Making the ROY case for Ivan Nova

While the Yankees still are trying to decide how to finalize a five man rotation when Freddy Garcia comes off the DL once again Ivan Nova pitched a game yesterday that shows that not only does he belong in the Yankees rotation but that a strong case can be made for him for rookie of the year (ROY) honors.

In his game yesterday Nova pitched seven strong innings allowing no runs on just five hits and one walk while striking out five.  He also worked out of two major jams not really of his own making including in the bottom of the fifth when the game was still scoreless where after giving up a single to Jim Thome he induced a fly ball from Danny Valencia that unbelievably dropped between Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher for a double.  What did Ivan Nova do with runners on second and third with no out in a scoreless tie?  Just struck out Rene Tosoni and Matt Tolbert back to back and then induced a ground ball out to first.

With his win Nova’s record is 13-4, his ERA is now 3.97, and his WHIP is down to an incredible 1.38.  In his last 10 starts Nova is 9-0 with an ERA of 3.48 (since being called back up 5-0 with an ERA of 3.55) and with his win yesterday he now has the most wins by a Yankees rookie starter since Doc Medich in 1973 and has the longest winning streak by a Yankees rookie since before 1980.

While it is recognized that the last two AL ROYs were both pitchers it should also be noted that these were both closers (Bailey in ’09 and Feliz in ’10) and the last starting pitcher to win ROY honors in the AL was Justin Verlander in 2006 with a record of 17-9 and a 3.63 ERA over 186 innings pitched.

So how does Nova stack up versus the other possible ROY candidates?

Among pitchers there perhaps are three candidates who should also get ROY consideration and these are Jordan Walden of the Angels, Jeremy Hellickson of the Rays, and Michael Pineda of the Mariners.

Walden as the Angels closer has pitched in 50 games including 34 save opportunities and is sporting a record of 3-3 with a ERA of 2.77 and a WHIP of 1.21.  While Walden has saved 26 games he has also blown 8 saves which will work against him in the voting.  Walden will also be compared versus the AL ROY winning relievers in Bailey and Feliz and his numbers are not as strong as theirs were.  His chances will also be affected by the strong candidacies of starting pitchers in this years field.

As part of the Rays pitching staff Jeremy Hellickson has done quite well as a rookie and his record of 11-8 with an ERA of 3.04 in 22 starts is quite decent.  With the Rays starting to fade from the race and with Hellickson now up to 142 innings pitched it will be interesting to watch if he continues to start every fifth day for the Rays and if he can continue to pitch well.

While Walden and Hellickson have had nice seasons it is really Michael Pineda who is providing the most serious challenge among pitchers to Nova for ROY honors.  Pineda is just 9-7 (though by pitching for the Mariners one always has to discount win/loss totals) with an ERA of 3.73 and an amazing WHIP of just 1.11 and a 148 strikeouts in just 147 innings. That being said if one looks at not just Pineda’s overall stats but also his recent performances one has to wonder if he is starting to run out of steam or just had a nice run that is now starting to normalize.  After starting out the year 6-2 and just giving up 18 runs over his first 10 games he has gone just 2-3 with an ERA of 5.40 over his last ten games.  As pointed out earlier over his last ten games Nova is 9-0 with an ERA of just 3.48.

There are also some hitters that should perhaps garner some ROY consideration such as Mark Trumbo of the Angels and J.P. Arencibia of the Blue Jays .  In Trumbo the Angels have a solid every day first baseman with power (23 HRs/73RBIs) but his batting average of .260 and OBP of just .297 will hurt his candidacy. The same goes for Arencibia who as their every day catcher also has power numbers (19 HRs/57RBIs) he also hurt has a very low batting average of just .213. With Eric Hosmer of the Royals and Josh Reddick of the RedSox rounding out, but fading from, consideration as non-pitching candidates for ROY. 

The race for ROY this year really comes down to four candidates (Nova, Hellickson, Pineda, and Trumbo) and voters should look at not only the overall stats but also what the players have done over the entire course of the season and have they been able to adjust to being rookie players or has the grind of the long baseball season ended what was strong starts.  As mentioned earlier this is really where Nova has shined and how he has moved into the front running spot for ROY honors.  While Pineda and Hellickson are strong candidates no doubt Nova has won three more games over his last ten than both Pineda and Hellickson have combined.  Moreover, Nova’s ERA is almost two full runs lower than Pineda’s over that time frame and is just 0.43 higher than Hellickson’s.  Also, over his last 10 games Nova has pitched just 2/3 of an inning less than Hellickson and 6 1/3 innings more than Pineda.  It is recognized that Pineda is still giving up less hits and getting more strikeouts than Nova but this ratio is getting closer as the season gets longer.  In the last 10 games Nova has given up just an average of one more hit and gotten 2 less strikeouts than Pineda over his last ten. 

With his overall record, his performances over the last ten games, the comparisons to other candidates for AL ROY, and his poise during his demotion to the minors and well as on the mound in difficult situations Ivan Nova has proven that he should be given strong consideration for ROY honors in 2011.

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Future’s So Bright

As the Timbuk 3 song goes: “Things are going great and they’re only getting better.  I’m doing all right, getting good grades. The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades, I gotta wear shades”.

Tonight, August 2nd, 2011 with the pitchers that lined up on the MLB level, AAA level, and AA level could have been the night that the Yankees look back on and say this was the night that showed that the future is in fact so bright that we all gotta wear shades.

On the MLB level Phil Hughes had what everyone will point to as his best performance of the season.  Back on July 17th in his second game back from the DL Hughes went 6 innings and 80 pitches giving up 2 earned runs along with 4 hits and 2 walks while striking out 5.  Hughes did benefit that night without Bautista in the Jays lineup but that start did look more like the Hughes of early 2010.  Tonight’s game though was even more like the type of pitcher the Yankees hope Hughes can be.

While pitching just six innings again Hughes was in a position to return for the 7th until the rain started to fall due to his low pitch count of just 65 and the fact that his velocity, command, and control was pretty constant throughout the game. 

While his line of six innings of no run three hit ball (with four strikeouts and no walks) was excellent it was also how he got the outs that was promising.  Unlike anytime this season or in fact many times last year Hughes was able to get the third out of an inning in a pretty easy fashion.  Three of his six innings were 1-2-3 innings, the second inning opened with a hit but then he shut the next three White Sox hitters down, in the third after getting two outs Hughes let up a hit but then immediately got the next batter out, and then in the 5th he let up a lead off hit then induced a ground ball DP and followed this up with a ground ball out to end the inning.  In his final inning of work, a 1-2-3 inning at that, Hughes threw a total of 10 pitches and of these 7 were four seam fastballs.  What was the speed on his last set of these? Two were clocked at 91 and the other five were clocked at 92.  While there was a reduction in his velocity from the first two innings this was only due to the fact that most of his four seam fastballs in those innings were clocked between 93-95.  The mix of cutters and change ups with the speed difference between these pitches and his fastball also kept the White Sox hitters off balance all night.

Does this mean Hughes is back to being the pitcher he was during that amazing stretch pre-All Star game last year? Does it mean he will not falter again as he did in the next game after the Jays game where he gave up 7 earned in 4 1/3 with the Yankees up by 12 and could not stay long enough to earn the win? No, but this was a game that certainly can be built on and allows the Yankees to breathe just a little easier and perhaps is a good sign of things to come. 

Then in AAA LHP Manny Banuelos had his first start with the AAA SWB Yankees.  He pitched a solid five innings giving up 2 runs (both earned) on 7 hits while striking out 8 with just 3 walks (and according to some many of  these calls were questionable) and of 100 pitches 62 were strikes along with an unofficial count of 17 swings and misses.  His command was extremely good, fastball speed was impressive (91-92 for the most part and last pitch of the game was 93), and he worked around a couple of tight spots in a close game and had six ground ball outs and not one ball hit in the air for an out.  While detractors will point to the high number of base runners and high pitch count it was an impressive first AAA start nevertheless. As a left handed pitcher and with the Yankees concerns about lack of choices for left handed pitchers out of the pen I would not be surprised to see Banuelos up with the big league club after one more start with AAA.

On the AA level we got to see another of the Killer Bs at work and in this case it was RHP Dellin Betances going for the Trenton Thunder. While the final line of just four innings and 90 pitches (53 strikes) while giving up three runs (all earned), six hits, and walking four while striking five is not as impressive as the Banuelos start it was the speed of his fastball which touched as high as 98 and was consistently above 90 that is newsworthy.  The biggest concern for Betances has been his inability to keep his pitch count down which is limiting the number of innings he has pitched.  In 19 starts Betances has pitched just 93.1 innings which is less than five innings per start with a very high walk (and admittedly very high K rate as well) per 9 innings ratio.  If Betances can start to limit his pitch count and extend out the number of innings he pitches per game his fastball and strikeout ability could truly benefit the Yankees in the future.

In addition to the pitching tonight, with GM Brian Cashman in the house, Jesus Montero in his first three at bats had 2 hard hit singles and an A-Rod like bomb of a  home run off a 97 mph fastball that was reported to have traveled over 440 feet.

Yes Yankees fans the future is so bright it might be time to start reaching for those shades.

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Top 10 Things Derek Jeter would rather do than be at the All Star Game

With apologies to David Letterman and his crew I have decided that with all the drama surrounding Derek Jeter’s absence from Arizona during the All Star Game that there had to be 10 things that he would rather do than be there so here they are:

10. Hire a PR person to tweet for him

9. Getting Michael Kay to stop saying “You can put this one on the left side.”

8. Hang out with Ian O’Connor, Wally Matthews, and Andrew Marchand

7. Get to Toronto early so he could enjoy some poutine

6. Begin to draft his memoirs in Comic Sans

5. Shine his Gold Gloves

4. Design the fourteenth bathroom for his house in Tampa

3. Sign bats and balls for Steiner Sports

2. Watch American Idol reruns

1. Minka Kelly

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Why AJ Doesn’t Suck

During the game last night and all day today many fans and pundits have been repeating the old tired mantra that AJ Burnett sucks, “has no clue”, should be traded or is a liability.  While it is true that AJ is 3-5 in his last 10 starts and has an ERA of 4.50 in the month of June just looking at these numbers or using the mantra from 2010 is neither fair or accurate.  A more detailed examination of the numbers within his starts will actually show that he has done a pretty good job of keeping the Yankees in most of the last 10 games, had not been all that wild, and does not get the run support that other pitchers might get which certainly affects his record.

Let us first look at those five losses over his last ten games so we can get them out of the way and end discussing them. 

There were two games that were very bad, no doubt, and these were the losses to the Rays in which he gave up six earned (including three HRs) and versus the RedSox in which he gave up 7 earned (8 in total). The Yankees lost these two games 6-5 and 11-6. So what about the other three losses? 

In the game versus the Tigers on 5/5 he gave up 2 earned runs (5 in total) with one walk and five strikeouts.  While he did hit two batters and had one error it was the errors in the field by Nunez that ultimately doomed AJ as two runners scored on a fielding error that he made in the 7th.  The Yankees would go onto lose this game 6-3.

AJ took another of his losses over his last ten games while pitching one of his best games since he became a Yankee versus the Indians.  In 7.2 innings he gave up one run (earned) on five hits, one walk, and struck out eight.  And how did he get rewarded for this great performance?  The Yankees went 0 for 7 with RISP, only got 5 total hits, and no runs.  The Yankees and AJ lost 1-0.

His latest loss was last night in which he had a pedestrian outing allowing four runs (all earned) on seven hits and five walks over 6.1 innings. That said the Yankees were only able to score two runs on five hits and went 1 for 6 with RISP.

So in the five losses AJ had two really bad, two mediocre, and one excellent pitching performance.  If the Yankees could have pulled out wins in these games AJ’s record could easily be 9-4 or at the very least 7-5 which would mute some of the attacks on him.

In addition to the losses there have been two no decisions over the last 10 games.  In both of these games the Yankees were leading when AJ left the game (2-1 versus the Royals and 3-2 versus the Mariners) but the Yankees lost both these games and in the Royals game they lost it in extra innings after going 2 for 16 with RISP.  One cannot fault Girardi for pulling AJ from these games as he was grinding it out in both (gave up 5 walks and got 6 Ks ion both games but pitched only seven and five innings).  That said if he had remained in the game and/or the Yankees had won wouldn’t people be talking about how “gritty” AJ was and how he battled but still kept the Yankees in the games?

And then there are the three wins.  In these games AJ gave up 3 earned runs versus the Mets in 6.1 innings, 2 earned versus Oakland in 7 innings, and 2 earned versus the Cubs in 5.1 innings.  His ERA in these wins is 3.46 which is just a shade over CC Sabathia’s ERA on the year of 3.25.

So over AJ’s last ten games he has pitched there has only been two to three really bad games, five to six very good games, and a couple of games that were in the middle. So in his last 10 starts AJ has kept the Yankees in the game around 70%-80% of the time which over a full season would equate to 25 of 33 starts per year.  For comparison purposes CC Sabathia has been rocked twice in the last ten games versus Boston (gave up six earned in both losses) but by going 8-2 in his last ten as opposed to 3-5 with two no decisions it is easy to forget that CC has had as many bad games as AJ over the last ten and an argument could be made that his pitching in some of these wins has not be ace quality.

One issue that many have brought up about AJ Burnett is that he has been wild and it is this lack of control that has gotten him in trouble.  While he has given up an average of three walks per game over his last ten and is fourth in the AL in walks this year his WHIP is 1.26 for the year and 1.31 in June which favorably compares to his career WHIP of 1.32. In addition his WHIP last year was 1.51 so he most certainly shown improvement over last season.  I am also going to make the point here that AJ’s ERA this year of 4.15 is better than last year at 5.26, is in line with his career numbers, and is actually pretty close to his ERA of 4.07 in 2008 when his record was 18-10 before he signed with the Yankees.

An  argument could also be made that AJ Burnett has been the victim of non-support during his starts and it is this lack of run support (particularly in comparison to the others in the Yankees pitching staff) that accounts for both his record and how other pitcher’s performances are seen. 

In AJ’s last ten games the Yankees have scored a total of 37 runs and in his three wins they scored 7, 4, and 4 runs, in his 5 losses they scored 3, 5, 6, ZERO, and TWO runs, and in both of his no decisions they scored three runs.  So in AJ’s last ten games the Yankees have averaged five runs in his wins, 3.2 runs in his losses, and 3 runs in his no decisions.

In comparison let us look at CC Sabathia’s run support over his last ten games.  In these games the Yankees have scored 73 runs and in his eight wins they scored 12, 13, 5, 7, 3, 12, 10, and 8 runs and in his two losses they scored ZERO and three runs.  So in CC’s last ten games the Yankees have averaged 8.75 runs in his wins and 1.5 runs in his losses. 

It should also be noted that over the last 10 games AJ Burnett’s ERA has gone up by just 0.44 and CC’s has also gone up over the last ten games by 0.36 and CC’s ERA in June is 4.60 and AJ’s ERA in June is 4.50.  In addition in the last ten games the opposing team has averaged just 4.4 runs per game in AJ starts versus 3.9 runs per game in CC starts.  Am I saying that AJ is as good of a pitcher as CC? No but the numbers when looked at side-by-side show that AJ is not as horrid of a pitcher as some would like to act.

I would admit and agree that perhaps AJ Burnett is not showing ace stuff on a consistent basis right now.  But to say that he sucks, cannot pitch under the pressure of NY, is not a valuable member of the Yankees pitching staff, or that he should be shipped off somewhere shows a lack of understanding the facts and shows a tremendous bias against AJ. His pitching has shown just the opposite of this and provided he is given the same support and benefit of other pitchers he will be just fine.

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When is Five Games Really A Mountain?

 Five games out of first place…does not seem like a lot of games to make up on June 23rd now does it?  Well based on history in the American League being this many games out on this day really is a mountain.

In 2006, there were seven teams that were 5 games out on this day.  The Orioles, Rays, Twins, Indians, Royals, Mariners and Angels.  Of these seven teams only the Twins by going 59-31 made the playoffs.

In 2007, there were nine teams that were 5 games out on this day.  The Yankees, Blue Jays, Orioles, Twins, White Sox, Royals, Mariners, Oakland, and the Rangers.  Of these nine teams only the Yankees by going 58-32 made the playoffs.

In 2008, there were seven teams that were 5 games out on this day.  The Orioles, Blue Jays, Indians, Royals, Oakland, Texas, and the Mariners.  Of these seven teams none of them made the playoffs.

In 2009, there were eight teams that were 5 games out on this day.  The Yankees, Blue Jays, Rays, Orioles, White Sox, Royals, Indians, and Oakland.  Of these eight teams only the Yankees after going 65-27 made the playoffs.

In 2010, there were six teams that were 5 games out on this day.  The Blue Jays, Orioles, Royals, Indians, Oakland, and Seattle.  Not one of these teams made the playoffs.

So in the last five seasons of all 37 teams in total that were 5 games out of first on this date only 8.1% (3 of 37) of these teams made it to the playoffs.  The ’06 Twins and the ’07 and ’09 Yankees and they had an average record of 60-30. The history of these teams during these years is also are important part to look at and one could argue that these teams were significant worse before this date than they should have been.

This brings us to this year.  There are currently five teams that are 5 games out of first place (which is the lowest in at least the last 5 years) and these teams are the Blue Jays, Orioles, Twins, Royals, and Oakland.  This means in the last six years on this date the Blue Jays have been five games back five times, the Orioles six times, the Twins three times, the Royals six times, and Oakland five times.  Of all the times these teams that have been five games out on this date (25 total times) ONLY the Twins in ’06 were able to make the playoffs. This means that in all the chances the teams that are currently five games out had to make the playoffs they only did it 4% of the time.  Moreover, if we presume that it would at least 85 wins to make the playoffs the average record these teams would need to go would be 52-36.  This, of course, does not take into account both the Blue Jays and Orioles play in the AL East where the chance of them making the playoffs would need to rely on them making it in as a wild card as winning the division outright would take (based on the last five years) 95 wins and hence a record of around 62-26 and does anyone think the Orioles or Blue Jays can go 36 games over .500 from here out when the Blue Jays have won 36 games and Orioles 33 games all season?

No five games out on this date is not an impossible hill to climb and teams have done it before but the mountain for these teams to climb is getting larger and larger and soon decisions will have to be made if they can truly compete this year or will they need to make players available to true playoff contenders and set themselves up for future years to come.

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Putting a Loss into Perspective

Surely no one wants the Yankees to lose a game particularly when the Yankees have a chance to move into first place in the AL East and come home on a high note.  And sometimes the effort or the way a team loses can be more frustrating than the loss itself but sometimes losses have to be put into perspective.

First, the matchup for tonight’s game of Brian Gordon vs Johnny Cueto had a difficult game written all over it.  Cueto came into the game with an ERA of 1.68 and Brian Gordon was starting his second game this year (and just fifth since the beginning of the 2008 season).  While Brian Gordon pitched well in his first start versus the Rangers the odds of him repeating such versus the Reds was low.  In fact, AccuScore had the Yankees as a significant underdog going into this game.

Second, after being swept by that team that will not be named and having a record of 33-27 the Yankees have gone 10-3 and are now 43-30 and on pace for a 97 win season which would most likely put them into the playoffs.  There are just 6 teams in the AL and 11 teams in MLB overall with 40 or more and the Yankees are one of these teams.

The interleague road trip that finished off with this loss was still a winning road trip at 4-2 and the only game that the Yankees seemingly were never in was tonight’s blowout. (The 3-1 loss to the Cubs was filled with chances for the Yankees to win late and was actually a quality start by Freddy Garcia).  The series against the Reds (which the Yankees won) used Ivan Nova, Freddy Garcia, and Brian Gordon as the three starters and if anyone had told you that they would give the Yankees two wins based on this I think fans would have been quite happy. It also bears noting that the Yankees played the last six games at a severe disadvantage as there was no DH in these games.

Third, the Yankees are the only team with a run differential of over +90, are 2nd overall in runs, 2nd overall in OBP, 1st overall in SLG, and 2nd overall in OPS. Two Yankees are in the top 5 in MLB in HRs, two Yankees are in the top 10 in MLB in RBIs, and 4 Yankees are in the top 25 in MLB in SLG. 

And how is this Yankees team doing this?  With some of the starters and much of the bullpen that the season plan had or that the season began with on the disabled list (Phil Hughes, Bartolo Colon, Joba Chamberlain, Rafael Soriano, Pedro Feliciano, et al) and pitchers such as Luis Ayala, Jeff Marquez, Cory Wade, Hector Noesi, Amauri Sanit, and Lance Pendleton all seeing significant action during the season. In addition, the Yankees have been without Derek Jeter for the last nine games and have been relying on the defensively struggling Eduardo Nunez and the offensively anemic Ramiro Pena as their everyday SS and backup infielder with Eric Chavez also on the disabled list not to mention having to play Francisco Cervelli more than they would have perhaps liked due to the schedule as well as Russell Martin’s sore back. There is also the “nagging” injuries that go on at this point in the season which seem to be affecting some players (see Rodriguez, Alex) more than others.

I would not say that this is a Yankees team without problems but we need to feel comfort in the fact that certain players such as Brett Gardner and Nick Swisher have had a great month of June and look to be the players Yankees fans all expected them to be and that a few of our missing players seem to be having positive progress in resuming baseball activities. We also all know that the Yankees have the management team in place that will make the moves necessary to ensure this team will have the talent to compete to the very last cold day in October or November.

It’s a long 162 game season and the Yankees are going to win some and they are going to lose some and some of those losses will be ugly but as Yankees fans we should take these losses in perspective.

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Dominate Starting Pitching Dominates

Since April 15th when the Yankees closed the day at 7-5 they have gone 9-4 and this very good stretch has been, as discussed elsewhere, due to dominate starting pitching dominating. 

 While we have seen it with our own eyes and others have discussed it I went back and looked at the stats since Nova gave up five earned runs on just four hits in just 4 1/3 innings due to wild control (five walks, a wild pitch, and a hit batter) on that day versus the Rangers.

So what have the Yankees starting pitching done since that day?  They have pitched 85 innings, given up 25 earned runs on 77 hits, allowed just 28 walks and struck out 66 batters. 

Using sabermetric numbers this calculates to a 1.24 WHIP, 6.99 K/9, 2.96 BB/9, 2.36 K/BB and an ERA of 2.65.

For an in-team comparison CC Sabathia has over his career the following stats 1.22 WHIP, 7.6 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, and an ERA of 2.70.  So basically over their last 13 games the Yankees have had starting pitching just a tad worse overall than what their #1 starter has had over his entire career.  Pretty impressive indeed.

Looking at this on a league wide basis if compared to AL pitchers overall, going into play today, the Angels had the best WHIP at 1.17, the Jays the best K/9 ratio at 7.62, the Twins the best K/BB ratio at 1.64 and Oakland with the best team ERA at 2.79.  The Yankees starting pitching, over the last 13 games, if compared to the rest of the league for the season as a whole would be tied for third in WHIP, would be sixth in K/9, and first in ERA.  Admittedly the better comparison would be the Yankees starting pitching versus other teams starting pitching over the last 13 games but this is all I am doing for this post.

While there are reasonable questions that this dominate starting pitching will continue to dominate the way it has it is something that Yankees fans can be very pleased with to date.

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