New York Yankees: Patience With Ivan Nova Paying Dividends
As New York Yankee fans, we're not accustomed to letting a young starting pitcher develop at the big league level.
Explore your memory and consider just the recent past. It's difficult to recall a pitcher since Andy Pettitte that was given a little time to acclimate to the rigors of pitching in the Major Leagues.
Sure, the Yankees tried and failed in 2008 with Joba, Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy, but in reality it was a risky proposition to hope for three rookie hurlers to develop simultaneously. One or two may have worked, but three was expecting a little much. Either way, the experiment was abandoned quickly, and the Yankees spent lavishly in the following off-season to purchase CC and A.J. Burnett.
A distinct lack of patience and the stated mandate of "win now, or else" prevent the Yankees from exhibiting patience with a young hurler, with the team preferring to fill their rotation with older, established veterans.
Considering the names that have run through the Bronx in recent years, it makes one wonder whether it may have been prudent to allow a few farm hands to gain experience on a Major League mound, rather than wasting millions of dollars on arms like Randy Johnson, Carl Pavano, Jaret Wright, Kevin Brown and Javier Vazquez.
Of course, hindsight is 20/20, and if one or two of those veterans had produced as hoped, the Yankees may not have waited from 2000 until 2009 to hoist another Championship trophy. However, none of them worked out to the degree that was expected, and the pattern is strong enough that it should hopefully dissuade the Yankees from relying so heavily on the same strategy in the future.
In a particularly exciting time in regards to Yankee pitching prospects, the farm system is currently loaded with promising arms that may soon contribute to success in the Bronx. Talented, young hurlers like Dellin Betances, Manny Banuelos, Hector Noesi and Andrew Brackman are all polishing their tools in the minors, waiting for the opportunity to impress on the game's biggest stage.
That is, if the Yankees are able to resist the temptation to trade them away for the next established veteran who may very well come to New York and struggle.
The "Killer B's" are all currently working through varying degrees of difficult in the minors, while Noesi has earned a spot in the Yankee bullpen recently.
Another Yankee pitching prospect who earned a starting rotation spot out of necessity in spring training has taken hold of his opportunity and is impressing mightily as a big leaguer.
Fresh off of the best start of his young career, 24-year-old Ivan Nova is solidifying his role with the club, and will certainly make it difficult for Yankee brass when the time comes to make a decision on his immediate future with the team.
Currently enjoying a regular starting role, Nova's job could be in jeopardy once Phil Hughes returns from his mysterious arm ailment, and Bartolo Colon from his groin injury. After winning 18 games for the Yankees last year, Hughes is virtually assured of returning to his rotation spot, while Colon has been a major surprise for the Yankees after a year-and-a-half out of MLB action.
Once those returns occur, the Yankees will face a pitching dilemma, forced to decide between the upside of Nova versus the experienced, veteran savvy of reclamation project Freddy Garcia. Prior to winning a job with the Yankees in spring training, Garcia had endured four difficult years of injury struggles which forced him to miss significant time during that span.
Like Colon, Garcia has far surpassed expectations, and has lent stability to a weakened Yankee rotation. Currently 5-6, Garcia owns a 3.63 ERA, a 1.375 WHIP, and an ERA+ of 113, certainly providing solid production at the back end of the starting staff.
Despite his modest success, nearly every time Garcia takes the mound, it feels as if he is living on borrowed time. With a fastball rarely topping 85 MPH, Garcia must rely heavily on location and mixing his pitches well to avoid serving up batting practice. However unimpressive his stuff is though, Garcia is making it work for the team and is helping Brian Cashman appear to be a genius for unearthing such a gem.
Nova, for his part, is doing all he can to make the decision difficult for the Yankees, whenever that time arrives.
If he can replicate yesterday's start against the Cincinnati Reds, or even approach that type of quality regularly, he will have a leg up on his more experienced competition.
Visiting Cincinnati's Great American Ballpark, the National League's top stadium in regards to home runs per game, as well as facing the NL's top-scoring offense, most didn't know what to expect of the young Nova. Without massive strikeout potential, it was feared by some that Nova may get feasted upon by the potent Reds lineup.
As if to calm the young starter's nerves, the Yankee offense jumped on Reds' starter Travis Wood, staking Nova to a 4-0 lead before he even took the mound. From there, Nova did the rest, confidently dominating a loaded Reds lineup, hitting his spots and mixing in his secondary pitches as well as he had in his career.
Utilizing his slider and change-up heavily, Nova kept the Cincinnati offense off balance all game, pitching a career-high eight innings, and matching his career-best seven strikeouts. He allowed only four singles without walking a batter to shut down MLB's third-highest scoring ball-club.
Though he had been solid, yet inconsistent throughout 2011 so far, Nova appears to be hitting his stride during the month of June. In four June starts, he is 3-1 with a 3.04 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP. Over 26.2 innings, he has allowed only 23 hits and eight walks, while striking out 17.
Perhaps most impressive is who he has excelled against in June. In his first June start, he lost to the Angels, but pitched well enough to win, as he made it to the seventh inning, while only allowing two earned runs in a 3-2 defeat. His three consecutive victories have come against the division-leading Indians and Rangers, as well as the NL's most potent offense in Cincinnati.
Overall, his numbers aren't particularly striking, but they are trending in the right direction. At 7-4 his record is good, by his 4.13 ERA and 1.450 WHIP have room for improvement., as do his 9.5 Hits/9 Inn, and 4.9 K/9 ratios. Like I said though, his recent success has the Yankees believing in his 24-year-old arm.
If his June performance is any indication, the Yankees may very well have another talented young arm upon which to build their future. With upcoming free agent classes appearing thin, and the trade market not offering much value, the Yankees may be best-served by continuing on this unfamiliar path and letting one of their young arms mature on the mound in the Bronx.
All it requires is a little patience. (Yes, I started whistling Guns 'N' Roses' "Patience" while typing that line.)