Wednesday, March 5, 2014

New York Yankees: Ivan Nova must demonstrate consistency in 2014

When the New York Yankees desperately needed a starting pitcher to latch onto during the stretch run of the 2013 season, CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte would have been legitimate guesses as to who would take the reins. Do you know who took control for much of it? Ivan Nova.

Sabathia floundered the entire season, Kuroda was completely out of gas by August and while Pettitte pitched decently, it was Nova who turned in one fine effort after another in the heat of the summer. This wasn’t exactly remarkable; Nova has had his share of good stretches while with the Bombers. But he’s also faltered for lengthy periods.

Fast forward to this spring training and Nova has already earned himself a place in the Yankees rotation. He is no longer fighting for a spot, but assured one so long as he stays healthy. More than just filling a slot, Nova will be every bit as important to the success of the team as any other starter.

Nova cannot let up however. With Michael Pineda, David Phelps, Adam Warren and Vidal Nuno all vying for the fifth starter role, there are plenty of arms ready to vault into Nova’s fourth spot should he falter. This is the issue with Nova. Can he turn in a fully consistent effort across an entire season?

Many might suggest that he did just that in 2011 when at 24-years-old he went 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA. He finished fourth in the American League Rookie of the Year voting that season.

A closer look at the game logs during that season tells a story of inconsistency. Of his first 10 starts in 2011, he was unable to get past the fourth inning in two of them and beyond the fifth inning in two others.

But once the calendar turned to June, Nova went on a tear. He won 12 games and lost just one spinning a 3.23 ERA along the way. Surely impressive, but even during that stretch, there were a handful of games where he was very good (eight starts allowing less than two earned runs) and others in which he simply hung in there (four starts allowing four or more earned runs).

He followed up that season with a complete stinker in 2012. In 28 games (all starts) and 170.1 innings, Nova went 12-8. Stinker? Well, he had a 5.02 ERA. So what, ERA doesn’t tell the whole story, right? Without mincing words he got knocked around – a lot. Opposing hitters put up a .288/.349/.511 slash line and bashed 28 home runs off Nova in 2012. His teammates helped boost his record by scoring six or more runs in 11 of his starts. In those starts, Nova’s ERA was 5.83.

The performance left a bad taste in the mouths of the Yankees brass, forcing them to put Nova into a spring training rotation battle in 2013. He received a spot and promptly looked worse than he did in parts of 2012. His April performance was a mess. His line during that period was ugly – 6.48 ERA, .354 BAA and .897 OPS against. It was enough to earn him a demotion.

Nova made just four appearances for the Yanks from May through June, but he owned July and August. He went 6-2 over the time frame with a 2.06 ERA, .224 BAA and .596 OPS against. He was well on his way to finishing the year strong and then he reverted to an OK pitcher for September – 1-2, 3.90 ERA and opposing hitters recorded a .270/.336/.417 line.

This is my issue with Nova. He can put together some very fine stretches, but then he is not so good or downright awful for significant stages. No one should expect a season without a few blips, but Nova tends to waver for extended periods.

The Yankees, because of their question marks around the entire rotation, need Nova to be more consistent and be able to do it across the entire season. He’s shown he can perform at a high level for a couple of months at a time; now he must establish himself as a steady starter across a whole season.

The Yankees have to get 30+ starts from Nova and an ERA in the 3.40-3.60 range. I figure 13-15 wins is attainable if he can limit the bad stretches and 16-18 wins is not too far-fetched. Nova has proven he belongs in the major leagues, and now must demonstrate he can stay and be dependable over the long haul.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.

Photo courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo. Connect with Chris on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.