New York Yankees: Why Ivan Nova Will Lead Them in Wins in 2012

Joe Acampado@@AwesomepadoCorrespondent IFebruary 27, 2012

New York Yankees: Why Ivan Nova Will Lead Them in Wins in 2012

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    It's a little too easy to say CC Sabathia would lead the team in wins.  So instead, I'm gonna say Ivan Nova could be the one to do that feat.  A little far-fetched, I know, but Spring Training brings all sorts of crazy predictions.

    Sabathia is the consensus choice to lead the team in wins, so it's no fun to write about that.  Michael Pineda needs to adjust to the AL East and not pitching in Safeco Field.  Hiroki Kuroda came from the NL West, the exact opposite of the AL East.  Phil Hughes needs to pitch a full season in the majors first.

    Nova was only a rookie last season, but he sure didn't act like it.  He won 12 of the last 16 games he started, going on an eight-game win streak in that time span.

    So out of all the Yankee pitchers not named CC Sabathia, Nova seems to be the best bet to win the most games.  Here's why.

The Rest of the Guys

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    I touched on this in the intro, but I'm gonna expand on it here.

    Obviously, CC Sabathia is the best bet to lead the New York Yankees in wins again.  However, I can't help but feel like his arm is bound to fall off every time he takes the mound.  He can only pitch so many innings and throw so many pitches before injuries catch up to him.

    While I want Sabathia to stay healthy, no mere mortal can pitch the amount he pitches.

    Michael Pineda went through a second-half slump last season.  It could've been fatigue, scouting reports catching up, or the hitters in the league recognizing his pitches.

    Pineda also has to get used to the AL East.  The hitters in the division are of a different nature than in last year's AL West.  Then there's also the tiny matter of pitching in Yankee Stadium instead of spacious Safeco Field.

    Hiroki Kuroda has to grow through some of the same adjustments Pineda does.  Kuroda might have a more difficult time, though.  Unlike Pineda, Kuroda doesn't have 95-mph fastballs or a nasty slider to go with it.  

    He also pitched against the likes of the San Francisco Giants and San Diego Padres more than any other team in the league.  He'll be in for a bit of a shock when he pitches against the Boston Red Sox in Yankee Stadium for the first time.

    Then there's Phil Hughes, who hasn't turned into the pitcher everyone thought he'd be.  Injuries and playing around with his role on the team has hindered him a bit.  Hughes has a lot to prove before people start picking him to lead the team in wins.

He Got Better as the Year Went On

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    This is different than a good majority of rookie pitchers.  Most of them tend to go into a bit of a slump during the second half of the season.  

    The workload, length of the season, scouting reports, and hitters seeing them so often catches up to them.  A combination of those reasons is probably why Michael Pineda had trouble in the second half.

    Not Ivan Nova, though.  Look at his pre-All-Star Break numbers compared to his post-All-Star Break numbers:

    Pre-All-Star:  91.2 innings, 98 hits, 48 runs, 42 earned runs, 51 strikeouts, .269 average against

    Post-All-Star:  73.2 innings, 65 hits, 26 runs, 26 earned runs, 47 strikeouts, .242 average against

    There's a smaller sample size to work with after the All-Star Break, but the overall numbers and the ratio is better in the second half than in the first.

    Nova got better as the season went on, so it stands to reason that he'll be just as good, maybe even better this season.

A Stronger Slider

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    One of Ivan Nova's best pitches is his slider.  It can be thrown in the mid-80s and has a good amount of movement to it.  When it's spot-on, it supplements his fastball, allowing him to be a strikeout pitcher.

    The Nova of before relied heavily on his sinking fastball.  Nova would go for the groundout instead of the strikeout.  As many people know, there's always a fair chance of having a groundball slip past a fielder. Strikeouts are more of a sure thing.

    Some time last year, Nova improved his slider.  With another season under his belt and an offseason to get ready, his slider should be a little be more refined.  

    With his slider, Nova now has two plus-pitches that he can throw effectively.  A strong, reliable slider will help him get hitters out.  And as we all know, getting hitters out leads to wins.

His Sinking Fastball

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    Nova has two fastballs in his arsenal.  There's his four-seamer which can be thrown in the mid-90s.  Then there's his sinking two-seamer which is thrown a little slower than the four-seamer, as it tops out at 92 mph. His two-seamer is his best and most reliable pitch.

    The two-seamer has great movement.  It's used more to induce a groundout than it is to strike out the hitter.

    Groundouts are useful for getting out of bases-loaded jams, getting a double play, and reducing the pitch count.  Strikeouts require at least three pitches to be thrown.  Those pitches start to stack up leading to fatigue.  With a groundout, the pitcher only really needs one pitch.

    Ideally, Nova would only need three pitches to get out of an inning.  Of course, he won't be able to get that every inning, but a sinking fastball would help keep his pitch count low.

    A low-pitch count means he can go longer in games. The longer he goes, the better chance he has of getting a win.

Clutch Pitcher

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    Here are some numbers from 2011 to look at when considering whether Ivan Nova is clutch:

    No one on base:  375 AB, 100 hits, 13 homers, 33 walks, .267 average against

    Runners in scoring position:  144 AB, 31 hits, 0 homers, 17 walks, .215 average against

    Runners in scoring position with two outs:  57 AB, 13 runs, 9 hits, 0 homers, 7 walks, .158 average against

    Bases loaded:  8 AB, 1 hit, 0 homers, 0 walks, .125 average against

    I left out runs because they would skew the numbers.  Obviously, there's a higher chance of a run scoring with a runner on base than there is if there's no one on.

    What's important to note is how Nova's other stats decrease when the pressure rises.  All of Nova's homers are solo shots, which are the least painful homers.  He also gives up fewer hits and walks as the situation gets more dire.

    Look at his numbers with two on and two outs as well as when the bases are loaded.  Nova pretty much does not give up a hit when it matters.  Even better, he won't walk the run in when the bases are loaded.

    Sure, Nova hasn't been in many bases-loaded situations in his career.  In fact, he's only been in that situation 15 times.  In those 15 times, however, Nova has only given up two hits.  Nova is as clutch as they come.

He Can Get the Lefties Out

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    Last season, Ivan Nova had more at-bats against lefties than righties.  Interestingly enough, he fared better against left-handed hitters than right-handed ones.

    Nova gave up 52 runs against righties in 386 at-bats while giving up 44 in 412 at-bats against lefties.  On top of that, he struck out more lefties likely because of his slider.  His average against with lefties is .248 while against righties, it's .272.

    This is good news as some of the best hitters in the league are left-handed.  Adrian Gonzalez, David Ortiz, Josh Hamilton, and now Prince Fielder are all left-handed.  In order to be successful against the other teams, the New York Yankees' pitchers need to neutralize the opponent's best hitters.

    Nova's slider can help do that.  Other than CC Sabathia, there's no other Yankee starter that I'd trust to get the opponent's best hitters out.

A Full Season

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    People seem to forget that Ivan Nova was sent down last season in July to make room for Phil Hughes.  Little did the Yankees know that Nova was going to be in the midst of an 11-game win streak when they sent him down.

    Every time Nova was involved in a decision after June 3, he won.  Going from 5-4 to 16-4 in a span of four months and 16 games is an impressive feat.  Just imagine what he would've been able to do if he had an entire season.

    Luckily, we won't have to since he'll be a mainstay in the rotation for 2012.  Barring any injuries, Nova will likely pitch in at least 30 games.  Nova pitched in 28 games and won 16 of them.  

    A new and improved Nova, along with staying in the majors all season, will undoubtedly win more games this year than he did last year.  

    Let's say he pitches 33 games, since that's what most starters pitch.  That's five games more than he pitched last season.  It wouldn't be unreasonable to get 19 wins from him.  That's as many as CC Sabathia won last season.

    If he can match Sabathia in the wins column, there's no reason to believe he won't be able to lead the teams in wins.

The New York Yankees Offense

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    Pitching is only one part of the equation.  Ivan Nova can pitch the best game he can pitch, but if his team doesn't give him any run support, then the New York Yankees won't win the game.

    Luckily for Nova, the New York Yankees have one of the best offenses in the league.

    Led by Curtis Granderson and his newfound power, the Yankees are poised to once again make a run as the title of best offense in the majors.

    Granderson and Mark Teixeira will hit 30+ homers.  Robinson Cano will continue to do his thing and maybe even join those two as a 30-home run hitter.

    Brett Gardner is the iconic leadoff hitter.  Nick Swisher will be underrated once again as he grinds out another 20+ homer, 80+ RBI season.

    Then Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter will try to fight off Father Time once again.  Hopefully, A-Rod can get back to form and mash 30 homers while Derek Jeter will get close to batting .300 again.

    With that offense backing Nova up, he'll definitely get a good amount of wins, maybe even enough to lead the team.

The Great Mariano Rivera

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    A good amount of credit does belong to the New York Yankees' now-stacked bullpen.  Rafael Soriano and David Robertson help hold the lead, but it's the ageless Mariano Rivera who closes the game.

    Rivera is the all-time leader in saves.  He's been using one pitch to dominate the league since the late 1990s.  There's been no sign of Rivera slowing down, so he'll likely be up to his old tricks again this season.

    His cutter is about as unhittable as they come.  It's one of the best pitches in baseball, maybe even of all time.  Rivera can constantly throw it for strikes.  Every hitter knows it's coming.  Every hitter won't be able to hit it.

    Ivan Nova can help keep the game close for the Yankees to win it.  He'll need Rivera's help to close out the win.  There's no one better to trust that job to.

An Offseason to Improve

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    Ivan Nova was a good pitcher in the second half of the season.  He was even solid in the postseason, as he was the New York Yankees' best pitcher with the lone exception of A.J. Burnett's solo outing.

    Nova's now had an offseason to improve his pitches.  Drawing on the experience of last season, Nova knows what works, what doesn't, what pitches hitters go after, and which of his pitches he needs to improve the most.

    To be an effective pitcher, Nova will have needed to work on his slider.  It was good last season, but it needs to be better this year if he wants to avoid the sophomore slump.  

    He also needs to develop a reliable third pitch, either his curveball or his changeup.  Improving either one of those will help him be a better pitcher.

    If Nova took full advantage of this offseason, he'll be a better pitcher this year than last.  If he was able to win 16 games last year, he should be able to win more this year.