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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