Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, it is worth asking the question; does Ivan Nova have a guaranteed spot in the Opening Day rotation? Joe Girardi says he doesn’t, but he also says Michael Pineda doesn’t either, which doesn’t pass the chuckle test. As stated above, Pineda was an All-Star last season who struck out over 9 batters per nine innings with a sub 3.00 BB/9 and should be ready to pitch ~200 major league innings at this point in his development. Changeup or no changeup, Pineda is going to be one of the Yankees’ five starters when the regular season rolls around, unless perhaps something goes terribly wrong over the rest of this month.
Is Nova in the same boat? He did finish the season strongly after being recalled from Triple-A in late July, strong enough to win the designation of being the team’s second starter in the ALDS, but he also rocked a 4.50 ERA as late as June 3rd, and even in that stretch of good pitching to end the season, his peripherals suggest there will likely be some level of regression down to the mean from that. Perhaps most problematic for him, however, is the fact that he has options remaining, so if the Yankees decide he didn’t set himself apart from Freddy Garcia, they can send Nova to the minors where they can keep him stretched out, as opposed to relegating Garcia to relief work.
My guess is that Nova is all but guaranteed a rotation spot on the strength of the season he had last season. Certainly, a little bit of early spring rust isn’t going to trump the performance Nova turned in from June on in 2011, and I don’t think Nova necessarily has to outperform Garcia and/or Phil Hughes to earn his spot this season. But if Garcia and Hughes are pitching well and impressing people and Nova continues to have command issues or, especially, if he’s leaving pitches up and having balls hit out of the park, it wouldn’t totally shock me if Nova is the starter left without a chair when the Grapefruit League music stops.
*Once again, I’m compelled to point out how silly the obsession the New York media and many Yankee fans have with the supposed superiority of the American League East. Is the division clearly the deepest in terms of the quality of hitting? Yes, but that doesn’t exactly mean that the other five divisions are populated with glorified Triple-A hitters. The idea that pitchers entering the division won’t merely see their peripherals take a marginal hit, but will probably fall apart and become completely useless once they have to stare down the Orioles and Rays is laughable. For example, Hiroki Kuroda had a 7.29 K/9 and a 2.18 BB/9 with the Dodgers last season. For the ssake of argument, let’s imagine a fairly significant worsening of those number with his move to the A.L. East this year, say, to 5.33 and 3.01 respectively, with his xFIP increasing from 3.56 to 4.16. Know what we have now? Ivan Nova’s 2011 season.