Archive for Ivan Nova
Thursday: Nova has been diagnosed with inflammation in his rotator cuff and has been placed on the 15-day DL. The treatment is just rest and medication, and he won’t pick up a baseball for at least five days. I expect the club to be very conservative given the Pineda stuff, so it wouldn’t be a total surprise if Nova has already pitched his last game of 2012.
Wednesday: Right-hander Ivan Nova is headed back to New York to be evaluated after complaining of tightness in his throwing shoulder last night. He felt something pull in the back of his shoulder while throwing a fastball to the final batter of the sixth inning. Joe Girardi said that Nova is expected to miss at least one start and is a candidate to be placed on the DL. David Phelps will remain in the rotation for the time being and CC Sabathia is due to come off the DL on Friday.
Obviously any kind of shoulder problem is a concern, especially with the Michael Pineda fiasco fresh in our memories. Nova has been extremely durable throughout his professional career, and the only other arm injury he’s dealt with is the forearm strain that forced him from Game Five of last year’s ALDS. As poorly as he’s pitched of late, Ivan is an important part of the club and the Yankees will surely be conservative.
We’re deep into August and it’s pretty fair to say that Ivan Nova has been the Yankees’ worst starting pitcher this season. I don’t think it’s all that close, honestly. He owns a 4.92 ERA (4.54 FIP) through 25 starts and 157.1 innings while leading baseball in extra-base hits allowed. Nova just doesn’t get hit, he gets absolutely tattooed. Last night’s loss was the latest example, the fifth time he’s allowed at least six runs in a start since the calendar flipped over to July. There is no sugarcoating it, he’s been miserable pretty much since Opening Day.
Thankfully, the Yankees will be able to soften the blow over the next week or two. Thursday’s scheduled off-day combined with CC Sabathia‘s imminent return to the rotation — his latest side session went well yesterday — gives the Yankees a chance to skip Nova’s next turn so he could work on some things on the side. That would leave both David Phelps and Freddy Garcia in the rotation for the time being, which is fine considering their performances relative to Nova’s.
Since the Yankees are off next Thursday as well, they could skip Nova’s next two starts if they really wanted. Assuming the master plan is to return Phelps to the bullpen at some point so he can solve some of the middle relief problems, the club could roll with this rotation these next few days…
- Today @ White Sox: Phil Hughes (Phelps available in bullpen?)
- Thursday 8/23: OFF
- Friday 8/24 @ Indians: Sabathia
- Saturday 8/25 @ Indians: Hiroki Kuroda
- Sunday 8/26 @ Indians: Garcia or Phelps
- Monday 8/27 vs. Blue Jays: Garcia or Phelps
- Tuesday 8/28 vs. Blue Jays: Hughes
- Wednesday 8/29 vs. Blue Jays: Sabathia (Phelps available in bullpen?)
- Thursday 8/30: OFF
The Yankees could then run Kuroda, Garcia, Hughes, and Sabathia out there in the four games following the 8/30 off-day before reinserting Nova back into the rotation against the Rays on September 5th. No one would be on short rest through any of this and Ivan would get a solid ten days or so to work on some stuff with pitching coach Larry Rothschild. Since that early-September series against Tampa (on the road) could prove to be very important, they’d also have the option of starting him a few days earlier against the Orioles just to keep him away from the Rays.
Either way, something has to give here. Nova has struggled most of the season and these days his starts rarely afford the Yankees the opportunity to win. This isn’t some little recent slump either — he’s had a 5.00+ ERA in every month of the season other than June. At the very least, the Yankees should use tomorrow’s off-day to skip his next turn just to give him a chance to clear his head and work on some things in a non-competitive environment. The Bombers have a nice four-game lead in the division with a month to play, but that lead has been shrinking due in part to Nova’s complete ineffectiveness. Something has to be done about it, they’ve waited long enough as it is.
There were a number of reasons to be optimistic about Ivan Nova coming into this season. The 25-year-old put together a dynamite second half and deservingly served as the Yankees’ number two starter in the postseason last year, leading to some over-sized expectations for 2012. It looked like Nova had a chance to develop into that solid, homegrown starting pitcher both the fans and the organization have been aching to see since even before the days of Chien-Ming Wang.
Instead, Nova has developed into another A.J. Burnett. The New York version, not the Pittsburgh version. He has good stuff but not the requisite command, plus a knack for allowing that big hit … over and over and over again. Like Burnett in 2010-2011, Ivan’s only redeeming quality right now is his ability to take the ball every five days and soak up innings without missing a beat. Through 22 starts he owns a 4.81 ERA (4.54 FIP) and leads the world with 71 extra-base hits allowed*. Starts like last night, seven runs on eleven hits in 5.1 innings, have unfortunately become the norm.
“I’m not the only pitcher in baseball who is going through a bad time right now,” said Nova after last night’s dud. “I know I’m going to get out of this one … I’m not worried about (losing my rotation spot). I’m not worried about ERA or anything like that. I just want to help the team to win games. That’s the most important thing, help the team to win games. I’m not worrying about ERA. The ERA is more like a personal thing. I want to win games, no matter how, just win games for this team.”
Someone should probably tell Nova that ERA correlates directly to helping the team win games, and right now the only team Nova is helping is the one in the other dugout. The only two things he has going for him other than his innings-eating ability are beyond his control — Andy Pettitte‘s injury and the Yankees’ big lead in the division. If Andy was healthy or if the Yankees weren’t six games up in the loss column, there’s a decent chance Ivan would be plying his trade in Triple-A, where he couldn’t hurt the big league team. Brian Cashman & Co. may have pursued a starter more aggressively at the deadline if the division race was closer. Instead, Nova will get a chance to right the ship in games that impact the standings.
Is that a good idea? No, not really. No team wants to start a bad pitcher every five days but sometimes it’s unavoidable. Nova took his demotion like a champ last season and came back a better pitcher because of it, but the Yankees lack alternatives at the moment. Pettitte is hurt, Michael Pineda is hurt, David Phelps is no longer stretched out enough to start — plus it would hurt the bullpen since he’s one of the few non-matchup options out there — and Adam Warren inspires no confidence after he fell on his face in his big league debut. For better or worse, the Yankees are stuck with their young right-hander.
To the team’s credit, they stuck with Phil Hughes through a similar stretch of awfulness in April and he’s rewarded them by pitching pretty darn well since May. Perhaps this is just a rough patch for Nova, though it’s very obvious that his command and location are the problem. We first noticed it back in Spring Training, so this isn’t something that just popped up last week. Look at his month-by-month splits — he’s had one good month this year, and that was against NL lineups during interleague play in June. Nova has, unequivocally, been a major letdown this season.
It seems clear that poor command and location have dogged Nova pretty much all year, but the cause of those command and location problems is unknown. At least to you and me, anyway. Perhaps he’s hurt, maybe it’s a mechanical thing, maybe it’s mental, maybe it’s one of a million other things. Whatever it is, it’s up to Nova and pitching coach Larry Rothschild to get it straightened out as soon as possible because the Yankees can’t really afford to absorb Ivan’s stinkers ever five days with seven weeks to go in the season. He’s the weak link in the rotation and he’s prevented the team from getting on any kind of winning streak of late.
* Just to give you an idea of how bad that is, Nova is only 15 extra-base hits away from tying 1989 Andy Hawkins for the most allowed in franchise history. There’s a chance he could break the record this month, before we even get to September.
Mercifully, the All-Star break is over and Yankee baseball is back. It has been a tumultuous season so far, featuring serious injuries to several important contributors and maddening underperformance with runners in scoring position, but also plenty of pleasant surprises. Despite everything that has gone poorly for the Yankees this season, they are in great position to make a playoff run. At 53-33, the Yankees own the best record in the majors, despite playing in a division where no team is below .500, and they are eight games up on their nearest competitor. They lead the league in home runs and wRC+, though they are only 6th in runs scored. Despite injuries to Michael Pineda, Andy Pettitte, and CC Sabathia, they are 2nd in the league with a 3.71 xFIP, largely driven by the pitching staff’s 8.45 strikeouts per 9 innings. With this strong first half in the books, I figured I would take a look at some of the storylines to watch for the second half, which will play an important role in determining if the Yankees can hold on to their division lead.
MVP candidate Cano
Robinson Cano is having a monster season for the Yankees so far, and is well on pace to eclipse his career highs in a number of offensive categories. He has slugged 20 home runs with a wRC+ of 150, and his fielding is significantly improved according to UZR (small sample size warnings apply). All this combines to make Cano the 7th in the majors with 4.3 fWAR at the midway point. If the season were to end today, Cano would be a strong candidate for AL MVP, along with usual suspects Josh Hamilton and David Ortiz, and rookie phenom Mike Trout. Cano’s 2012 production has been very impressive, and it will be interesting to see if he can sustain this form going forward. Recent history suggests that it is difficult for a Yankee player to win the award unless he is far superior statistically to his competition, and right now, Cano is not in that position. Nonetheless, if Cano continues to mash and some of his competition begins to fall off (such as Trout) or get hurt (Hamilton), Robbie would be in good position to win his first MVP.
Coming into the season, significant questions abounded about Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova, and whether they would be able to stick in the rotation as consistent contributors. Michael Pineda’s Spring Training shoulder injury weakened the Yankees’ rotation depth, and put increased pressure at least one of the Hughes-Nova duo to emerge as a solid mid-rotation starter. Hughes got off to a poor start to the season, and both players have had serious problems surrendering the long ball, but of late, both have settled in. They’ve shown the ability to strike batters out (8.31/9 for Hughes, 8.16 for Nova) and limit walks (2.08 for Hughes, 2.69 for Nova) a combination that limits the numbers of runners on base when the inevitable longball comes. Both have been able to pitch deep into the game, which is important for keeping the Yankee bullpen well-rested and effective. Hughes and Nova have shown that they can pitch in the low-4 ERA range, and with the Yankee offense, they will win a lot of games. However, it remains to be seen if they can improve their statistics by cutting down on the home runs. They were surrendering them at an unsustainable pace earlier in the year, but have improved in that area recently (particularly Hughes). While both have looked very good of late, Hughes in particular has teased Yankee fans throughout his career with strong performances only to regress significantly, and hopefully he can avoid that outcome.
What will Joba bring to the table?
While most of us gave up on Joba Chamberlain being a 2012 contributor after his awful trampoline-related ankle injury, his impressively quick recovery has him in position to return to the Yankees sometime in August. Chamberlain, looking noticeably svelte, was recently clocked as high as 97 in his first outing in the Gulf Coast League, a sign that his velocity has returned following Tommy John Surgery. The velocity bodes well for his ability to be a successful bullpen contributor this year, but command could be a big question. Joba never had pinpoint control to start with, and it is often said that command is the last thing that comes back to a pitcher who has had Tommy John. Joba’s willingness and ability to use his devastating slider is another question that he will have to answer. The pitch is his primary 2-strike weapon to earn strikeouts, but often pitchers who have Tommy John will cut down on their slider usage, to avoid putting additional strain on their elbow. If Joba does have to throw fewer sliders, he may need to have another offering to flash so hitters can’t just sit on the fastball. I don’t expect Joba to be back to his old self right away, but the good news is that in a bullpen with Rafael Soriano and David Robertson, he won’t be relied upon to pitch in high-leverage situations immediately. If he earns those innings with his performance, great, but if he has some struggles as expected, they will hopefully be in fairly low-pressure situations.
Is Russell Martin this bad?
Russell Martin’s offensive production has fallen off across the board compared to 2011, and he is currently batting below the Mendoza line with an anemic .181 average. After being exactly league average in 2011 (100 wRC+), Martin has fallen to being 20% worse than the average hitter (80 wRC+). Outside of a strong couple of games against the Mets, Martin really hasn’t put together a strong stretch this season that might give hope that he is starting to come out of it. The unfortunate sign is that Martin’s struggles have actually lasted longer than this season. He started strong in 2011, but his numbers dipped dramatically after the first two months. When we see a player struggle for this long, there is always concern about whether the player is in decline or injured. While the 29 year-old Martin seems too young to be over the hill, the physical toll of catching every day could accelerate this decline. I am hopeful that Martin can improve, but not optimistic that he will. If there is any consolation here, it is that his contract is up at the end of the 2012 season, and the Yankees caught a break by having Martin turn down their 3-year extension offer in the offseason. This also means that the Yankees will likely be in search of a new catcher for the 2013 season.
During the next few days we’ll take some time to review the first half of the season and look at which Yankees are meeting expectations, exceeding expectations, and falling short of expectations. What else is the All-Star break good for?
The Yankees head into the All-Star break with the best record in baseball at 52-33 despite having only played 14 games against teams with a losing record. I guess that’s what happens when all but three AL teams have a .500+ record, including every club in the AL East. Despite that win-loss record, the Yankees don’t seem to have clicked on all cylinders yet. The bullpen carried them in April, the rotation carried them in May and June, and the offense has shown flashes of being dominant but hasn’t really 100% clicked yet. That means there is still room for improvement. Here are the players who have been performing in line with preseason expectations…
At this time last year, the Cap’n was really just starting to get going. He hit a weak .270/.340/.370 in 2010 and was sitting on a .260/.324/.324 batting line when a calf injury forced him to the disabled list last June. The injury proved to be a blessing in disguise for Jeter, who worked with hitting coordinator Gary Denbo at staying back on the ball. He hit .331/.384/.447 after returning on Independence Day and he’s carried that success over into 2012.
Now, obviously the 38-year-old shortstop wasn’t going to hit that well all season, but Jeter has posted a rock solid .308/.354/.411 batting line in the first half this year. He had a huge April, a so-so May, and a poor June before picking things back up in early-July. Derek has already hit more homers this season (seven) than he did last season (six), and he’s on a similar stolen base pace (seven in nine chances so far). As you’d expect, most of his damage is coming against lefties (.381/.405/.552) but at least he’s putting up more of a fight against righties (.278/.333/.353) than he did in 2010 and the first half of 2011.
Curtis Granderson & Robinson Cano
The Yankees two best offensive players last year have continued to be just that in 2012. Cano is right in the mix for the AL MVP award at this point thanks to his .313/.378/.578 line and 20 homers, exactly what we’ve come to expect from Robbie over the last few years. He’s unquestionably the best player on the best team in baseball and is in the middle of a career year, both at the plate and in the field. Despite a slow start in April, Cano continues to be brilliant.
Granderson has shown that last season’s power spike was no fluke, carrying a team leading 23 dingers into the break. He ranks fourth in the AL in long balls and is just a touch behind last season’s pace, when he went deep 25 times in the team’s first 85 games. Granderson’s .248/.352/.502 batting line is second only to Cano in its gaudiness, and he’s currently walking in a career best 13.1% of his plate appearances, the eighth best walk rate in the league. His strikeout rate (25.9%, eighth in the AL) is also a career high, but you take the bad with the good. When Curtis stops hitting the ball out of the park and getting on-base, the whiffs will become more of an issue.
CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda & Ivan Nova
Given the uncertainty surrounding Phil Hughes, these three came into the season as the guys Joe Girardi would rely on for quality outings once every five days. Sabathia has battled his fastball command all season long but he still carries a 3.45 ERA and 3.21 FIP into the All-Star break. His strikeout (8.83 K/9 and 23.1 K%), walk (2.44 BB/9 and 6.4 BB%), and ground ball (49.8%) rates are right in line with last season, his best in New York. A minor groin strain landed Sabathia on the DL for the first time in pinstripes but he’s expected back right after the break.
Kuroda got tagged with the inconsistent label early on but has been a rock since late-April, allowing no more than two earned runs in ten of his last 14 starts. His 3.50 ERA is the 13th best in the junior circuit and the peripherals are solid as well: 4.07 FIP, 6.92 K/9 (18.4 K%), 2.67 BB/9 (7.1 BB%), and 47.4% grounders. Kuroda’s given the team exactly the kind of stability they expected when they signed him to that one-year, $10M pact last offseason.
Following last night’s grind-it-out win, Nova has already struck out more batters this season (100) than he did a year ago (98) in 55.1 fewer innings (232 fewer batters faced). An early-season bout of homeritis — 12 homers in his first nine starts but just five in his last eight — has his ERA at 3.92 (4.32 FIP), but that has been coming down steadily over the last two months. Nova is missing bats (8.16 K/9 and ), limiting walks (2.69 BB/9 ), getting ground balls (48.3%), and soaking up innings (110.1 IP, 11th in the AL). He’s taken a nice big step forward in his second full season.
Andruw Jones, Jayson Nix & Chris Stewart
The Yankees aren’t usually known for their bench players, but this season they’ve gotten some fantastic work out of their reserves. No one is having a truly awful year off the bench, especially after Andruw Jones clubbed four homers in the two-day span this weekend. He’s hitting .244/.326/.535 with 11 homers overall, including .253/.305/.529 with seven homers against lefties.
Nix took over once Eduardo Nunez‘s defense landed him back in Triple-A, and although his .221/.284/.412 line is nothing to write home about, he’s done most of his damage against lefties .256/.293/.436 in sort of a platoon/rest the regulars role. I’ve also been pleasantly surprised by his defense, particularly at short. He’s not great, but he’s not an embarrassment. Offensive expectations for Stewart were so low that his empty .256/.276/.293 batting line feels like a win. His defense hasn’t been as great as advertised but overall, he’s a solid backup that has probably gotten a little too much playing time in the first half (has started 30% of the team’s games).
David Robertson, Boone Logan & Clay Rapada
The bullpen has continued to be a strength for the Yankees, just as it has been for the last three or four years now. They’ve pitched to a 3.20 ERA (3.37 FIP) as a unit, and it’s even more impressive when you consider that Mariano Rivera threw only 8.1 innings before blowing out his knee shagging fly balls in May. Robertson missed a month with an oblique strain but his strikeout (14.59 K/9 and 38.1 K%) and walk (4.38 BB/9 and 11.4 BB%) rates have actually been better than his breakout campaign a year ago. He’s run into more trouble than usual lately, but he wasn’t going to sustain what he did last year anyway. Robertson remains highly effective and one of the game’s most dominant late-inning relievers.
Logan stepped up in a huge way when Robertson hit the DL and the workload has been catching up to him of late; he’s pitched in 43 of the team’s 85 games, the most appearances in baseball. His 3.77 ERA (3.55 FIP) is backed up by a sky-high strikeout rate (11.90 K/9 and 30.6 K%) and he’s held left-handed hitters to a .235/.293/.397 batting line. His lefty specialist counterpart has been effective since being plucked off the scrap heap, as Rapada has held same-side hitters to a .150/.246/.217 line that is essentially identical to his .152/.250/.219 career performance. If anything, you can probably make a strong argument that he’s exceeded expectations, same with Nova, Cano, and Kuroda (considering the league switch).
Ivan Nova gets the ball for the Yankees tonight coming off his best start of the season thanks to an adjustment that led to an increase in ground balls. That isn’t the only adjustment the 25-year-old right-hander has made this year, however. In a (free!) piece at Baseball Prospectus, R.J. Anderson looked at how Nova has pitched backwards and used more first pitch breaking balls to keep hitters off balance. He also spoke to someone within the organization who confirmed that the adjustment was a conscious decision and not just small sample size noise.
The Yankees have gotten some pretty stellar starting pitching during this 13-4 stretch — 3.03 ERA with a 3.96 K/BB — and Nova is a big part of that. Only twice in the last 21 games has a started failed to complete six innings, and Ivan’s a guy that can chew up some serious innings with his quick ground balls. The mechanical adjustment as well as the game plan adjustment should help him with that. Make sure you check out the BP article, as I said it’s free for everyone. No subscription needed.
Ivan Nova pitched poorly in Anaheim last week. So poorly that I said the Yankees needed to consider sending him to the minors if he didn’t start to show improvement and soon. Nova showed improvement last night and then some, holding the Rays to one garbage time run across eight innings of work. After allowing five runs in 6.2 innings to the Halos last time out, it was a very welcome sight.
“After the game in Anaheim I had a nice conversation with Robbie Cano,” said Nova after last night’s game. “He was telling me I had to start pitching good. I had to be ready. I had to prepare myself more if I need it. (Andy Pettitte), even when he came out of the game [on Tuesday], he told me, ‘Your turn tomorrow.’ He was waiting for me to pitch today, even though he pitched. He came out and the first thing he said was, ‘Your turn tomorrow.’ That motivates you when guys like that want you to do good.
More than anything else, what stood out last night was Nova’s ability to induce the ground ball. He came into the start with a 44.8% ground ball rate — down from 52.7% last year — but generated a season-high 13 ground ball outs for the second straight outing. Nine of those 13 ground balls came off the fastball, which is vintage Nova. After getting a grounder on 53.42% of all balls-in-play off his fastball last year, that rate was down to just 43.75% prior to last night. Getting the heat down had been the problem all season, until Nova appears to have made an adjustment to get back to being the guy he’s supposed to be.
“He has an understanding of what he needs to get done. He wasn’t kidding himself,” said pitching coach Larry Rothschild last night. “Sometimes, with young pitchers, they will delude themselves into thinking other things, but he knew. He knew he wasn’t throwing the ball the way he can and making the pitches that he should. That’s the start of making some adjustments. If you don’t feel like you need to do that, you’re not going to do it. But he knew after the game he needed to make some adjustments both mentally and physically and he did it tonight.”
The Yankees have won ten of their last 13 games and two of those losses were imminently winnable walk-off defeats. This recent success has started on the mound with the starting pitchers, who pitched poorly as a group for the first six weeks of the season before turning things around of late. During this 13-game stretch, the rotation has pitched to a 3.22 ERA in 99.1 IP with a stellar 3.47 K/BB ratio. Compare that to a 4.93 ERA and a 2.78 K/BB ratio earlier in the season. It’s just a massive difference. Getting quality starting pitching every time out makes life so much easier.
Andy Pettitte’s return has helped solidify things, ditto Phil Hughes‘ recent turn around — he’s allowed two earned runs or less in four of his last five starts. Hiroki Kuroda has been tagged with the “inconsistent” label but has surrendered no more than three earned runs in seven of his last starts. That’s exactly what was expected of him coming into the season. CC Sabathia provides quality bulk innings like few others; I don’t need to tell you that. One start does not mean Nova is out of the woods of course, but he looked better last night than he has at any other point this season. If he’s made the necessary adjustment to keep the fastball down, the Yankees will be running a quality arm out there game after game and the wins will follow.
The Yankees won the game, but Ivan Nova turned in another poor start last night. It was the fifth time he’s allowed at least five runs in his last seven starts, raising his season rates to a 5.60 ERA and a 5.00 FIP. The homer by Mark Trumbo and the double by Mike Trout were the 39th and 40th extra-base hits he’s allowed, respectively, the most in the game and just 12 fewer than last year even though he’s faced 426 fewer hitters. Between Nova and Phil Hughes — 5.64 ERA and 5.04 FIP — the Yankees have been fighting an uphill battle twice every five day.
Nova’s problem continues to be his command and propensity to miss up and out over the plate, a problem that was evident in Spring Training. We’re ten starts and 62.2 innings into the regular season now, we’re starting to reach the point where something has to be done. Most guys with Nova’s numbers find themselves back in Triple-A and frankly, the Yankees sent him down for less last season. It doesn’t have to happen today, but the time to seriously consider a demotion is fast approaching.
With David Robertson expected to return soon — he’s slated to throw off a mound on Saturday for the first time since suffering his oblique strain — the Yankees will be getting some much quality bullpen depth back. His return will make it easier for them to temporarily slide David Phelps into the rotation since they won’t need him in the higher leveraged role he’s been working the last two or three weeks. Heck, you can make an argument that Ramon Ortiz would be a better stopgap starter. He’s been great in Triple-A lately and they might be able to squeeze a few decent starts out of him against NL clubs during the upcoming interleague schedule before casting him aside.
Anyway, this isn’t about punishing Nova or anything like that. It’s about getting him back on track as soon as possible so he can help the team win for the stretch drive. The longer they wait to take action, the more Bad Ivan starts they’ll get and they can’t really afford that given the ultra-competitive AL East. Hughes obviously deserves the same treatment, but a) I think Nova is far more likely to rebound, and b) I’m not sure they have to rotation depth to send both guys down simultaneously. Nova took his demotion like a champ last season and came back a better pitcher for it, so I’m hopeful the same will happen in this case.
They say the first third of the season if for evaluation, the second third is for making changes, and the final third is for riding those changes out. Well, we’re exactly four team games shy of the one-third point of the campaign, and the time to make changes is fast approaching. The Yankees can give Nova another start or two to show improvement before Robertson returns to shore up the bullpen, but if things don’t start to turn around soon, they’re going to have to do something. Getting Nova back to being the pitcher we know he can be is a top priority. The sooner he gets back on track the better, but at some point the Yankees have to determine if the solution to their rotation woes is in-house before the trade deadline approaches.
Ivan Nova‘s journey from amateur to prospect to big leaguer is a unique one, partly because he wasn’t a high-profile player who signed for a lot of money as a teenager. ESPN’s Jorge Arangure chronicled Nova’s journey, explaining how he transitioned from position player to pitcher with some help from his father, who woke him up for 5am workouts every day. He spent two weeks working out for the Red Sox at age 16, but says “I really didn’t want to sign with Boston … My father and I were both Yankee fans.”
Interestingly enough, the article explains that Nova is working on a new changeup grip with pitching coach Larry Rothschild because he shelved the pitch for much of last season and lost feel for it. He uses the new pitch sparingly (6.9% according to PitchFX) and both Nova and Rothschild say it’s a root cause of his homerun problem — PitchFX confirms that five of the ten homers he’s allowed this season have come off that new changeup. Arangure’s article is a great read and gets RAB’s highest level of recommendation. Make sure you check it out.
Five questions and four answers this week, and I tried to keep it short but mostly failed. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar if you want to send us anything, mailbag questions or otherwise.
Shaun asks: Do you guys think David Robertson will automatically get the closer’s job when he returns? I hope Rafael Soriano flourishes in the role he is most comfortable and we can have Robertson back to Houdini!
That’s exactly what I hope happens. I want Soriano to pitch well regardless of inning, but I hope he really takes to the closer role and dominates so they can use Robertson a little more liberally in the seventh and eighth innings. The Yankees did bump Soriano back to the seventh inning following his DL stint last season because Robertson was dominant, so I hope history kinda sorta repeats itself.
Jay asks: What team has a need for 2nd base? I would think Eduardo Nunez could start on a lot of teams and contribute; just as the Yankees are thinking, putting him in one position could help his defense.
Middle infielders around baseball are just awful these days, so I’m sure a number of clubs would have interest in Nunez as an everyday guy despite his complete lack of defensive value. I know I’d rather take a chance on him than sign someone like the recently released Orlando Hudson.
Nunez has a 95 wRC+ in 450 career big league plate appearances, so he’s fallen just short of league average offensive production. His career Triple-A performance is similar and that’s basically the guy you’re going to get. Nunez will hit for a average but not power, make a ton of contact, and steal a bunch of bases. That’s what most middle infielders do, though at least he offers a chance at improvement at 25 years old. He’s still two years why of his peak, in theory.
The problem with trading Nunez right now is that his value is way down. The Yankees had to send him down because his defense was unplayable and that dropped his stock. We know other clubs — specifically the Mariners and Braves — have had interest in him in the past and I’m sure they’ve love to buy low now. Unless we’re talking about a multi-player package to acquire a star-caliber player, the Yankees are probably better off holding on to Nunez rather than take whatever uninteresting prospects clubs offer in a trade.
Tim asks: Chances or what do you think of the inconsistent Ivan Nova being sent down and Banuelos put in the NYY rotation in his place?
Jeff asks: Is it insane to think that Manny Banuelos can pitch his way into the big league rotation sometime this year?
Gonna lump these two together and will start with the Banuelos part. Yes, I think he could pitch his way into the rotation later this season. I thought there was a chance he would do it last year, but then he had to pull a Dellin Betances impression with the walk rate. Banuelos’ performance has been very encouraging following his return from the lat injury — 15 strikeouts an zero walks in 14.2 IP — but he’s not out of the woods yet. Three starts don’t erase the last year’s worth of command problems. He’s got to continue to show improvement and if he keeps looking like the Banuelos of old (meaning 2008-2010), then I could definitely see him cracking the rotation in the second half.
As for Nova, I also think there’s a chance he could be sent down at some point. Heck, they send him down for less last summer. Obviously this right foot and ankle injury complicates things a bit, but he had a very obvious problem leaving pitches up and thus getting hammered for extra-base hits before the injury. Nova leads the league extra-base hits allowed (32) and has allowed eleven (!) more than any other pitcher who’s made no more than seven starts. Hopefully he shakes off the ankle problem and starts getting pitches down, but if he doesn’t improve and we’re in the middle of June or something, an assignment to Triple-A has to be a consideration. If Banuelos happens to keep pitching well and shows improved command, he’d be the obvious candidate to take Nova’s spot.
Shai asks: Why are good lefty starters worth more than good righty starters? Aren’t there more (good) righty hitters in baseball? I understand the value of a LOOGY but shouldn’t righty starters be worth more?
It’s just a supply and demand thing. There’s roughly a 75-25 split between righties and lefties around the league these days (both starters and reliever), so there are just fewer quality left-handers to be had. Lefties are an even higher prior for the Yankees than other teams because of the short right field porch at Yankee Stadium. That’s really all there is to it. There are fewer great lefties around than great righties, so the southpaws are more valuable. Same reason great shortstops are more valuable than great first baseman.