So it seems the Yankees and I are in agreement about getting Javier Vazquez some rest, having called Ivan Nova up from AAA for a spot start today. Though this move gives the Yankees six starting pitchers and the team is claiming that they are simply pushing everyone back a day, I would be surprised to see Vazquez still make his next scheduled outing unless Nova flames out spectacularly in his first career Major League start. Of course, pitching against the extra-base-hit-happy Blue Jays (please click here for the Series Preview in case you missed it) is going to be a bit of a rough test for the young man, and so even if he does get pounded he still could get another shot.
Nova pitched three shutout innings in relief for the Yanks back in May, so I suppose technically this isn’t his debut, but it’s still his first career MLB start. Nova’s been arguably the team’s best starter at Scranton this season, posting a 2.86 ERA (3.59 FIP) over 145 innings, with a 1.29 WHIP, 6.93 K/9 and 2.80 BB/9. Hard to say how he’ll do, but the hope here is that he brings some of that “Jeepers-Creepers-We’ve-Never-Faced-Him-Before” magic that seems to affect the Yankees so negatively and is able to stymie the Toronto bats. Unfortunately I have a feeling rolling-over-and-dying-when-facing-a-rookie-starter-syndrome is primarily a Yankee-related illness, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see the Jays completely unload on Nova.
In light of Nova’s first career MLB start, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at how some previous recent Yankee farmhands did in their Major League starting debuts, looking back over the last 10 seasons. Some were of course a bit less heralded than others. The following lists are in reverse chronological order, and the light blue highlights represent starter victories:
It’s possible I may have missed someone, but from my research it appears that though he didn’t end up winning the game, Matt DeSalvo of all people actually had the best MLB debut of any Yankee rookie starter from the last 10 years, at least in terms of WPA (0.380). Seven innings of one-run ball will do that. Of course he fizzled out rather quickly, but at least he can say he broke into the Bigs in style. Jorge De Paula had the second-best starting debut, followed by Alfredo Aceves, Chien-Ming Wang and Jose Contreras. Sean Henn had the worst homegrown debut (-0.462), followed closely by Kei Igawa (-0.417).
Of the “Big Three,” Ian Kennedy had the strongest starting debut (0.090 WPA), Joba Chamberlain didn’t last long enough to make much of a positive or negative WPA dent (0.005) and Phil Hughes (-0.133) had the toughest outing. Interesting to see where those three are now.
Remember Brandon Claussen? He pitched for the Yankees once and won his first career start against the Mets, then got shipped to the Reds for Aaron Boone and didn’t throw a pitch in the Majors again until over a year later.
Man, was the rotation in shambles in 2007 or what? Six rookies got the call to start games that season. Chase Wright, as you’ll recall, beat the Indians in his MLB debut, then served four straight home runs up on national television against the Red Sox in his second and final career start. Wright only made one other appearance for the Yankees and it would come several months later in relief in one of the last games of the season. Wright hasn’t been in the Majors since.
Only seven of the 21 pitchers listed here won their Major League debuts, though the Yankees won 11 of these games. Additionally, of these 21 contests, the starting pitcher recorded a negative WPA eight times.
As you might imagine, this is a pretty motley crew. Shawn Chacon had the best journeyman debut for the Yanks back in July 2005 (0.272 WPA), followed by Dustin Moseley (0.259) last month and Al Leiter‘s gem against Boston (0.252) back in 2005. Cory Lidle also pitched well in his first outing as a Yankee. Aaron Small of course went on an improbable ride in 2005, winning his first start for the Yanks en route to a 10-0 record over eight starts.
I figured Tim Redding‘s one-inning debacle against the Sox would’ve represented the worst outing by far, but in fact his fellow 2005 break-glass-in-case-of-severe-emergency-and-even-then-maybe-just-let-the-fire-spread rotation band-aid Darrell May takes those honors, with his 4 1/3, seven-earned-run performance against the Indians the week prior boasting a -0.394 WPA. Things were particularly tough in 2005 — though Wang, Small, Leiter and Chacon pitched well that season, the Yankees also had to use Scott Proctor, Henn, Redding and May at various points throughout the year. Seven of the 16 pitchers listed in the above table won their Yankee debut, and the Yankees actually won 12 of these games. Seven of these spot starts resulted in negative WPAs for the starters.
All told, based on my rough research, the Yankees are 23-14 over the last 10 years when a rookie or journeyman makes their first start for the team.
So Ivan Nova looks to become the first Yankee to win his first career start since Alfredo Aceves in 2008. The last Yankee starter to win a start in his first career big league appearance was Ian Kennedy in 2007. Good luck, Ivan.
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