disappointing 2013 season. I’d say three of the four free agents have been worth the money so far. Masahiro Tanaka, Brian McCann, and Carlos Beltran have done — or did, in Beltran’s case — more or less exactly as expected. Tanaka’s been hurt a few times, but pitchers do that.

Jacoby Ellsbury, the fourth of those four free agent signings, has not come particularly close to meeting the expectations that come with a massive seven-year contract worth $153M. The deal was market value at best and a gross overpay at worse, and right now it leans clearly towards the latter. Coming into the 2016 season, the hope was Ellsbury would rebound from a disappointing 2015 that seemed to get thrown out of whack by a May knee injury. It didn’t happen.

A Poor April, Then A May To Remember

Prior to last season’s knee injury, Ellsbury was a dominant leadoff man who was actually worth his contract for a short period of time. He hit .324/.412/.372 (125 wRC+) with 14 steals and nearly as many walks (11.2%) as strikeouts (13.5%) in his first 37 games before tweaking his knee taking a swing. Ellsbury landed on the DL, then returned in July to hit .224/.269/.322 (62 wRC+) in his final 74 games of the season before getting benched in the wildcard game.

Rather than come out of Spring Training hot this year like last year, Ellsbury hit a soft .235/.278/.341 (64 wRC+) in April, which was basically a continuation of what he did following the knee injury in 2015. At one point in April he went 4-for-27 (.148) with more doubles play grounded into (two) than extra base hits (one, a homer). Think about that. A speed guy getting doubled up twice as often as getting a hit for extra bases. Not even a hustle double or anything mixed in there.

To be fair, Ellsbury delivered one of the biggest highlights of the season on April 22nd, when he pulled off a straight steal of home against the Rays. There was no funny business here. No ball in the dirt, nothing like that. Ellsbury just took off for home and beat the throw. Check it out:

The Yankees had lost three straight games and seven of their last eight at the time, and they were having serious problems scoring runs. Ellsbury’s steal of home tied the game and the Yankees went on to win. It was early in the season, yes, but it was a huge play and a big game. Things were starting to spiral out of control there. Ellsbury made a big time play when the Yankees needed it the most. Props.

May was, by far, Ellsbury’s best month of the season. Maybe his best month as a Yankee. He has a tendency to get on insane hot streaks — I’m talking 15-for-25, 20-for-30, 25-for-40, stuff like that — and he got on one as soon as the calendar flipped to May, hitting .340/.410/.534 (155 wRC+) with two homers and seven steals in 30 games. (The hot streak carried over into early-June.)

The May (and early-June) hot streak brought Ellsbury’s season batting line up to .293/.353/.447 (116 wRC+) through 52 games and 214 plate appearances, and hey, that’s pretty awesome. The season was one-third complete and Ellsbury’s overall numbers were comfortably above-average. The production was a little uneven (poor April, great May), but that’s baseball. Day-to-day consistency doesn’t exist.

Another Fade, This Time Without The DL Stint

The hot start didn’t last. It never really does. Ellsbury went into the All-Star break with a .279/.347/.398 (103 wRC+) batting line and that’s not terrible. It’s not great either. It just kinda … is. In the game immediately prior to the All-Star break, Ellsbury smacked a big three-run home run against the Indians, one pitch after what should have been ball four was called strike two to extend the at-bat. Rookie ump Ramon DeJesus did the Yankees a solid there.

Ellsbury went 6-for-39 (.154) in his first eleven games after the All-Star break and never really did get back on track in the second half. His best stretch of the second half came in early-August, when he went 10-for-22 (.455) during a five-game span. Sometimes Ellsbury can stretch those hot streaks out for a few weeks. That one lasted five games.

Weirdly enough, Ellsbury did go on a bit of a power binge in late-August and early-September, swatting five home runs in the span of 22 games. That’s a 37-homer pace across a full 162-game season. The most notable of those five home runs came on September 13th against the Dodgers, and it was an seventh inning go-ahead blast. That was a fun game.

For some reason I thought that was a pinch-hit homer. It wasn’t. Ellsbury replaced Aaron Judge in the previous inning when Judge tweaked his oblique. (That was the injury that ended his season.) It wasn’t a pinch-hit homer but it was Ellsbury’s first at-bat of the game. Didi Gregorius followed with a pinch-hit homer in place of Rob Refsnyder. I guess that’s why I got confused.

Anyway, after that home run, Ellsbury went 12-for-58 (.207) to close out the regular season. He finished the year with a .263/.330/.374 (91 wRC+) batting line and nine homers in 626 plate appearances. His walk (8.6%) and strikeout (13.4%) numbers were nice, and he did steal 20 bases, but it took 28 attempts (71%). The Yankees paid Ellsbury a whole lotta money for league average offensive production in 2016.

No Longer A Speed Threat

At his peak, Ellsbury was an elite baserunner who created havoc every time he reached base. Just his presence on the basepaths changed the game. Pitchers had to pay attention to him and I’m sure that led to a few more fastballs for the guys at the plate. That’s the Ellsbury the Yankees thought they were signing. Someone who could diversify their offense by creating runs with his legs.

Nowadays Ellsbury is beyond his base-stealing prime — he turned 33 in September and stealing bases is not a skill that ages gracefully — and that’s not his fault. That’s just the normal aging process. If anything, blame the Yankees for giving a speed guy a seven-year contract (!) after his 30th birthday. What did they think would happen? Here are some baserunning numbers over the last few years.

SB-CS SBA% XBT% BSR BRR
2013 52-4 21.0% 42% 5.6 5.3
2014 39-5 22.2% 49% 4.1 -1.2
2015 21-9 13.3% 35% 0.9 4.2
2016 20-8 10.7% 32% 2.0 2.3

Ellsbury’s stolen base success rate has slipped the last few years and he’s also attempting fewer steals (SBA%) overall. It’s important to note a 10.7% steal attempt rate is actually really good — the league average is 5.5% — but it’s not what it was a few years ago. Top stolen base threats should be in the 10-15% range, ideally. Ellsbury was higher than that at his peak. This season he attempted steals half as often as just two years ago.

The stolen bases stand out the most because they’re the easiest aspect of baserunning to see, but to me the scariest number in that table is the extra-bases taken (XBT%). That’s going first-to-third on a single, scoring from second on a single, stuff like that. Ellsbury was at 32% this year. 32%! Beltran was at 30% this year. The MLB average is 42%. I mean, omgwtf. Why is it so low? Ellsbury didn’t just steal fewer bases, he took the extra base at a below-average rate too.

Injury could play a factor in this. Ellsbury missed a few days with a hip issue in mid-May and a lingering hip problem could easily explain any hesitation on the bases. We never heard that Ellsbury’s hip was aching all year, but who knows. He has a history of getting hurt and staying hurt, after all. Whatever it is, Ellsbury was not much of a weapon on the bases. Not stealing and not even taking the extra 90 feet on base hits. That’s a problem three years into a seven-year contract.

Still Strong In The Field

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

His bat and baserunning may be in decline, but Ellsbury remains a very good center field defender. I can’t imagine many folks will disagree with me there. Ellsbury actually had a rough start to the season in the field (remember all this?), but he shook all that off and turned in another comfortably above-average season in the field. That all the defensive stats spit out different numbers (+8 DRA, +0.7 UZR, +1 Total Zone, -14.5 FRAA) says more about the reliability of the numbers than it does Ellsbury.

Believe me, piling on Ellsbury would be very easy, but I can’t do it defensively. The stats — well, most of them, anyway — and the eye test tell me he remains a very good gloveman who saves the Yankees runs. Is he as good defensively as he was three or four years ago? Of course not. No player is. Age has sapped some of his speed. But he remains an asset out there. Defense is Ellsbury’s best attribute at this point, I’d say.

Outlook For 2017

Unloading Ellsbury and his contract should one of the team’s top priorities this offseason. It just seems so very unlikely the Yankees will be able to do that, not without eating a ton of money or taking on a bad contract in return. They’ve really painted themselves into a corner with this contract, which is a shame, because they have so many young MLB ready or near MLB ready outfielders.

There’s a non-zero chance the inability to move Ellsbury means the Yankees will have to instead Brett Gardner this offseason to clear roster space for younger players, which would be a shame, but what can you do? I went into this season hoping Ellsbury would rebound with good health after the knee injury last year. It didn’t happen. Now I don’t really know what to think. Maybe Ellsbury really is nothing more than a 90 wRC+ and +2 WAR player now.

Tuesday Links: Chapman, Jansen, CBA, GMS Field, AzFL

(Ezra Shaw/Getty)
(Ezra Shaw/Getty)

Pretty soon — as in 48 hours or less — the 2016 World Series will be over the offseason can officially begin. The free agent class is pretty weak, so I think we’re going to end up seeing a lot of trades this winter instead. That’s cool with me. Trades are much more fun. Anyway, I have some news and notes to pass along, so let’s get to them.

Yankees will target Chapman over Jansen

No surprise here: Jon Heyman says the Yankees are planning to target Aroldis Chapman in free agency before Kenley Jansen. Those two as well as Mark Melancon will hit the open market in the coming days now that the World Series is close to being complete. This upcoming free agent class kinda stinks, but there will be three high-end relievers available. Competition for them should be fierce.

A few weeks ago we heard the Yankees are planning to target a top reliever in free agency. I figured that would happen following the Chapman and Andrew Miller trades at midseason. The Yankees had the opportunity to flip those two for high-end prospects, then replenish the bullpen with free agents in the offseason. They did step one, now they have to do step two. Chapman won’t cost a draft pick plus the Yankees know him from his time in New York, so it’s no surprise he’s their Plan A. I prefer Jansen, but whatever.

MLB, MLBPA optimistic about finalizing new CBA

The current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires on December 1st, which isn’t all that far away now, and Joel Sherman hears MLB and the MLBPA have agreed to “very few key issues” so far. Both sides are optimistic about avoiding a work stoppage, however. “I’m optimistic as well. The good thing is everyone understands and appreciates the issues,” said union chief Tony Clark.

Apparently free agent draft pick compensation is a hot topic and many potential changes are being discussed, including eliminating the need to surrender a pick. The team that loses a qualified free agent would still receive a compensatory draft pick, but the signing team would get to keep their first rounder. Sherman also hears it’s possible the current rules could remain in effect this offseason before a new system kicks in next winter. As long as there’s no work stoppage, and I don’t think there will be, it’s cool with me.

Yankees renovating GMS Field

Yankee Stadium is not the only park getting a facelift this offseason. George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa is being renovated as well, the Yankees announced. The ballpark is getting $40M worth of upgrades that will bring new seating sections, a shaded cabana area, and a huge new gift shop. Construction started in August — High-A Tampa had to play all their postseason games on the road this year — and will be presumably completed in time for Spring Training.

“The renovations, which include an increased number of fan-friendly vantage points, social gathering spaces and shaded areas, will provide our guests with the modern amenities necessary for an exceptional game day experience. We are equally excited about furthering the Yankees’ commitment to the Tampa community and look forward to unveiling a beautiful facility for our fans to enjoy for years to come,” said Senior VP and CFO Tony Bruno in a statement. Neat. Here are renderings of the upgrades and construction photos, if you’re interested.

Torres, Tate selected for Fall Stars Game

Gleyber Torres and Dillon Tate were selected to participate in the Arizona Fall League’s Fall Star Game, the league announced. Here are East and West rosters. Torres is the best prospect in the game according to MLB.com’s top 100 list. He’s hitting .313/.421/.656 (187 wRC+) with three homers, six walks, and five strikeouts in nine AzFL games so far. Tate has a 3.86 ERA (5.24 FIP) in 9.1 relief innings with the Scottsdale Scorpions.

The Fall Stars Game is more of a prospect showcase than a true All-Star Game. They pick the biggest names each year regardless of their AzFL performance. Also, they don’t disrupt pitching schedules, which is why Tate and not James Kaprielian was selected to the roster. Kaprielian’s not scheduled to pitch the day of the game. The Fall Stars Game is this Saturday at 8pm ET. It’ll be broadcast on MLB Network and streamed live on MLB.com. It’s a good time.

Monday Night Open Thread

Today is a travel day for the World Series, so in meantime I recommend checking out Dan Barry’s story on Maury Lerner, a former second base prospect with several teams in the 1950s and 1960s who became a mob hitman after his playing career ended. Here’s his Baseball Reference page. Pretty wild stuff. Make sure you give it a read.

Here is tonight’s open thread. No baseball tonight, but there is Monday Night Football (Vikings vs. Bears), plus the Nets are all playing. That’s pretty much it. Talk about those games, the Lerner story, or anything else right here.

(Today is the anniversary of Game Three of the 2009 World Series, hence the video selection.)

Thoughts on Baseball America’s top 10 Yankees prospects

Gleyber. (Presswire)
Gleyber. (Presswire)

Last week, the crew at Baseball America began their annual offseason series breaking down the top ten prospects in each Major League organization. Their Yankees list, compiled by Josh Norris, went live last Friday. Here’s the list, the insider, and the chat. You need a subscription to read the scouting reports for prospects two through ten. Everything else is free. Here’s the top ten:

  1. SS Gleyber Torres
  2. OF Clint Frazier
  3. OF Blake Rutherford
  4. SS Jorge Mateo
  5. RHP James Kaprielian
  6. OF Aaron Judge
  7. LHP Justus Sheffield
  8. RHP Chance Adams
  9. OF Dustin Fowler
  10. RHP Domingo Acevedo

“The Yankees took the unusual step of selling off their veterans to embark on a rebuilding phase, but the young players they brought up provided more immediate impact than expected and kept the team in playoff contention until the season’s final week,” wrote Kyle Glaser in the insider write-up. I have some amateur-ish thoughts on the top ten, so let’s get to ’em.

1. Holy crap the top ten is stacked. That’s the best Yankees top ten I can remember. You can even go all the way back to 1999 and 2000, when they had Nick Johnson and Alfonso Soriano at the top of the farm system, with Drew Henson, D’Angelo Jimenez, Wily Mo Pena, and Jake Westbrook behind them. Laugh at those names now if you want, but those dudes were a big deal back in the day. The Yankees have a ton of depth in their farm system. I’m talking players with a chance to be regular big leaguers, and that was true before the trade deadline. The deadline deals added star power like Frazier and Torres. You could put any one of the guys Baseball America ranked among the top seven in the top spot and he’d be a more than respectable No. 1 organizational prospect.

2. The Yankees have a shot at seven top 100 prospects. In the chat, Norris said he could “very easily see Nos. 1 through 8 in this system making the Top 100,” which would be amazing. I’m not quite as high on Adams as everyone else seems to be — he’s good! I’m just not sure he’s top 100 caliber good — so I see seven top 100 candidates, which is still incredible. Four top 100 prospects is pretty darn good. Seven is off-the-charts good. Prospects are suspects until proven otherwise, but generally speaking, that kind of top 100 prospect depth correlates well to future success. The Yankees have a lot of high-end talent and a lot of depth too. I can’t remember the last time the system was set up this well.

3. The top three weren’t in the organization five months ago. The Yankees’ top three prospects according to Baseball America are all new to the organization. Torres and Frazier came over in separate trades at the deadline, and Rutherford was the team’s first round pick in June. None of those three guys were in the system as recently as June 8th. Later than that, really, since Rutherford didn’t officially sign until June 29th. That’s an awful lot of top talent added to the system in a short period of time.

Frazier. (Presswire)
Frazier. (Presswire)

4. Frazier over Torres has become Torres over Frazier. At the trade deadline, just about every scouting publication had Frazier ranked ahead of Torres. In fact, Baseball America’s midseason top 100, which was published exactly three weeks prior to the deadline, had Frazier ranked 21st and Torres ranked 27th. That’s really close. Almost a negligible difference, really. Since the trade, Gleyber continued to mash in High-A and show the skills necessary to stay at shortstop. Frazier struggled in his few weeks at Triple-A. It’s not a surprise to see them flipped and it’s in no way unreasonable. This isn’t an overreaction or anything. Torres has star caliber tools and so does Frazier, but we saw them from Gleyber more than Frazier in the second half. Torres passing Frazier has more to do with Torres taking another step forward than Frazier taking a step back. I don’t have a strong opinion at the moment either way, Torres over Frazier or Frazier over Torres. The cool thing is the Yankees have both.

5. People sure do love Rutherford. I am surprised to see Rutherford ranked so high, but hey, I’m not complaining. Baseball America’s scouting report says he “projects as a four-tool player” with the only shortcoming being his arm, which isn’t a huge deal. If you’re going to miss a tool, that’s an okay one to miss. Also, in his most recent chat, Keith Law said he’d take Rutherford over every other hitter in the 2016 draft class. That is some serious praise. The Yankees have a stacked system right now and Rutherford still ranks near the top of their prospect list despite being a 19-year-old kid with 130 pro plate appearances. I am: excited.

6. Judge behind Mateo and Kaprielian is, uh, interesting. There is no right way to rank prospects. At the end of the day, it all comes down to personal preference. And really, the gap between many of these prospects is very small, so ranking one over the other is not a big deal. I’m still surprised to see Judge drop behind Mateo and especially Kaprielian. What was the goal for Judge coming into the season? To make the adjustment to Triple-A pitching, mash for a few weeks, then get to the show. He did exactly that. What was the goal for Mateo? To continue turning that high-end athleticism and those raw tools into baseball skills. Instead, he struggled most of the year and got suspended as well. The hope was Kaprielian would reach the show in September, or at least reach Triple-A. He made three High-A starts before getting hurt. Mateo and Kaprielian took steps back this year. They did! Don’t get mad at me for saying it. Judge made his adjustments and got to the big leagues, and now he has to make another adjustment. That is in no way unusual. Dropping him behind Mateo and Kaprielian strikes me as an overreaction to his swing-and-miss issues in August and September. The ranking indicates those strikeout woes are a bigger concern than Mateo not hitting in general and Kaprielian getting hurt. Eh.

7. Not a surprise to see no Tate. The Yankees made three big trades at the deadline and three of the prospects they acquired are in their top ten. Torres came over in the Aroldis Chapman deal and both Frazier and Sheffield came over in the Andrew Miller trade. Dillon Tate, the headliner in the Carlos Beltran trade, did not make the top ten and it’s not only because the Yankees have so many quality prospects. Tate took a step back this year, especially during his time with the Rangers. He had a hamstring injury, his velocity was down, and his command wavered. The Yankees bought low on him — Tate was the fourth overall pick in last year’s draft — and will try to build him back up. Reports from the Arizona Fall League indicate his stuff has returned, which is an important first step. Tate may not be a top ten organizational prospect right now, but he’s on his way to being one next year.

The Final Year of the Ivan Nova Experience [2016 Season Review]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Aside from his rookie season, when he was trying to establish himself as a big leaguer, this was the most important season of Ivan Nova‘s career. He returned from Tommy John surgery last year and didn’t pitch well at all (5.07 ERA and 4.87 FIP), so this year Ivan wanted to show everyone he is still a viable starter before becoming a free agent. There was a lot of money at stake.

Unfortunately, this summer was more of the same for Nova, at least while he was in pinstripes. He was consistently inconsistently. Occasionally great, too often terrible, and mostly mediocre. The quintessential fifth starter, basically. The kind of guy who’s worth keeping around as depth, but probably not someone a contending team runs out there every fifth day. Nova’s time with the Yankees — he originally signed with the team in 2004 and was the longest tenured player in the organization — came to an end at the trade deadline.

The Spring Training Competition

As expected, the Yankees made Nova compete for a rotation spot in Spring Training. His primary competition: CC Sabathia. Nova was going to have to thoroughly out-pitch Sabathia in March, because anything close to a tie was going to go to the well-paid former Cy Young award winner. The odds were stacked against Ivan. No doubt about it. He was going to have to make the decision a no-brainer.

Nova allowed two runs in nine innings in his first two Grapefruit League starts, which seemed to have him in the lead for the fifth starter’s spot. He then allowed four runs in 4.1 innings in his fourth start and six runs in 4.2 innings in his fifth start, and that was that. Those two duds were enough to sway the competition in Sabathia’s favor. Sabathia started the season in the rotation and Nova had to settle for a bullpen job. Such is life.

The Brief Stint in the Bullpen

The Yankees came into the season with maybe the most dominant bullpen trio in baseball history, and although Aroldis Chapman was serving his suspension in April, the team still had Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances available on Opening Day. So, naturally, Nova picked up the club’s first save of the season. Just as we all expected, right? Right.

Nova got that save in the second game of the 2016 season. It was a blowout 16-6 win over the Astros, and Nova threw four shutout innings to close out the game. Throw the final three innings of the game in relief and you get a save, regardless of score. What a stat.

Nova worked sparingly in April, which is usually how it goes with long relievers. They’ll go ten days between appearances then bam, we need four innings from you. Ivan appeared in only six of the team’s first 29 games, and in those six games he allowed eight runs on 16 hits and one walk in 14 innings. Only once did he enter a game with the Yankees leading. It was that 16-6 win over Houston.

“We have to use him in different situations,” said Joe Girardi in April. “We need for him to get outs.”

Back in the Rotation

Nova’s stint in the bullpen lasted 29 team games. Sabathia went down with a minor groin injury in early-May, then Luis Severino went down with a triceps problem about a week later, which opened a full-time rotation spot for Nova. And at first, it went really well. Really, really well. Well enough some wondered why Ivan wasn’t in the Opening Day rotation.

May 9th vs. Royals: 4.2 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 1 HR (on a pitch count)
May 14th vs. White Sox: 5.2 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 1 HR
May 19th @ Athletics: 6 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 1 HR

Pretty great! The Yankees weren’t haven’t much success as a team overall, especially with Severino and Michael Pineda struggling so much as starters, and Nova gave the team a nice shot in the arm. We’ve seen him be good for long stretches of time in the past. It looked like Ivan was about to go on one of those runs.

It didn’t happen. Nova never once allowed fewer than three runs in any of his next seven starts. He allowed four or more runs five times. Nova had a 6.92 ERA (5.61 FIP) in 39 innings in those seven starts, and opponents hit .313/.368/.554 against him. That’s basically Mookie Betts (.318/.363/.534). Nova faced nine Mookie Bettses every start for a little more than a month.

July went a bit better — Nova had a 3.86 ERA (5.18 FIP) in five starts and 28 innings that month — but by then it was too late. The Yankees were fading in the standings and the decision to sell was made at the trade deadline. Nova, as an impending free agent who wasn’t getting a qualifying offer, was a prime candidate to go. It was either keep him and lose him for nothing after the season or get something, anything in return.

All told, Nova had a 4.90 ERA (5.10 FIP) in 97.1 innings across 15 starts and six relief appearances with the Yankees this season, which was a bit too close to last year’s numbers. He had a 4.86 ERA (5.33 FIP) in those 15 starts, and, amazingly, Nova allowed a home run in 14 of his 15 starts. The only team that didn’t take him deep as a starter was the Padres in spacious Petco Park, so yeah. Same ol’ Nova.

Welcome to Pittsburgh

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Minutes before the August 1st trade deadline, the Yankees shipped Nova to the Pirates, their favorite trading partner. They received not one, but two players to be named later in return. It seemed like a miracle. Nova hadn’t pitched well since 2013, remember. He was hurt in 2014 and terrible in both 2015 and 2016. The Rangers and a few other clubs reportedly had interest as well. Pittsburgh it was.

As you no doubt know, Nova pitched far better with the Pirates than he did with the Yankees this year. He had a 3.06 ERA (2.62 FIP) in eleven starts and 64.2 innings with Pittsburgh, though his strikeout (17.8% vs. 19.8%) and ground ball (54.3% vs. 52.3%) rates were basically the same. His walk rate (5.9% vs. 1.1%) fell big time because he threw way more pitches in the zone (41.6% vs. 48.1%).

The Pirates didn’t change Nova’s pitch selection all that much. He threw more sinkers and fewer four-seamers after the trade, but not a ridiculous amount. Pittsburgh got his sinker and four-seamer rates back where they were in April and May, basically. The biggest adjustment, according to Bill Brink, involved Nova’s chin. Yes, his chin.

Pitching coach Ray Searage advised Nova to keep his chin low during his delivery and align his chin with the target. This keeps the front shoulder closed. The results: Two walks in 46? innings, a 2.53 ERA and two complete games in his past four starts.

Nova had heard of the need to keep his chin down before. Recovering from Tommy John ligament replacement surgery, though, threw his mechanics out of whack. Releasing the ball later has improved Nova’s curveball.

“My release point was too off the timing. It was up here,” he said, with his arm above his shoulder, “and then just hold it a little bit more, throw it right in front.”

Nova’s curveball did improve after the trade. With the Yankees, opponents hit .212 with a .188 ISO against his curveball. With the Pirates, it was .175 with a .175 ISO. He also got more swings and misses (16.5% vs. 19.8%) with the curve, but, weirdly, fewer grounders (42.2% vs. 33.3%). Here are Nova’s curveball location heat maps before and after the trade, via Baseball Savant:

Ivan Nova curveballs

They look … pretty similar? Kinda? The vast majority of Nova’s curveballs are right at the bottom of the zone, and anything higher is on the inner half to righties and outer half to lefties. I wouldn’t get too caught up in this. Nova threw 252 curveballs with the Pirates. Total. The location is generally the same. Most of his curveballs were at the bottom of the zone.

There are other factors to consider here too. The switch from the AL to the NL is an undeniable help. Getting to face pitchers instead of guys like David Ortiz and Edwin Encarnacion and Mark Trumbo is kind of a big deal. Also, Nova moved into a more hitter friendly ballpark, and did face some weak competition. Six of his eleven starts with the Pirates came against the rebuilding Reds, Brewers, and Phillies. Must be nice, eh?

Whatever the reason, Nova performed much better with the Pirates than he did the Yankees. Good for him. He needed that little boost heading into free agency. The Yankees received outfielder Tito Polo and lefty Stephen Tarpley, two High-A prospects, as the players to be named in the trade, though they came over in late-August and barely played after the deal was finalized.

Outlook for 2017

Nova is a free agent this offseason and his agent is already floating the idea of a five-year contract worth $70M. Can you blame him? Jeff Samardzija led the lead in hits, earned runs, and homers allowed last year and he got five years and $90M. You’re never going to get Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano if you don’t ask. Start with a big opening demand and come down from there.

This upcoming free agent pitching class is bad. So, so bad. That works in Ivan’s favor. His strong finish with the Pirates will undoubtedly convince some team he’s turned the corner for good a la J.A. Happ, though for every J.A. Happ who left Pittsburgh and thrived, there’s an A.J. Burnett who left Pittsburgh and stunk. We’ve seen Nova do this before, right? Look unhittable for a few weeks then go right back to being Ivan Nova.

The Yankees need rotation help this offseason the same way every team needs rotation help. I have a hard time thinking they’ll pursue a reunion with Nova, however. Been there, done that. The Yankees are looking to move forward, not backward. Re-signing Nova puts them right back where they were this year, only Ivan will be more expensive. Someone’s going to pay Nova big bucks this winter and that’s great for him. Chance are it won’t be the Yankees though.