Ivan Nova’s last start in Detroit was symbolic of his dreadful second half for the Yankees in 2012. The Tigers beat him Aug. 6, homering twice and tagging him for seven runs and 11 hits in 5 1/3 innings.
His second-half numbers came in at 2-5 with a 7.05 ERA across 11 starts after going 10-3 with a 3.92 ERA across 17 starts.
This year, the 26-year-old righty’s first three spring outings came with a total of one run allowed. The last three came with at least four runs allowed each time. Nova’s last one, against Class A hitters March 27, came with seven runs allowed in five innings. He was trying to make mechanical adjustments, though.
Nova will make his first regular-season start Friday in Detroit. There’s the need for him to start dispelling some doubts, although Joe Girardi gave a generally positive review of his exhibition work.
“Pretty good spring,” Girardi said. “I think he had better command of his fastball. For him, it’s consistency. If he’s consistent and he’s consistently down and on the outer thirds, he’s going to be pretty good.”
Pinch hitting: Matt Hunter • 02.01.13
Next up in our Pinch Hitters series is Matt Hunter, who recently graduated from Carleton College with a degree in philosophy. He works at a software company in Madison, Wisconsin but does a lot of baseball writing for Yanks Go Yard, Big Leagues Magazine, and Beyond the Box Score.
For his post, Matt found the bright side in a disappointing season.
It’s easy to be pessimistic about Ivan Nova. His ERA jumped from 3.70 to 5.02 in one year, he gave up a whopping 87 extra base hits (compared to 52 in 2011), and he all but fell apart in the second half of the season.
But here’s the thing; I feel better about Ivan Nova’s future now than I did one year ago. You heard me. The 2012 season gave me optimism, not pessimism, about Nova.
Mind you, this is not the same as saying that Nova was better in 2012 than 2011. Why? Because there is a difference between results and talent. Nova had horrible results last season, and those results were largely a product of his performance on the field – no one is denying that. However, Nova showed significant improvement in one essential aspect of his game, an aspect that happens to be the single most important factor for predicting future pitching performance.
I’m referring to strikeouts, of course. In 2011, Ivan Nova struck out 14% of all batters that he faced. In 2012, Ivan Nova struck out 20.5% of all batters that he faced. Using raw numbers, he struck out 153 batters last season compared to only 98 in 2011, despite only pitching five more innings.
More advanced numbers back up these increased strikeouts. In 2010 and 2011, 6.8% and 6.6% of all pitches that Nova threw were swung at and missed. In 2012, that number jumped all the way to 9.0%. A 2-3% difference may not seem significant, but over the course of a season, that’s about 60 additional pitches that were swung through.
That’s nice and all, but why does it matter? Well, strikeouts are the single most stable aspect of a pitcher’s performance year to year. More stable than walks. More stable than home runs. More stable than wins or ground balls or ERA.
Being stable isn’t enough, though. After all, the number on a player’s back is stable, but that doesn’t tell us anything about the pitcher’s performance or talent. Luckily, strikeouts are not only stable, but tell us a lot about how the pitcher will do in the future. Strikeouts per nine innings has one of the strongest correlations with the following year’s ERA of all statistics. In fact, strikeout rate correlates better with ERA in the following year than ERA itself!
What does this mean for Nova? Well, first of all, we should expect him to improve if only because almost any pitcher with an ERA that poor will regress back towards the mean in the following year. However, even more than that, Nova’s significant jump in strikeout rate indicates a major improvement in his stuff which, in turn, indicates that he is primed for a bounceback year.
Associated Press photo
The Nova mystery • 11.21.12
Ivan Nova obviously has ability, but as we saw in the second half, he misplaced it somewhere. He went 2-5 with a 7.05 ERA after the All-Star break, and finished 12-8 with a 5.02 ERA and a .288 opponents batting average. Plus, the Yankees didn’t let him near the mound in the postseason.
I asked Brian Cashman during Tuesday night’s conference call about his concern level about him going forward.
The GM didn’t sound too worried.
“I feel really good about Nova,” Cashman said. “He’s a good young arm. His maiden voyage a year ago was terrific, and he finished strong. He won one of our two playoff wins the previous year. And then this year, sophomore growing pains or whatever you want to call it. But at the same time, his strikeout total soared and his walk total reduced. So it was an interesting year for him.
“The stuff is there. He’s a good, young, under-control, not-even-arbitration-eligible starter with a boatload of experience, both positive and negative. I, without a doubt, consider Nova a rotation starter in the majors. It’s just, where’s he going to slot himself as we go into 2013? At the back end or toward the middle of the rotation.
“So that’s how I look at Nova. The equipment is there. His determination is there. Like anything, you get on the right side of the mountain, when you’ve got the positive things rolling, with his ability, you can take off. If you get on the wrong side of the mountain, you have to struggle through it and fight through it. That’s how he ended up in the end, where he was on the wrong side of the mountain, probably of confidence. But that’s nothing I worry about with him. He’s a very confident guy.”
This is the link to my story today for The Journal News and LoHud.com about the positive move of re-signing Hiroki Kuroda and a quick summary of Tuesday’s happenings. But I didn’t have room for Cashman’s take on the current rotation, minus Andy Pettitte, at least for the moment:
“On paper, we do have five starters. If you go through it, you’ve got CC, Kuroda, Hughes, Nova, Phelps, but we would certainly like to add to that and lengthen it and deepen it and strengthen it.”
Cashman relieved; Jeter projection • 11.20.12
Brian Cashman had a conference call tonight with reporters in conjunction with the re-signing of Hiroki Kuroda.
“It’s a relief to know that Hiroki is back,” Cashman said. “… It’s a short-term deal that provides flexibility as we move forward and gives us an important, valuable arm to our rotation.”
Cashman didn’t have any update on Andy Pettitte’s thinking as far as a return.
He did say: “The pitching is our priority and has been our priority. So we’ll continue on those efforts.”
Cashman did talk up Ivan Nova as a starter despite his second-half struggles. He said Michael Pineda looked good recently throwing on flat ground, but that the Yankees aren’t ready to count on him yet for the rotation. He said the Yankees are still in talks with Mariano Rivera, and that he had no concerns over the closer’s reconstructed knee. Cashman also had praise for the Blue Jays’ big offseason. And here’s Cashman’s view on Derek Jeter’s return following his broken ankle.
“He’ll be our Opening Day starting shortstop,” Cashman said.
Yankees postgame: Winning the marathon • 09.22.12
This was a marathon five-hour, 43-minute roller-coaster ride at Yankee Stadium.
“It was like we played two games today,” Eduardo Nunez said.
The Yankees’ 10-9 win in 14 marked the franchise’s second-ever comeback victory from four runs down in extra innings. And it came after Baltimore had cut the lead to a half game with an extra-inning win in Baltimore. The Yankees survived despite pinch runner Melky Mesa’s baserunning problem in the 14th when he missed third and had to go back — in his MLB debut.
“I told you all along that I like the fight in these guys,” Joe Girardi said.
Raul Ibanez became the first Yankee to come on as a pinch hitter and send up at least two homers since Steve Balboni in 1990. Ibanez, who arrived with two hits in his previous 45 at-bats, had a big game with the two long balls, including the tying two-run shot in the four-run 13th, and a double in the 12th, the inning when he tried to plow over catcher Derek Norris. But Ibanez couldn’t dislodge the ball.
“He plays extremely hard,” Girardi said.
Ichiro Suzuki went 3 for 5 with two walks and a sacrifice, so he’s now at a sizzling .700 (14 for 20) over his last five games.
Ivan Nova had mixed feelings afterward. This was the shortest start of his career, 2 1/3 innings. You would think, barring injury, that Nova wouldn’t be starting in the postseason after all this erratic work, especially in the second half.
“He just didn’t seem to have his real good command,” Girardi said.
He gave up three runs, five hits — four for extra bases — and two walks.
“It’s not a good feeling,” Nova said. “… The bottom line is we won. We’re still in first place.”
The Yankees won their seventh straight to retain their one-game edge over the Orioles. There are 11 games to go.
“It’s exciting for baseball,” Girardi said.
In Sunday’s series finale, the pitching matchup will feature Hiroki Kuroda and A.J. Griffin.
Brian Heyman here for Chad today. So Mark Teixeira fielded grounders, did light jogging and took outdoor batting practice for the first time since aggravating his calf strain in Baltimore.
“Everything felt fine,” Teixeira said. “I obviously wasn’t pushing it really out there. But it was a good workout.”
Tomorrow he plans to ramp up the activity a bit more and then head for Tampa in the afternoon. He still has no timetable for a return.
“I’m just going to take it day by day,” Teixeira said. “That’s the plan this time around.”
If he’s still having problems when the first game of the playoffs gets here — the Yankees’ magic number for at least drawing a wild card is down to seven — Teixeira isn’t sure if he will be in there anyway.
“I have no idea,” Teixeira said. “It’s a decision we’ll all have to make together.”
He has concerns, like having to make a quick move to dive for a ball, having to have quick acceleration out of the box and having to push it on the basepaths.
“I want to be comfortable that I can do those things and not blow out again, because then we’re right back to square one,” Teixeira said. “The first game of the playoffs, we’re down one run and I need to beat out a double or beat out an infield hit and I blow out and I’m out for the rest of the playoffs, we’ve accomplished nothing. I just need to be able to play.”
But he says he’s improving.
“Sometimes walking up or down stairs, where I’m not being careful, it still feels a little tight, a little sore,” Teixeira said. “But overall it’s getting better. It’s progressing a little bit better each day.”
Curtis Granders0n, whose strikeout total is up to 182 and whose average is down to .232 (albeit with 39 homers and 94 RBI), is out of the lineup. “Just a day (off),” Joe Girardi said.
Girardi said he probably won’t have Rafael Soriano available for this game after he saves both ends of Wednesday’s doubleheader and blew the save last night. Soriano was experiencing what he felt was normal soreness last night. “I’m pretty sure that would go away,” Girardi said.
Girardi said he wasn’t sure if David Robertson will be available, either, after having appeared three straight days.
Ivan Nova will start today, coming off a good outing in his return to the rotation.
“We want to get him on a roll,” Girardi said.
Brett Gardner still hasn’t been activated.
The Yankees bring a one-game lead into this game.
“It’s playoff baseball in the month of September,” Girardi said. “… I think the guys are handling it very well and having fun.”
Yankees look to Nova today/morning paper • 09.15.12
Ivan Nova returns to the rotation today against the Rays, and the Yankees need him to be the guy he was in the first half of the season, considering the airtight state of this playoff race.
“Ivan, when he’s 100 percent, he can be one of the best guys out there,” Curtis Granderson said.
Nova is excited at the thought of stepping on the mound to start for the first time since Aug. 21.
“Mucho. A lot. Very excited,” Nova said. “I feel good.”
He went on the DL from Aug. 23 until Sept. 5 to recover from rotator cuff inflammation. Nova is 11-7 with a 4.92 ERA over 25 starts. He was 10-3 with a 3.92 ERA at the All-Star break. But he’s 1-4 with a 7.28 ERA in eight starts since. Nova hasn’t blamed the slump on the shoulder problems. Joe Girardi has talked about faulty fastball command.
Now Nova takes over for Freddy Garcia.
“I have a chance to do better than what I was doing in the past,” Nova said. “I’m looking forward to it. I just want to go out there and compete and do my best all the time.”
He said today “is going to be like a new start” for him.
During his downtime, Nova said he only worked on getting his shoulder well.
“I had my stuff,” Nova said. “I don’t think I have anything mechanical that I have to worry about.”
CC Sabathia has caused a few worries this season. Last night’s performance again wasn’t good enough. But Derek Jeter delivered two hits while playing on his bad ankle, passing Willie Mays for 10th on the all-time hits list with the first one. You’re welcome to check out my linked stories today for LoHud.com and The Journal News.
Same story for the Yankees, different day. Their RISP work is a problem again.
They live and die with the homer. Two solo homers and one two-run shot weren’t enough. They showed up an AL-least .218 with runners in scoring position and then went 0 for 4 in that category in the 6-4 loss to the Mets, blowing two-out opportunities in the first and second against Jon Niese and then a first-and-second, one-out opportunity against Frank Francisco in the ninth.
“You keep putting them on, eventually it’s going to change,” Joe Girardi said. “That’s all I can tell you. We are who we are. There are basketball clubs that are built around 3-point shooting and when they don’t make their 3s, they don’t win. We’re a home-run hitting club. If we hit two- and three-run homers, we usually win games.”
It didn’t help that Andy Pettitte dropped the Yankees into a 5-0 hole in the first, the most runs he had allowed in that inning since 2001.
“If you do your job, they’re not going to send you down,” he said. “I mean, I was doing my job last year and they sent me down, but I don’t say that’s the case right now. I think if you stay focused and do your job, I don’t think I have to worry about it.”
Nova makes his final spring start this afternoon against the Mets. Although the Yankees still have Michael Pineda coming back from shoulder tendinitis and Andy Pettitte coming back from a year-long retirement, Nova is confident his spot in the rotatoin is secure as long as he pitches well.
“I think there are two ways to look at it,” Joe Girardi said. “If you don’t want someone to take your job, don’t let them. (That’s) number one. And it’s like that trade deadline time, where you think you’re getting a player, you think you’re getting a player, then you don’t get it. Just take care of what’s in front of you that day. We can’t necessarily count on what we’re going to get. I know what we have, and that’s the message. Just go out and do your job.”
Of course, Nova was 8-4 with a 4.12 ERA when he was crowded out of the rotation last season.
“Last year is last year,” he said. “I can’t think about last year. We’re in a different year. It’s a new year and you’ve got to think of everything bad that happened last year and you take it away and start this new year with your head clear. … Once (Pineda)* is here, they’re going to find some way to have everybody. If they can’t have everybody, then something is going to happen, but right now I want him to be back as soon as possible.”
* Just to clarify before people get upset, Nova had been t
Associated Press photo
At his best, Ivan Nova was unhitable today, and that’s what he and the Yankees seemed to take out of this outing.
“The command that I had — my fastball, my curveball, slider, especially the changeup today — was unbelievable,” Nova said. “Every time, here in spring training, when you’re trying to work on something, and you have a good day like today – everything was working – you’ve got to take it. You’ve got to be positive on that.”
Nova retired the first 12 batters he faced, then he closed his outing with a 1-2-3 seventh inning. He needed just 76 pitches, 58 strikes, to get through seven. In the middle, there was a two-run home run in the fifth inning and a two-run single in the sixth, but the Yankees came away yet again impressed by an outing that was better than the final pitching line might suggest. Nova’s had a couple of those this spring.
“Seven innings, five of them were really, really excellent,” Joe Girardi said. “He had the two that he struggled a little bit, but I was happy with what he did.”
• Not too far away in Clearwater, Hiroki Kuroda also finished with a pretty good game. He went 5.2 innings allowing one run on six hits. Kuroda got all the way up to 89 pitches in only his fourth start. Nova was making his fifth start and said he expects to start two more before breaking camp.
• The Yankees starters have performed well since Andy Pettitte signed, but Nova said that’s more about time than timing. “I think right now, everybody is in better shape than two weeks ago,” he said. “You’re going to see a lot of good results. Everybody is going to pitch good because everybody is feeling better. Everybody has more command, and I know for sure that pitches are working better than two weeks ago. For me, I expect the guys to pitch well too. I know it’s a competition, but you need not one man, I need my teammates to pitch good and have a good spring.”
• Derek Jeter went 1-for-2 in his return to the lineup. He had a first-inning single and grounded into a double play in the third inning. “I said, ‘You were actually pretty smart today,’” Joe Girardi said. “He didn’t try to kill himself running to first, which was smart.”
• Girardi said there were no other injury updates. He said after the game that he still had not heard any results from MRI and CT scan on Joba Chamberlain’s dislocated ankle.
• Jeter on Chamberlain’s injury: “You feel extremely bad for him. He’s worked hard to get his arm back in shape. It seemed as though he was ahead of schedule on that, and that’s because he worked extremely hard at it. Then to have something like this, a fluke accident, you feel extremely bad for him.”
• Mariano Rivera pitched another hitless inning and has yet to allow a hit in five outings this spring. Rafael Soriano also pitched a scoreless inning out of the bullpen today.
• New father David Phelps pitched in relief of Kuroda in Clearwater and 3.1 innings allowing two runs on three hits and a walk.
• Eduardo Nunez had three hits agianst the Twins today, and Robinson Cano had three hits against the Phillies. … Francisco Cervelli had two hits to raise his average to .214. … Ramiro Pena was 1-for-1 with a solo homer today. … Russell Martin, Brett Gardner, Eric Chavez, Brandon Laird, Chris Dickersona and Dewayne Wise had one hit appiece. … Mason Williams also singled today. He’s 2-for-2 in his pair of appearances in big league camp.
• Doug Bernier had another two-hit game in another start at shortstop. It’s still hard to imagine him making this team, but he’s really had a terrific spring. His batting average is up to .385.
• Speaking of good springs with no obvious roster spot: Justin Maxwell was 2-for-3 with an RBI and a run scored. His average is up to .444 this spring.
• Despite Bobby Valentine’s criticism, Girardi offered no apologies for not going into extra innings yesterday. “I’m going to worry about our guys,” Girardi said. Apparently much of Valentine’s criticism was based on the fact he had a pitcher — Clayton Mortensen — who he wanted to get in the game. Girardi said he would have been fine with playing just the top of the 10th if Valentine had asked. “That would have been acceptable to me,” Girardi said. “But there was no communication, and usually there is. And it’s not like this is something new. There’s a lot of tied ballgames in spring training that end in the ninth inning.”
• Mortensen, by the way, was optioned out of big league camp today.
Associated Press photos