Yankeeist readers will recall that we did just two comprehensive “Positive Storylines” and “Negative Storylines” posts last offseason. In the interest of fleshing the 2011 positives and negatives out a bit further — not to mention we have more days to fill with content this offseason — the Positive and Negative Storyline trends are going to be broken up across multiple posts this year.
In a season full of surprises, Ivan Nova‘s ascent from fourth man in the rotation to the Yankees’ Game 2 starter in the playoffs was perhaps the most unexpected. At best, I think many Yankee fans’ expectations of Nova were tempered, especially with the knowledge that Nova, though relatively effective, had struggled mightily to turn lineups over a third time during his debut stint with the team at the end of the 2010 season.
“As far as projections go, Bill James sees a 4.61 ERA/4.22 FIP over 80.0 innings for Nova. CAIRO is a good deal harsher on Nova, projecting a 5.21 ERA/5.03 FIP over 116 innings, worth 0.5 WAR. And Oliver is decidedly bullish on Nova, projecting a 4.25 ERA over 166 innings (5.9 K/9, 3.4 BB/9), worth 2.2 WAR. I think we’d all do cartwheels if Nova managed to break the 2.0 WAR barrier.”
It turns out cartwheels were in fact in order, as Nova was worth 2.7 WAR if you prefer Fangraphs, or an even more robust 3.5 by the generally stingier Baseball-Reference WAR calculation. Nova blew all of his projections out of the water — even the notoriously optimistic James projections — tossing 165.1 innings of 3.70 ERA/4.01 FIP/4.16 xFIP ball, with a 5.3 K/9, 3.1 BB/9 and 52.7% GB% (believe it or not, the 12th-best rate in MLB). In fairness, Oliver actually came the closest, though still overshot the ERA by more than half a run.
Safe to say that no projection system reasonably expected Nova to perform as a sub-4.00 ERA starter, although his peripherals underscore the reasoning why that will likely continue to be the case. Unless he gets that K/9 up, Nova is likely more of a ~4.00 ERA-type pitcher — still more than acceptable as a mid-rotation type, although he’s probably miscast as a true #2 starter.
For all of Nova’s success, I think the most interesting aspect of his season is what happened after he returned from being sent down to AAA for a month to make room for the return of Phil Hughes. In his first 17 games of the season (16 starts) through July 1, Nova pitched to a 4.12 ERA over 91.2 innings and allowed a .738 OPS. Over his final 11 starts of the season following his reinstallation to the rotation on July 30, he threw to a 3.18 ERA over 73.2 innings, holding batters to a .662 OPSa, a performance that rather easily made him the Yankees’ second-best starting option in the postseason.
What changed for Nova between his first and second stints in MLB this season that resulted in him shaving nearly a full run off his ERA? (Below data from TexasLeaguers.com)
The most noticeable change appears to be significantly increased usage of his hard slider, which ended up developing into his best pitch. The TexasLeaguers data had no sliders for Nova from April 4 through July 1, although we know that’s not the case. In any event, going by the data we do have available, he began throwing his slider 9% of the time from July 30 on, threw it nearly 3mph harder than the average MLB slider, threw it for strikes a whopping 74% of the time, coaxed a swing an almost-comical 66% of the time, and racked up a whiff a well-above-average 20% of the time.
The slider is by far the single-biggest reason for second-half Nova’s ascension. It enabled him to rely on both his below-average (by Whiff%) four-seamer, curveball and changeup less frequently than he’d been doing, and in the case of the latter it’s possible that the decrease in usage helped Nova’s Whiff% on the change rise more dramatically than all of his other pitches, from a below-average 9.2% to an above-average 16.7%.
According to the T-Leagers data, Nova also nearly doubled the usage of a heavy two-seamer (average velocity of 92.7mph compared with 90.3 MLB average), although per friend-of-the-blog Lucas Apostoleris’ data, I have a feeling PITCHf/x is mis-classifying some Nova four-seamers as two-seamers (in the aforelinked post, Lucas describes Nova’s heater as “a four-seam fastball that can get into the mid-90s with natural sink. Despite his cross-seam grip and propensity to keep it up in the zone, the four-seamer generates plenty of ground balls.”). In any event, this apparent hybrid four/two-seam fastball will be a key weapon for him going forward if he’s to continue collecting ground ball outs at near-Chien-Ming Wang-ian levels.
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t also note Nova’s valiant Game 1 effort in the playoffs, in which he threw 6.1 innings of two-run ball in “relief.” Unfortunately Nova ended his year in rather unfortunate fashion, serving up back-to-back solo shots and being unable to go more than two innings with the Yankees’ season on the line in Game 5 of the 2011 ALDS. Nova apparently left the game with a strained forearm, and it’s too bad the pain didn’t show up until after he put the Yankees in a 2-0 hole before they even came to bat.
Ultimately, despite somewhat questionable peripherals — though it’s also worth noting that Nova’s year wasn’t particularly luck-fueled one way or another, as his .283 BABIP was just slightly above the .293 league-average BABIP for startering pitchers — Ivan Nova put up a 2011 season more valuable (in terms of fWAR) than Phil Hughes’ 2010 campaign, in fewer innings. If Hughes can recapture a modicum of the ability he showed for much of the first half of the 2010 season, he and Nova will hopefully represent a formidable homegrown mid-rotation duo for the Yankees in the years to come. Of course, with a mere one season under his belt Nova still has a lot to prove, while Hughes is an even bigger question mark.
Still, I don’t think anyone — including the Yankees — expected Nova to climb higher than Hughes on the starting pitching depth chart, but at the present moment he has.
LIKE TYA ON FACEBOOK
- TYA To Merge With It’s About The Money, Stupid
- What about Kevin Youkilis?
- Teix Now Front And Center On The “Needs To Produce” Radar
- Cashman: Heathcott A Dark Horse Candidate
- A Dog Chasing Cars
- Outfield Trade Targets
- The Problem With Brett Gardner
- A Look At Relief Prospect Branden Pinder
- The Yankees Should Be Realistic, Put Team on Short Leash in 2013
- Briefly discussing the internal options to replace Curtis Granderson
- Brand bc on Briefly discussing the internal options to replace Curtis Granderson
- http://2804lasela.wordpress.com/ on TYA Predictions: Bold predictions for 2012
- the tao of badass pdf on What about Austin Romine?
- Joey Parkhill on Dante Bichette Jr’s Swing
- lululemon factory outlet on Contact Us
- Cary on Will R.A. Dickey’s Knuckleball Succeed In A Domed Stadium?
- Brenna on Links: Prospects, Support for A-Rod, Mariano is Love and Who’s in Center?
- Louis Vuitton Outlet Sale Singapore on The Monthly Prospector: April Edition
- Authentic Louis Vuitton Outlet Store on The Monthly Prospector: June Edition
- Louis Vuitton Outlet San Diego on Banuelos to Undergo Tommy John Surgery, Yankees Prospectors to Undergo Grief Counseling
TagsA.J. Burnett Alex Rodriguez Andy Pettitte Austin Romine Baltimore Orioles Bartolo Colon Boston Red Sox Brett Gardner Brian Cashman Bullpen CC Sabathia Chien-Ming Wang Cliff Lee Curtis Granderson David Robertson Dellin Betances Derek Jeter Francisco Cervelli Freddy Garcia Game Recap Hiroki Kuroda Ivan Nova Javier Vazquez Jesus Montero Joba Chamberlain Joe Girardi Johnny Damon Jorge Posada Manny Banuelos Mariano Rivera Mark Teixeira Melky Cabrera Michael Pineda New York New York Yankees Nick Johnson Nick Swisher Phil Hughes Prospects Rafael Soriano Red Sox Robinson Cano Russell Martin Tampa Bay Rays Yankees