Matt already previewed Ivan Nova and Doug Fister, tonight’s do-or-die ALDS Game 5 starters, in his preview piece last weekend, so rather than rehash all that, let’s recap what these two pitchers did last Saturday night:
6.1IP, 2ER (though they were inherited runners Luis Ayala was unable to strand), 4H, 4BB, 5K, 101 pitches, 3.34 FIP. First-pitch strikes to 15 of 25 batters faced. 15 called strikes, 12 swinging strikes, 20 foul balls, 15 in-play strikes. 6 ground balls, 7 fly balls.
Below is a chart of Nova’s pitch selection on October 1 compared to on the entire season (numbers c/o Joe Lefkowitz). The usual caveats apply here with regards to trying to make comparisons and draw conclusions from PITCHf/x data — especially with a pitcher like Nova, who has noticeably continued to refine and tweak his arsenal over the course of the season.
The primary things that jump out to me here is Nova’s increased use of both a two-seamer and slider against both righthanded and lefthanded batters, at the expense of fewer four-seamers. This is important, given that Nova’s heater is probably his worst pitch, and if Nova can continue to effectively mix in good secondary stuff with hard movement, he should continue to generate the extreme ground-ball rates he needs to overcome the pedestrian strikeout numbers. Nova will also need to continue to refine his curveball and changeup to combat lefthanders — neither is an out pitch, but at the very least he’s keeping southpaws off-balance with the change in speeds.
4.2IP, 6ER (though two were inherited runners Al Alburquerque was unable to strand), 7H, 2BB, 6K, 90 pitches, 1.74 FIP. First-pitch strikes to 19 of 23 batters faced. 25 called strikes, 7 swinging strikes, 14 foul balls, 15 in-play strikes. 6 ground balls, 2 fly balls.
Fister went to the two-seamer a whopping 79% of the time against righties on Saturday, a huge increase from 32% on the season. He went from using the four-seamer 39% of the time to 11%, and scrapped his slider entirely. Being that only two of his seven hits surrendered were to righties, I imagine he’ll employ something looking like this approach again tonight.
For lefties he mostly stayed with the gameplan he employed all season long, though he swapped out some four-seamers for changeups. Despite being stifled in the middle innings, the Yankee lefties managed to get to him, and he’ll need to make judicious use of his above-average changeup to try and keep the Bombers’ southpaw-laden lineup at bay.
Anaylsis and Conclusion
Though Fister had the better peripherals — and had that frustrating sequence where he retired 10 Yankees in a row — Nova ultimately outlasted and outpitched Fister. Of course, part of that had to do with luck on balls in play, but I’m not sure there’s anything less useful than analyzing single-game BABIP. Still, I’m sure Detroit was emboldened by Fister’s start even if he did take the loss, and I think that bodes well for the Yankees, as it seems unlikely that Fister can pitch better than he did on Saturday against the Yankee lineup. He’s probably not 4.2IP, 6ER-level bad against the Bombers, but the Yankees should be able to score four runs off a pitcher like Fister without too much trouble.
Additionally, he didn’t serve up a home run last Saturday, and the Yankees are way past due. Not only have they not gone yard in their last 18 innings, but Detroit’s starting pitchers have yet to give up a long ball this series. Thanks to his two-seamer, Fister’s been one of the top home run suppressors in baseball, tying Justin Masterson for the league lead with 0.46 per nine this season, and coming in with the 12th-lowest ratio in the AL in 2010.
However, Fister’s also resided in two fairly extreme pitcher’s parks these last two seasons, and with MLB’s leading home-run hitting team coming home to the second-most friendly environment for home runs in the AL — not to mention the team’s relative home run drought this series — I would expect to see the Bombers live up to their name in Game 5.