Archive for Ivan Nova
Our season preview series continues this week with the starting rotation, though the format will change just slightly. Since there’s no clear starter/backup/depth lineage when it comes to starting pitchers, we’ll instead look at each type of pitcher — ace, number two, back-end, etc. — at different levels.
Fifth starters are usually among the most discussed members of pitching staff because they tend to stink and we’re always talking about replacing them. A lot of Backup Quarterback Syndrome goes around as well — the guy in Triple-A can’t possible be any worse, right? Well, yeah. He can. Given how much the Yankees will rely on their pitching staff to keep them in the race this summer, they’ll need their fifth starter(s) to pitch like someone far better than typical back-end cannon fodder.
For the first time in a while, the Yankees have two legitimate fifth starter candidates. I’m not talking about guys who we think could be fifth starters, I mean guys who have actually pitched in the big leagues and have some kind of track record. Pretty much every team has some mid-20s college draftee in Triple-A who fans think could step right into the rotation and the Yankees are no different. Big league experience is a separator for New York this summer.
The more senior of the two fifth starter candidates is 26-year-old Ivan Nova, who followed up his strong rookie season (3.70 ERA and 4.01 FIP in 165.1 innings) with a nightmare sophomore campaign (5.02 ERA and 4.60 FIP in 170.1 innings) last summer. He led baseball in extra-base hits allowed (87) and was second among qualified starters in opponent’s ISO (.223) and OPS+ (130). Despite very promising improvements in the strikeout (8.08 K/9 and 20.5 K%) and walk (2.96 BB/9 and 7.5 BB%) rate departments, Nova’s performance suffered because every one of his mistakes were punished. His lack of deception led to pretty much every hittable pitch being hit and hit hard.
In an effort to correct that problem, Nova and pitching coach Larry Rothschild have worked on a new, shorter arm action this spring. Mariano Rivera has also been in Nova’s ear and making sure he knows he has work hard to remain in the show. The right-hander has pitched well in camp — five runs with nine strikeouts and two walks in 14 innings across four starts — but we all know that doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things. It is certainly better than getting pounded of course, especially since Ivan’s rough spring last year (8.06 ERA in 22.1 innings) was a sign of things to come.
The less experience of the two fifth starter candidates is 26-year-old David Phelps, who put up a solid 3.34 ERA and 4.32 FIP in 99.2 innings as a swingman last summer. He pitched to a 2.76 ERA in 22 relief appearances and a 3.77 ERA in 11 starts, but it’s worth noting he always seemed to be on a pitch count as a starter because he’d just been yanked out of the bullpen. Phelps posted strong strikeout (8.67 K/9 and 23.2 K%) and walk (3.43 BB/9 and 9.2 BB%) rates, but was a little fly ball (42.9% grounders) and homer (1.26 HR/9 and 13.6% HR/FB). Given the constant back-and-forth between the bullpen and rotation and the fact that he was a rookie pitcher in a small park in the AL East, there’s no doubt Phelps impressed last year.
The right-hander showed up to camp early and has been ahead of his fellow pitchers — and opposing hitters — pretty much all spring. Prior to last night’s shellacking he’d allowed five runs with a dozen strikeouts and four walks in 19 innings this spring, a performance that was basically right in line with Nova’s. If the Yankees are truly deciding their fifth starter based on Grapefruit League performance, there’s no clear-cut favorite right now. Of course, the Yankees have a history of fake Spring Training competitions and there’s a good chance all of this fifth starter stuff is a farce.
Based on nothing in particular, I believe the job is Nova’s to lose. The Yankees know he can handle starting every five days physically and have already seen what he can do when he’s commanding the ball. They should figure out whey Nova was unable to carry his success from the second half of 2011 over into 2012, and that’s probably not something he could do in the bullpen. Phelps was never in the rotation for more than one continuous months last year, so who knows what he’ll do over the a full season starting every five days. The Yankees need certainty from their rotation this year and Phelps is more of a question mark.
That said, both of these guys are going to get an opportunity — probably many, really — to start this year. Phil Hughes‘ back is already acting up and there’s a chance he’ll start the season on the DL. CC Sabathia is coming off offseason elbow surgery and Andy Pettitte hasn’t thrown more than 130 innings in four years. Almost no team ever makes it through the season with just five starters, so the smart money is on both Nova and Phelps making a whole bunch of starts this year. If Nova wins the job in camp but doesn’t pitch well during the regular season, I don’t think the Yankees would hesitate much to replace him. This fifth starter competition might be a year-long thing.
Knocking on the Door
The Yankees have a few back-end types slated for the Triple-A Scranton rotation, specifically righties Brett Marshall and Adam Warren and lefty Vidal Nuno. Marshall and Warren were discussed in earlier season preview posts, but the 25-year-old Nuno has opened eyes in camp by allowing one run in 17.1 total innings. The Yankees plucked him out an independent league two years ago and the left-hander told Chad Jennings the team’s minor league coaching staff with helping him develop a cutter and changeup, which he now considers his two best pitchers. Nuno is a soft-tosser without much margin for error, which can be a scary thing in a small ballpark, but he’s made a name for himself this spring and that’s pretty much the best thing he could have done. He never had any chance to make the team.
The Top Prospect
We’ve talked about most of them these past few days — Marshall, Warren, Nuno, Matt Tracy, Nik Turley, etc. — so there’s not much to add here. Most fifth starters tend to be prospects who fell short of a higher ceiling, so there is not such thing as a true “top” fifth starter prospects. It’s almost like being a DH. It’s a fallback spot more than anything. The Yankees have some nice rotation inventory in the upper level of the minors but few (none?) of those project to be real impact starters in the show. I guess that makes they fifth starter prospects by default.
The Deep Sleeper
I’m going to take this opportunity to highlight 20-year-old left-hander Chaz Hebert, who signed for $148k as the team’s 27th round pick in 2011. He didn’t crack my preseason top 30 prospects list, but he took step forward in his development last summer and posted a 2.52 ERA (2.44 FIP) with 30 strikeouts and just four walks in 25 innings for the rookie level Gulf Coast league affiliate. He’s a low-90s fastball guy with a hilariously slow A.J. Griffin-esque mid-60s curveball, something he’ll have to firm up to succeed at the higher levels. Hebert is more sleeper than legit prospect, but command of the fastball and a novelty breaking ball can get you pretty far in life.
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The Yankees are fortunate to have two legitimate fifth starter candidates at the big league level and plenty of back-of-the-rotation depth in the Triple-A. You’d rather have projected aces obviously, but New York is in a much *much) better place pitching-wise now that it was six or seven years ago. They haven’t had to scramble for a Shawn Chacon or Aaron Small type for a few seasons now and that doesn’t figure to change now. Phelps and Nova give the team some options and competition is generally a good thing — those two will hopefully push each other all season long.
Via George King: Ivan Nova has been working on a new, shorter arm action early in camp as he hopes to move beyond his struggles from last summer. “It was something we worked on before Spring Training,” said pitching coach Larry Rothschild. “He actually had done it with his curveball a lot. That made it a little bit easier to introduce.”
Nova, 26, looked very sharp in his Grapefruit League debut over the week, specifically because he was pounding the bottom of the zone (22 of 27 pitches were strikes). His improved strikeout and walk rates were very encouraging last year, but it seemed like every mistake pitch he made was clobbered for extra bases. That needs to be fixed. “New pitching mechanics” stories are on par with “best shape of his life” stories this time of year, so we’re going to need to see a lot more before we can declare Nova cured of whatever ailed him in the second half. This weekend’s performance was encouraging and it’s good to know there’s some work going on behind the scenes.
February 24th: Cashman misspoke and confirmed to Jack Curry that Cervelli does not have an option remaining. He also indicated the guys who can’t be sent to the minors without passing through waivers (Cervelli and Stewart) have a leg up in the catching competition. That’s not terribly surprising.
February 9th: Via Chad Jennings: Brian Cashman confirmed that Frankie Cervelli has a minor league option remaining. I was under the assumption that he burned his final option last season, but that wasn’t the case. The Yankees will be able to send Cervelli to Triple-A this year without having to pass him through waivers, which is kinda big considering the wide open catching race. The internal options all stink, but it would be nice to keep everyone around just in case.
Cashman also confirmed that Cody Eppley, Eduardo Nunez, and Ivan Nova have an option left as well. Chris Stewart and Clay Rapada do not, but both are expected to make the team anyway. Both Juan Rivera and Matt Diaz can opt out of their minor league contracts if they don’t make the team out of Spring Training while Dan Johnson’s opt-out date is later in the summer. Unlike the Ivan Nova-David Phelps competition for the fifth starter’s spot, the Yankees will only be able to keep the winner of the Rivera-Diaz competition for the right-handed bench bat role. The loser figures to look for a big league job elsewhere.
Last Friday, Buster Olney (Insider req’d) put together a post listing eight things that must go right for the Yankees in 2013. Most of them are obvious, like CC Sabathia having a strong season and Mariano Rivera returning to form, but I figured this was a good chance to piggyback on his idea and list some things I believe must go right for the club this year. I’m talking about big picture stuff, not just things that will help them contend in 2013.
Olney listed eight items, but I’m only going six deep. These aren’t listed in order of importance or anything like that, just in the order they came to me. They’re all important, but some are obviously more important than others.
The Yankees have three starting pitchers scheduled to become free agents after the season — Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, and Phil Hughes — and the plan to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold in 2014 means they won’t be able to go crazy on the free agent market next winter. Getting something out of Michael Pineda in the second half would obviously be helpful, but it’ll be just as important for either Nova or Phelps to step forward and solidify themselves as long-term starters. Finding a cheap starter in the organization is a necessity to remain competitive once payroll is slashed.
2. Austin Romine must stay healthy.
Romine is likely to open the season in Triple-A while Chris Stewart and Frankie Cervelli make us want to claw our eyes out at the big league level, which is the best thing for his development. The 24-year-old has caught just 103 total games over the last two years due to persistent back problems, so he’s lost a lot of development time at a crucial age. Gary Sanchez is still several years away, so Romine is the organization’s best hope for a productive catcher in the near future. He needs to actually stay healthy for that to happen, so a full season in 2013 is imperative for his long-term future.
Rivera is a baseball playing robot and I expect him to have little trouble being productive following knee surgery. David Robertson is as good a setup man as you’ll find in the game, and the left-handed duo of Boone Logan and Clay Rapada is one of the better LOOGY tandems in baseball. The middle innings — fifth, sixth, and seventh, basically — fall on the shoulders of two pitchers who have combined to throw 50.1 innings over the last two seasons.
Joba, 27, struggled when he came off the DL at the trade deadline but finished the season very well, allowing just one earned run and one walk against 17 strikeouts in his final 13 innings of the season. It’s not a guarantee he’ll pitch well in 2013 of course, but it is encouraging. Aardsma made one late-season appearance and will be coming off two lost years due to elbow and hip surgery. The Yankees can get by if one of these two flames out and is unable to find his form from a few years ago, but getting nothing from both would create some major bullpen headaches.
4. Ichiro Suzuki must produce on an extreme, either good or bad.
The Yankees handed out just one multi-year contract this offseason, deciding the 39-year-old Ichiro was worthy of that kind of commitment. It’s my belief the deal was motivated by off-field factors — merchandise and ticket sales, advertising opportunities, increased popularity in Japan, etc. — and not so much his expected on-field performance. The late-season hot streak was nice and all, but Ichiro has managed just a .277/.308/.361 batting line in his last 1,384 plate appearances. Consider me skeptical.
So, what the club needs most from Suzuki next year is an extreme performance. He either needs to hit the cover off the ball like he did down the stretch and make me look like an idiot, or he needs to play so poorly the club will have no choice but to replace him. Splitting the middle and treading water won’t help, it just means he’ll remain in the lineup and be a question mark heading into 2014. Ichiro needs to erase doubt this summer, either by hitting so well they have to keep him or by hitting so poorly they have to dump him.
Every team needs their top prospects to stay healthy for obvious reasons, and the Yankees have three of their best minor leaguers coming off major injuries. Williams (shoulder) missed the second half following surgery while Campos (elbow) barely pitched in 2012. Heathcott (shoulder) missed the first half following his second surgery in as many offseasons and has yet to play more than 76 games in a single season. All three are among the team’s very best prospects and if the Yankees are serious about sticking to a budget, they’re going to need cheap production. That isn’t limited to plugging these guys into the roster down the line either, they need to stay healthy to boost potential trade value as well.
6. Alex Rodriguez must hit at least 13 homers.
Despite all the recent PED stuff, I’m working under the assumption A-Rod will rejoin the team around the All-Star break because that’s what the doctors (and the Yankees!) said following his latest hip surgery. If they’re able to void or otherwise shed his contract, great. But I’ll believe it when I see it.
Anyway, A-Rod is currently sitting on 647 career homers and is 13 away from triggering the first of five $6M homerun milestones in his contract. Triggering that bonus in 2013 — the next homer bonus would then be 54 homers away, a total even in-his-prime Alex would have trouble reaching in one year — gives the team another $6M to spend under the luxury tax threshold in 2014. It doesn’t sound like much, but $6M does go a long way. It’s enough to add an $18M player at the trade deadline. I don’t care anything about this latest PED stuff, I care about A-Rod reaching this first homer bonus this summer to give the team more flexibility next year.
The Yankees have been very active on the free agent market this offseason, though it’s easy to forget since most of the signings were re-signings. Kevin Youkilis is the only new player the team has signed this winter, and they still have questions to answer at DH, behind the plate (unlikely to be addressed in a meaningful way), and on the bench. There’s a lot of offseason left and a lot of holes to fill.
For a big market team like New York, free agency is the easiest way to add players. There’s always the trade route though, and in fact the club has swung a major trade in four of the last five offseasons. Some (Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson) have worked better than others (Michael Pineda and Javy Vazquez). The Yankees may or may not have a trade of that magnitude left in them this winter, but not every deal has to be a blockbuster to help. Let’s take stock of the team’s current crop of trade chips.
Logan, 28, has emerged as the team’s primary left-handed reliever over the last two years, but in no way should he be off limits this offseason. In fact, Clay Rapada has been much more effective against same-side hitters in recent years, though he’s unusable against righties. Logan can at least fake it against batters of the opposite hand if need be. Since he’s due to become a free agent next winter and is coming off a career-high (and league-leading) 80 appearances, Boone should be made very available this winter. Teams continually prove willing to overpay for quality relief, especially a left-handed relief.
For all his defensive deficiencies, the 25-year-old Nunez has garnered plenty of trade interest (from the Braves and Mariners, specifically) in recent years. Finding decent middle infield help these days is close to impossible, so teams are eager to roll the dice on a cheap young player with speed and contact skills. Frankly, if Nunez had spent the last few years in some other city, a lot of Yankees fans would be looking at him as a buy-low guy whose defense might be fixable with enough reps. Because we’ve seen the hilarious frequency of his errors first hand, he gets written off quickly. C’est la vie.
Ivan Nova & David Phelps
The Yankees brought both Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte back, meaning Nova and Phelps will battle it out for the fifth starter’s spot in camp. The loser goes to the bullpen (or Triple-A) to wait his turn as the sixth starter. Both guys could also be trade bait as young, cost-controlled back-end arms, though both also have their warts. Nova got pounded last season and Phelps has just a handful of big league starts to his credit.
Phil Hughes could also be lumped into this group, but he only offers one year of team control and is being counted on as the fourth starter behind the three veterans. He shouldn’t be off-limits, but he might not fetch as much as the team would like given the impending free agency. Hughes is most desirable to contenders, and it’s not often you see a trade made between two contenders.
Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott, Gary Sanchez & Tyler Austin
You can’t have a trade chips post without mentioning the top prospects. These four represent the team’s best young minor leaguers in whatever order, though none of them have meaningful experience at the Double-A level. For all intents and purposes, they’re four high-upside guys in Single-A ball. As we’ve seen in the recent R.A. Dickey and James Shields trades, it takes an elite prospect on the cusp of the big leagues to land an impact player. Teams will surely line up to acquire these four, but I don’t think any of them would be enough to bring say, a young and MLB ready impact bat without significant secondary pieces. Twelve months from now, one or all of these guys could be among the best trade chips in the sport.
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Curtis Granderson’s name has popped up as a trade candidate numerous times this offseason, though I maintain that it will be close to impossible to trade him and improve the team at the same time. The Yankees didn’t drop $62M total on five free agents this winter to trade their best power hitter for a young player who might help two or three years from now, potentially wasting a year of CC Sabathia at his best, of Robinson Cano at his best, of David Robertson at his best, of Pettitte and Mariano Rivera before they call it a career. With the 2014 payroll plan looming, making one last “all-in” run in 2013 should be the club’s top priority even if they seem to feel differently.
The Winter Meetings officially come to a close today, and the rumor mill should start to dry up around noon (probably sooner) after the clubs flee the Gaylord Opryland. The two biggest free agents (Zack Greinke & Josh Hamilton) are still on the board and the Yankees haven’t done a thing other than announce Alex Rodriguez‘s new hip injury. Somehow they’re actually going to leave this week with more questions than when it started.
The Rule 5 Draft starts at 10am ET and I’ll have a liveblog up for that, but otherwise this is your thread for various Yankees-related rumblings throughout the day. Here are Monday’s, Tuesday’s, and Wednesday’s rumors. All times are ET.
- 3:49pm: The Yankees have not contacted the Padres about Chase Headley, which is a little surprising. Even though San Diego says he’s off-limits, you’d think they’d at least ask to hear it from the horse’s mouth. [Chad Jennings]
- 12:06pm: The Yankees spoke to the Mets about R.A. Dickey this week, but apparently they didn’t have the right pieces to swing a trade. I can’t imagine the PR hit the Mets would have taken had they dealt the reigning Cy Young Award winner to the Bronx. [Andy Martino]
- 10:53am: The Yankees did not inquire on Michael Young because they don’t believe he can handle third base full-time. Can’t say I disagree. [Joel Sherman]
- 10:49am: Cashman met with reporters during the Rule 5 Draft and said he’s been engaged in trades more than free agents so far. [Chad Jennings]
- 8:40am: Curtis Granderson is one of five players the Phillies are targeting for their center field opening. It’s unclear if (or how much) the two sides have talked and what Philadelphia could give up in return. [Danny Knobler]
- 8:00am: Agents who have spoken to the Yankees get the impression that a clamp has been placed on the team’s spending. Brian Cashman is supposedly frustrated by his inability to act and is working with ownership to see what he can spend. This is ridiculous. [Joel Sherman]
- Veteran infielder Alex Gonzalez is in the team’s mix of third base candidates. The 35-year-old has some pop, but he’s a sub-.300 OBP candidate. Gonzalez is coming off surgery to repair a torn ACL and was considered a strong defender at short, though he’s never played a big league game at another position (even DH). The Yankees need to see him work out following surgery before discussing a contract. [George King]
- The Yankees are open to discussing Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova in trades. This isn’t that surprising, they’ve always been a team that will listen on pretty much every player. [Andrew Marchand]
All 30 managers meet with the media for 30-ish minutes during the Winter Meetings, and Joe Girardi held his Q&A session late this afternoon. It’s pretty typical of Yankees people to speak a lot of words but not actually say much, and this was no different. I don’t have the audio to share because the quality is awful, but here’s a recap…
- Girardi confirmed what Brian Cashman said yesterday, that A-Rod didn’t say anything about his hip until being pinch-hit for in Game Three of the ALCS. “His hips weren’t firing right. It wasn’t pain but he felt it was not the explosiveness … I was somewhat worried because he’d been through it on his right hip and you’d think he’d know what the feeling was like. It wasn’t firing the way he thought.”
- A-Rod went for an MRI on his right hip after the game, and when it came back clean Girardi kept playing him. He did acknowledge Alex “did look different than he did before he got hurt.” The team doesn’t know exactly when the injury happened.
- On losing A-Rod for the first half of next year: “It’s big. You go into an offseason and you feel you have to address certain areas and all of a sudden you get a little bit of a surprise. It’s a pretty big hole to fill, and it may not necessarily be (filled) with one person.”
- “I’m not sure,” said the skipper when asked about any tension in his relationship with A-Rod. “It probably answers a lot of questions — he wasn’t the Alex we saw before the injury. Now we have a reason, possibly why.”
For all intents and purposes, Ivan Nova‘s 2012 season was just short of a total disaster. Instead of taking a step forward and solidifying his spot in team’s long-term plans, he took a step back and became one of the Yankees’ biggest question marks. It’s not all bad though, he did improve his underlying performance and quite substantially as well.
Coming up through the minors, Nova never struck out more than 19.3% (7.14 K/9) of the batters he faced in a single full season. Last year, in his first full big league season, he struck out 13.9% (5.33 K/9) of batters faced. This year that jumped up to 20.5% (8.08 K/9), the 11th highest strikeout rate among qualified AL starters. He held that rate pretty steady during his brutal second half, which is oddly a good sign…
Nova’s increase in strikeouts is due to increased usage of his slider, which is something we first saw in the second half of last year. After throwing the pitch just 3.7% of the time a year ago, he upped that to 12.1% this season while scaling back the usage of his curveball and changeup. Opponents missed on nearly 40% of their swings against the pitch (39.2%, to be exact), which is far above average. That’s pretty darn close to CC Sabathia‘s slider (42.8%), just for perspective. Overall, Nova generated a swing and a miss on 9.0% of his pitches this year, up from 6.6% last year.
The strikeout rate improvement was substantial this year, and normally that would result in improved performance. For Nova, it resulted in declining performance. Tough to explain and I really don’t know how, but this isn’t a “he stinks when he strikes guys out so he should stop striking guys out” thing. His walk rate (7.5 BB% and 2.96 BB/9) was rock solid and he still got an above average amount of ground balls (45.2%), so the peripheral stats improved from 2011 to 2012. The problem was that whenever Nova wasn’t striking guys out or getting ground balls, he was giving up homers and extra-base hits. This season was a disaster for Ivan, but the increased strikeout rate (while other core stats remained steady) was certainly a nice silver lining.
I think it’s fair to say that the most positive development of the 2011 season was Ivan Nova‘s emergence as a legitimate MLB-caliber starter. The Yankees have had trouble developing starters in recent years and they needed a young, cheap arm to plug into the rotation, and Nova stepped forward to be that guy. He excelled in the second half and pitched well enough overall (3.70 ERA And 4.01 FIP in 165.1 innings) that expectations were fairly high coming into 2012. We wanted to see him take another step forward.
Instead, the 25-year-old Nova took a huge step backwards. It all started in Spring Training too, as Ivan quietly had a miserable showing in camp while everyone was focused on Michael Pineda‘s missing velocity. He allowed 21 runs and 34 baserunners in 22.1 Grapefruit League innings, a precursor of what was to come in the regular season. Nova opened the year with a solid start against the Orioles (two runs in seven innings) but struggled to keep the runs off the board after that. He pitched to a 5.60 ERA (4.90 FIP) through the end of May, allowing at least five runs in half of his first ten starts.
The month of June was much more kind to Nova, and in fact it was arguably his best month as a big leaguer. Four of his five June starts featured at least seven innings and no more than one run, including outings against the Rays, Braves, and Nationals. He closed out the first half with two nice starts, including a six-inning, two-run, ten-strikeout performance in Fenway Park immediately before the All-Star break. Nova carried a 3.92 ERA (4.19 FIP) into the break and was trending in the right direction.
That was pretty much the last time Nova was a reliable starter for the Yankees. He allowed six runs in six innings against the Angels in his first second half start, and ran off a seven-start stretch in which he allowed at six runs four times. After the White Sox tagged him for six runs in six innings on August 21st, the Yankees placed Nova on the DL after the right-hander felt a tug in his right shoulder. He was eventually diagnosed with rotator cuff inflammation that kept him on the shelf for three weeks.
Shoulder injuries are never a good thing, but since Nova’s was minor I had some hope that it would explain his struggles. That appeared to be the case in his first start back, and he held the Rays to two runs in six innings with eight strikeouts on September 15th. It didn’t last though. Nova failed to complete three innings next time out and didn’t make it out of the fifth the start after that, when it was obvious Joe Girardi had a short hook given the division race. Rather than start Game 161 against the Red Sox, the Yankees instead gave the ball to David Phelps in what was then the most important game of the season.
One year after being the number two starter behind CC Sabathia in the playoffs, the Yankees didn’t even bother to carry Nova on either their ALDS or ALCS roster in 2012. He pitched to a 5.02 ERA (4.60 FIP) overall, allowing the most extra-base hits (87), the second most doubles (52), and 12th most homers (28) in all of baseball. When he made a mistake, he paid dearly. Opponents hit .288/.349/.511 off Nova this season, so he basically turned everyone into 2012 Albert Pujols (.285/.343/.516). Yikes. I know Pujols is declining, but that doesn’t exactly make it okay.
The story on Nova coming up through the minors was that he had pretty good stuff, but he lacked command and didn’t miss as many bats as expected because his delivery lacked deception. That sounds an awful lot like the guy he was in 2012, the guy who never seemed to get the hitter to foul off a mistake pitch off or have the ball hit right at some one. Opponents teed off against him whenever he missed a spot, driving the ball to (or over) the wall for big power production. He didn’t just lead the league with 87 extra-base hits allowed, he did it while only throwing 170.1 innings. Josh Beckett had a poor year by all accounts, and he only allowed 58 extra-base hits in those same 170.1 innings.
A year ago, it was easy to consider Nova a major part of the Yankees moving forward. He was their young and cheap starting pitcher who was exceeding expectations and was on his way to becoming a rotation mainstay. Rather than continue on that path this year, he took a huge step back and became a giant question mark. Maybe the shoulder injury was more serious than the team let on and a winter of rest will get him back to normal. Maybe it was just a sophomore slump. Whatever it was, the Yankees have to hope that Ivan’s disastrous second half is not an indication of his true talent level.
The new playoff schedule has the Yankees playing five games in five days — spanning the final three games of the ALDS and the first two of the ALCS — which means they’ll have to do something creative for their Game Two starter tomorrow night. It’s not ideal but it is what it is, nothing anyone can do. Thankfully the Bombers have a number of viable options to start that game, some better and more practical than others. Joe Girardi indicated that he will announce his Game Two starter during his pre-Game One press conference this afternoon, but first let’s run through the candidates…
Hiroki Kuroda on three days’ rest
Kuroda started Game Three of the ALDS, the first of this five games in five days stretch. He threw 105 pitches across 8.1 innings on Wednesday and would have to start Game Two tomorrow on short rest, something he has never done in his MLB career. Considering his age (37) and how his career-high workload (219.1 IP) seemed to be catching up to him in September, starting Kuroda on three days’ rest seems like a risky proposition.
It’s worth noting that if the Yankees bring CC Sabathia back on short rest of Game Three (which I am absolutely in favor of doing) and do not pitch Kuroda in Game Two, he would get pushed back to Game Four and therefore only make one start in the series even if it goes the full seven games. That is not ideal at all. Kuroda is too good to limit like that.
Although he threw 27 pitches out of the bullpen on Thursday, it shouldn’t be a problem to bring Phelps back tomorrow. He started and threw 86 pitches last Tuesday, so giving the team 80 pitches if needed in the spot start doesn’t feel like too much to ask. Phelps shouldn’t worry anyone considering how well he closed out the season, with just six runs allowed in his final 21 innings. The problem here is that if the Yankees use him for the start, he won’t be available out of the bullpen until at least Game Four and maybe even Game Five. That could be problematic, especially if Joba Chamberlain‘s bruised elbow keeps him out of action for even just the first few games of the series.
Ivan Nova or Freddy Garcia
No offense to these two, but I don’t think I can make a decent case that either should start. Both pitched so poorly down the stretch that they lost their rotation spots late in the season, and it would be wishcasting to run either of them out there expecting a full 100-ish pitch start that gives the Yankees a chance to win. They are options because they’re stretched out and have experience in the postseason, but they’re more “break glass in case of emergency” options that anything else.
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The Yankees announced earlier this morning that Cody Eppley took Eduardo Nunez‘s spot on the ALCS roster, giving the team a full 12-man pitching staff. That may be an indication that they’re leaning towards Phelps for the Game Two start but it’s not a guarantee; they could have easily added the extra reliever knowing both Kuroda and Sabathia will start on short rest and might not throw as many pitches as usual.
It’s worth noting that since Monday is a travel day, running through the entire bullpen in Game Two won’t be a concern since everyone is guaranteed rest the following day. It should also be a throw day for Phil Hughes, who could pitch in relief if needed. Bringing Sabathia back for Game Three means Phil would not start until Game Four on Wednesday at the earliest. Using him for an inning or two on Sunday has to be on the table.