Ivan Nova: Is New York Yankee Pitcher a Super Nova or Super Lucky?

Peter AlfanoContributor IIJune 12, 2012

Ivan Nova: Is New York Yankee Pitcher a Super Nova or Super Lucky?

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    Ivan Nova was a revelation for the New York Yankees in 2011. He had a breakout season, finishing 16-4 with a respectable, if not lights out, ERA of 3.70.

    One year, however, doesn't make a career. No one was penciling in Nova for another 16 victories this season until he showed he wasn't going to be a one-hit wonder.

    Nova is on pace to duplicate his first full season in the majors. He is 8-2 and allowed only one run in 15 innings of his last two starts.

    Still, the question remains: Is Nova that good or that lucky?

    There is no questioning that Yankee bats come alive when Nova is on the mound. The Yankees averaged 5.95 runs in his starts last season, and they are averaging 5.78 runs in his first 12 starts in 2012.

    That has helped Nova avoid a few more losses, if not increase his victory total. His ERA is still 4.64 even after his last two starts. His WHIP is 1.41.

    Is he a No. 1 or No. 2  starter, or does he give the Yankees one of the best back-of-the-rotation pitchers in the American League?

    At this point the jury is still out. Nova has allowed five or more runs in six of his 12 starts, which is not the consistency the Yankees want from him.

    On the other hand, he appears to be maturing into more of a strikeout pitcher. He has 69 strikeouts in 77.2 innings this season. He had only 98 in 165.1 innings in 2011.

    Run support can be a double-edged sword, of course. Some pitchers lose focus and get sloppy when they have big leads. That isn't the case for more experienced starters, like CC Sabathia, who is 7-3 with a 3.69 ERA and has gotten better run support than Nova with 5.86 runs per start.

    Compare this to Hiroki Kuroda—who has gotten only 3.46 runs per game to work with—Phil Hughes—who has received 4.24 runs per game—and Andy Pettitte, who in a handful of starts has had 4.86 runs scored for him.

    Pettitte, who is almost 40, has a 2.81 ERA. This demonstrates how he doesn't let the score affect his approach on the mound.

    Will Nova get better with experience, or is he destined to be only as good as the hitting support he gets?

    The next two years should tell the story.

    Meanwhile, there have been some pitchers who finished with impressive win-lost records in a given season, but a less-than-impressive ERA.

    Let's look at a random few, some of whom pitched for the Yankees.  

Jamie Moyer Never Got to Be an Ancient Mariner

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    Jamie Moyer, yes the same Jamie Moyer who was recently released by the Colorado Rockies, may have forgotten by now how fortunate he was in 1997 when he was a decidedly younger pitcher for the Seattle Mariners.

    It was one of his best seasons in a long, long career. Moyer finished with a 17-5 record.

    Pretty impressive, right?

    Moyer managed to do this despite having a ERA of 3.86.

    The secret was the support he received from a lineup that featured Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez and Jay Buhner. The Ms averaged an amazing 7.65 runs in Moyer's starts.

    Talk about wiggle room.  

Mulder Trusted His Bashing Teammates

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    What is it about left-handers? 

    Mark Mulder was a good pitcher, but his record wasn't always indicative of his overall effectiveness.

    Case in point? In 2004 Mulder was 17-8 for the Oakland A's. His ERA was a less-than-impressive 4.43.

    The A's backed Mulder by scoring an average of 5.56 runs a game for him. The amazing thing is that, with the exception of Eric Chavez, this Moneyball team had no one in the lineup who would make opposing pitchers quake in their spikes. 

Thrown for a Loop? Not Braden

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    Braden Looper was a starter and reliever during his career, although he won't remind anyone of John Smoltz.

    One of his best seasons as a starter was 2009 when he was 14-7 for the Milwaukee Brewers. That's not bad for a middle-of-rotation starter, until you look more closely.

    Looper had an ERA of 5.22 and a WHIP of 1.490.

    He was the beneficiary of good run support as the Cardinals averaged 5.81 runs in his starts. That won't win any awards, although Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder could be honored as best supporting teammates.

    They combined for 78 home runs and 255 RBIs that season. 

El Duque Rings Up a Quatro Y Doce ERA

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    The best Cuban import since the cigar?

    Some Yankee fans might say it was Orlando Hernandez who went 12-4 with a 3.13 ERA in his rookie season in 1998.

    El Duque was even better in '99, posting a 17-9 record. His ERA took a big hit, however, as it climbed to 4.12.

    Hernandez was the beneficiary of good run support, as the Yankees averaged 5.46 runs in his starts. Despite the inflated ERA, it would be the best season in El Duque's career.

Rogers and out

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    Kenny Rogers was 28 years old in 1993 and the No. 2 starter on the Texas Rangers behind Kevin Brown. 

    Rogers led the team in victories, going 16-10. His ERA was nothing to write home about, however. It was 4.10. He also had a 1.349 WHIP.

    With a lineup that featured Rafael Palmeiro, Pudge Rodriguez, Juan Gonzalez and Julio Franco, the Gambler got plenty of run support. The Rangers averaged 5.83 runs in his 33 starts, as the Rangers finished second in the AL West on the strength of their hitting.

Lineup Had to Be Ready for Freddy

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    Freddy Garcia was banished to the Yankees bullpen after only four starts this season.

    Despite pitching better in mop up roles, his ERA is still 7.66.

    That probably would have been a little too much for the Chicago White Sox to overcome when Garcia was in their rotation in 2006. He was 17-9 that season, but had a 4.53 ERA and 1.276 WHIP.

    From a victory standpoint, it is the second best season of his career. It doesn't compare to when he was 18-6 with a 3.05 ERA for the Seattle Mariners in 2001.

    Garcia won 17 games largely because the White Sox averaged 5.94 runs in his starts.

Blue Jays Give AJ a Free Agent Gift

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    Yankee fans were mostly frustrated by AJ Burnett, who always appeared to be under-achieving.

    Perhaps, however, they and Yankee management were misled when Burnett was 18-10 for the Toronto Blue Jays in 1998. It was his walk year and it enabled Burnett to get a five-year, $82.5 million contract from the Yankees.

    What general manager Brian Cashman overlooked was the 4.07 ERA Burnett had for the Blue Jays in '08. The Jays scored an average 4.46 runs in Burnett's starts.

    It was not surprising that Burnett was 34-35 with a 4.79 ERA in three years with the Yankees, who traded him to the Pittsburgh Pirates during the off-season.

Storm Brewing on the Mound

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    Our next example of pitching in good luck goes back to 1989 when Storm Davis was with the Oakland A's. 

    After four promising years with the Baltimore Orioles, the Birds traded Davis to the San Diego Padres in 1987.

    The Padres then sent him to the A's that same season.

    Still only 26 years old, Davis was 16-7 for the A's in 1988 with a 3.70 ERA.

    He was even better in '89, going 19-7. It was a little misleading, as his ERA climbed to 4.36 and his WHIP to 1.506 that season.

    With a lineup that featured Mark McGwire, Rickey Henderson, Carney Lansford and Terry Steinbach, and a rotation anchored by Dave Stewart, Mike Moore and Bob Welch, the A's won the World Series that season.

    They also averaged 5.81 runs in Davis' starts, which enabled him to have a career year. The A's sent him to Kansas City in 1990, and Davis never won more than seven games again.

Jon Lieber's Career Year

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    By Chicago Cubs standards, 2001 was a rousing success. The Cubs were 88-74 and finished third in the NL Central.

    A lot of their success is credited to Jon Lieber.

    In a rotation that included a young Kerry Wood, Jason Bere and Kevin Tapani, the Cubs gave him plenty of run support. Without it, it's unlikely Lieber would have won 15 games—much less 20.

    Lieber's ERA was 3.80, and not what you would expect from a 20-game winner. The Cubs, however, scored an average of 5.68 runs on his behalf.