The Curse of Jerry Hairston, Jr./Eric Hinske:

Friday, February 15, 2013 McCullough: Nova hopes to rebound from miserable second half of 2012

TAMPA, Fla. – Do you like sabermetrics? I like sabermetrics. I appreciate how statistics underpin the game. You should remember this, going forward.

As a sabermetrically-inclined person, I looked at some of Yankee starter Ivan Nova’s statistics and saw a pitcher who took a step forward in 2012. He raised his strikeout rate from 5.3 per nine in 2011 to 8.1 last year, while maintaining his walk rate (3.1 in 2011, 3.0 in 2012). He lowered his xFIP from 4.16 to 3.92.

If you subscribe to DIPS* theory, as I do, you would posit that Nova experienced progress from his 16-win campaign in 2011. You might even say he had a good year.

But, of course, Ivan Nova did not have a good year. Ivan Nova had a terrible year. His ERA was 5.03. His ERA was 6.38 after June. He missed two weeks with an inflamed rotator cuff. Manager Joe Girardi twice left him off the postseason roster.

If you’re looking for one way for the Yankees to add to their projected win total, McCullough’s on the right track with this.  The question is if Nova’s improved walk and strikeout rate came at the expense of leaving more hittable pitches over the middle of the plate, or if he had some bad fortune last year and can take the gains between 2011 to 2012 forward and pitch closer to that 3.92 xFIP than his 5.02 2012 ERA.  Nova’s baseline CAIRO RA is 4.99.  If he can pitch to his 80% forecasted RA of 4.36 over 164 innings, that’s a 1.1 win improvement.

I’m cautiously optimistic on Nova, but I was cautiously optimistic all of 2012 too…

--Posted at 7:26 am by SG / 28 Comments | - (0)


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And here I was, thinking that the game underpinned statistics.

The question is if Nova’s improved walk and strikeout rate came at the expense of leaving more hittable pitches over the middle of the plate, or if he had some bad fortune last year and can take the gains between 2011 to 2012 forward and pitch closer to that 3.92 xFIP than his 5.02 2012 ERA.

I’ll take the easy cop-out, and say given the relatively small sample size that it’s probably some of each.  His GB% was a little lower and that’s somewhat consistent with more K’s (high K pitchers generally have a higher FB%).  But a 16.6% HR/FB rate is VERY high, and a .331 BABIP is as well.  I think observationally he definitely didn’t pitch as well as his xFIP, but I doubt he was as bad as his ERA.

Looking a little more at the advanced stats…by FG his curve became an out pitch and his slider was still around average.  But his change was a bit below, and his FB way below.  That kind of jives with other data and what we’ve seen; hanging change-ups got punished, and he left his FB up in the zone more (less GB, more LD/FB).  Also, people were actually making *less* contact, and swinging and missing MUCH more often, than in previous seasons.

Given all that, I think he’s definitely advanced enough that he now has all of the pitches.  He can throw strikes, and he can miss bats.  So now it’s a matter of less “mistakes”.  There’s where I think it becomes more a matter of Rothschild and Nova; figuring out if it’s mechanical (better release point to get pitches down, better grip on change so it doesn’t hang), strategical (pitch selection, sequencing, or understanding when to throw up in zone or down), or mental (having the confidence to throw pitches in certain counts).  Whether he can take that next step to become a consistently average or better pitcher, IDK.  I’m also torn on if you loses the 5th starter competition to Phelps out of ST if it makes more sense to send Nova to AAA to keep starting or ML bullpen…

So now it’s a matter of less “mistakes”.

I couldn’t agree more.  In the majors, throwing 100 fantastic pitches is meaningless if you throw 2 bad ones with runners on base.  There are few guys out there who have the stuff to get away with a couple mistakes to ML hitters, and Nova is not one of them.

What was his BLDA%? (booming line drive against %)  I seem to recall it being unnaturally high on occasion.

Building on my #2…what’s everyone’s thought on Nova/Phelps for #5 starter, and what the other should do if they lose?  I think whoever appears to be throwing better in ST should be the #5 starter to start the year - the other pitcher will get lots of starts anyway if he earns them.

If Nova is the #5, I think Phelps should stay in the bullpen, they just need to try to get him some regular work with throwing 3-4 innings whenever possible.  I think he’s already shown he can handle both roles, and I don’t think he needs to learn any more in AAA.  He seems to have pretty good polish.  If they get into a spot where they need a spot starter and the bullpen doesn’t give them confidence they can get 5 or 6 innings, they should have 3-5 starters they can call up from AAA until Phelps is stretched out. 

If Phelps wins…two schools of thought.  1) send Nova to AAA to get him lots of innings and have him work on his pitches in a less stressful environment 2) He’s not going to learn anything about pitch sequencing, and the finer points of control by striking out minor leaguers.  Start by getting him some low-leverage situations where he’s getting major leaguers out.

ST has too much statistical and systematic (e.g. Phelps showed up in camp several weeks early) error to decide properly, so just send Nova down.  MiLers can hit mistakes too.

Nova’s LD% was up 4 pts, from 18.4% to 22.4%.  And his GB/FB ratio was down.

He was getting hit hard.  I don’t think the BABIP was a fluke.

Duh, if Nova doesn’t make the rotation he becomes the FIG™ (Fifth Inning Guy). He dominates there, gets pegged as being better in relief, stays in pen for the rest of his Yankees tenure.  End of story

[6] I don’t really care about the stats, more about observational data.  Velocity, movement, pitch location (vs. were it was called for), etc.  This data should be easily available - to the Yankees anyway.  I imagine given Phelps showing up earlier, his history of polish, etc that he’ll look better in ST.  But Nova’s stuff is better, so if he’s showing 95MPH velocity, more movement than in the past, and the ball always ends up exactly where the catcher expects it to be…I admit Phelps is most likely to win if we’re looking at who looks best early.

Also, though MiLB hitters can hit mistakes, I still don’t know if they’ll hit him enough for him to make the changes he needs to make.  Assuming he isn’t ready to start right away.  I wouldn’t be against it.  However, who goes into the long-man spot in the bullpen then?  Warren (could do worse)?  Unnamed veteran?  Shaeffer Hall may actually work…I think he’s a bit underrated, but he’s still a non-prospect whose arm you aren’t worried about, who can throw a ton of innings.  And has the extra bonus of having a 3rd lefty in the pen.

[7] I believe pitcher LD% isn’t thought to be predictive.  Also, I never claimed his BABIP was a fluke, or that he wasn’t getting hit hard.  However, I think that it is only correct that we should expect some regression to the mean.  That doesn’t mean I want to just assume that if he pitches exactly the same way this year he’ll have a .300 BABIP and a 10% HR/FB and let up a run (or more) less.  But maybe .320 and 13% is closer to what he *should* have let up, and pitching exactly the same will be something like .4 runs less.  That, still makes him a 6th starter.

However, I think I’ve been consistent in saying he needs to get better.  Just that I don’t think ALL of his problems last year were poor pitching.

[8] Party pooper.

Instead of cautiously optimistic, I’m going to be recklessly pessimistic, but in a crazy twist it’s going to be about Toronto.  They crash and burn.  65 wins.  Who’s with me?

I don’t think the decision is going to be that hard.  Whoever seems better able to get hitters out at the end of ST will join the big club.  That will be based partly on results and partly on what the coaches and medical staff see.  And if whoever stays up has poor results, they will flip flop.  I want BOTH Phelps and Nova to succeed and there is every chance both will pitch for the Yankees this year.  I don’t think there’s a lot of reason to fret this one at the moment.

[12] That’s just crazy talk.  R.A. Dickey will probably win 65 games by himself.

Is this Booney’s last year under contract? I hope that Cabral fellow does well, Logan seems like he might fetch back a decent piece at the deadline.

I want BOTH Phelps and Nova to succeed and there is every chance both will pitch for the Yankees this year.

Fixed that.  I think if Nova is 5th starter out of camp Phelps is definitely in pen, and even if Nova is sent down he’ll be back up at some point for injury or ineffectiveness, or even to start one end of a double-header.

I can’t see Toronto losing 65 games.

[14]  Yes it is.  I hope Cabral does well too, but they aren’t trading Logan.  If he’s not pitching well, he won’t have any trade value.  If he’s pitching well, he’ll almost certainly be more valuable to the Yankees for a pennant run than anything they could get back for him.  I suppose it’s possible that a team has 3rd catcher who is a FA next year and is better than Cervelli/Stewart and needs a lefty reliever, but…

I guess I’m rooting for Nova to win the job, since Phelps is so good as a reliever, as well. Nova seems like he wouldn’t make a great reliever, so for the sake of optimizing the talent out there, the Yankees are probably better off with Nova as the #5 starter, if at all possible.

But yeah, odds are very good that they’ll both be needed as starters at some point in 2013.

[14] Aardsma (that’s “Earth mother” in Dutch, Mal) is another candidate for being good, even though he’s RH.

[17] I’m rooting for Joba to force his way into the rotation.  Even if it means the NYY FO happens to visit Tunguska and Selig decides to call up the membership of RLYW.

[15]  Thanks, but that was more or less my point.

[17]  Why wouldn’t Nova be a good reliever?  Weren’t we talking about that possibility a couple years ago when it seemed like 3-4 innings was his limit?  I would rather have him start if he can, but Cashman told me his stuff plays up out of the pen…

I have no idea what to expect out of Nova since he had two drastically different partial seasons. I do think that he has a higher ceiling than Phelps. I’d prefer to see Nova in the rotation over Phelps.

Phelps appears to have been nothing but excellent for the Yankees in his MiL and ML career.  Admittedly he doesn’t have the tools Nova has, but I expect him to perform better for the foreseeable future.  Nothing in ST is likely to convince me that Nova has found the ability to be consistent, so I’d naively prefer to have him in AAA working on staying tuned and avoid finding out mid-season that he’s lost it again.

Link posted with no need for further comment(Note the story is dated Feb 15, 2013):

Cool link, EB, I’ll give it its own article.

[10]  How could pitcher LD% not be predictive?  If you’re giving up 24% LDs, your BABIP will be high.

[25] Year to year. LD% and BABIP have a high correllation, but LD% and BABIP are are not very stable year-to-year.

[26] I bet LD% is stable for pitchers who don’t stick in the ML.

It’s a constant source of annoyance to me that there’s no shadow ML for researchers to test out these sort of selection effects.  We could for example clearly determine if there are AAAA players.  I’d also like to try to rush prospects, and there’s the perennial what do PEDs do question (though it would be hard to ensure a clean control sample).

[26]  As [27] says, the guys who consistently get hit hard (high LD% and BABIP) aren’t around long enough to show up in the statistical record.

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