Ivan Nova’s good is good enough

What Nova does well for the Yankees is not without precedent. He is in the same mold as Chien-Ming Wang and Andy Pettitte. Neither of those two were ever among the leaders as pitchers, they were just good enough to pile up the wins. Pettitte has pitched his particular brand of “good” for so long that there will be a Hall of Fame debate. But we all know that Andy Pettitte has never been an elite pitcher just like Wang in his good years with the Yankees was not elite. The skills they possessed while Yankees is the same as Nova’s: Keep the team in the game, bend and don’t break and pile up the wins. Here is a breakdown of some areas we can compare between the three:

  • Pettitte with the Yankees: 3.88 ERA, 1.357 WHIP, 9.5 hits per nine innings, 0.8 homers per nine, .635 winning percentage.
  • Wang with Yankees: 4.10 ERA, 1.339 WHIP, 9.3 hits per nine innings, 0.6 homers per nine, .679 winning percentage.
  • Nova with Yankees: 3.82 ERA, 1.358 WHIP, 9.1 hits per nine innings, 0.8 homers per nine, .750 winning percentage.

Wang started 104 games for the Yankees and in 78 of those starts, he pitched at least five or more innings and gave up four or less runs. That is 75 percent of his starts. Andy Pettitte is even more remarkable in this area as he has made 405 starts for the Yankees and in 346 of those, pitched at least five innings and gave up four or less runs. That is 85 percent. Nova has made 39 starts for the Yankees and in 28 of them, he has pitched at least five or more innings and given up four or less runs. His rate in such events are 72 percent. While Nova’s proficiency for pitching that kind of start is lower than Wang and Pettitte’s, he is eleven of his last twelve in doing so.

And really, that is all Ivan Nova has to do to win like he does. This modern era of Yankee teams has consistently featured elite offenses and strong bullpens with the constant of Mariano Rivera at the end. If a pitcher for the Yankees can survive beyond five innings and give up four runs or less, the odds of winning the game are large. Is it always pretty? No. Does it have to be? No.

Ivan Nova’s first start this season was good enough. It might have been borderline very good with nine strikeouts and zero walks. He gave up ten hits, though, and a homer. He bent, but he didn’t break. And that is all the Yankees need from him, and really, from all their starters. Ivan Nova might draw a few puckered mouths from the stats guys and they are not wrong. But all he has to do is keep doing what he has been doing for the Yankees to keep piling up the wins.

William Tasker grew up in Bergenfield, New Jersey but has lived in New England since 1975 and in the far reaches of northern Maine since 1990. Tasker is the author of nine (non-baseball related) books and, besides writing here for three years, has written for his own site at www.passion4baseball.blogspot.com since 2003.

7 thoughts on “Ivan Nova’s good is good enough

  1. not Montero's dad

    At least 5 innings and fewer than 4 runs doesn't strike me as a particularly good outing is even looser criteria than the so-called "quality start" or at least 6 innings and fewer than 3 runs. Does the comparison stand if the latter criteria are used?

    • williamjtasker

      Not yet in Nova's case because it took a while before the Yankees trusted him long enough to get to the innings that qualify for a quality start. Nova's quality starts at 51 percent were less than the the league average of 53 percent last season for that very reason. Pettite sits at 58 percent quality starts for his career compared to a league average of 48 percent during that time. Wang's is at 55 percent but was around 59 percent during his Yankee years compared to a league average of 50 percent.

  2. jay_robertson

    *no, I don't have the numbers – but

    I'd imagine Wang's numbers would be even higher with the Yankees, if one were to throw out his abortive attempt to comeback after the heel (Achilles?) injury. Likewise, if one were to throw out the first few month's of Nova's performances, I think the subsequent numbers would be pretty encouraging. — have to remember, Petite has a huge body of work, while Yankee management has been mistrusting Nova and sending him to AAA. OTOH, the demotion seems to have worked, hasn't it? One more win and Nova ties Whitey Ford for wins in a row (or so someone said today)

  3. JEP

    Sorry but Pettitte was a better pitcher than Wang (and I don't think you can compare Nova based on one season). I don't have the numbers broken down specifically for the Yankee years, but Pettitte's career K/BB ratio is 2.34. Wang's, in his two very good years with Yankees (06, 07) were 1.46 and 1.76. Pettitte's career FIP: 3.75, xFIP: 3.70. Wang's FIP was 3.91 and 3.79. Pettitte's career K/9 is 6.6. Wang's for the two years was 3.1 and 4.7. And let's not forget that Wang did it for two years, Pettite for thirteen.

    • not Montero's dad

      I think the reason a casual fan may remember Wang more fondly than Pettitte is that Wang was often the de facto ace in rotations that Johnson, Pavano, Brown, Wright, Chacon, Ponson, Igawa… Conversely, Pettitte's rotations had Cone, Wells, Clemens, El Duque…

  4. michael

    There is a lot to like about Nova. Many objective analytical metrics haven't been high on nova because from 2010 until last July, he was missing the fewest bats in the league. He's young and is displaying some upside in his last 80 IP, sustaining improved K%. This is unsurprising, given he can sit mid-90s and has with a few decent 2ndary pitches. Even if his truee talent level is just a mix of new Nova and old Nova, its an above average pitcher the Yankees can roll out an expect a good chance to win. Let's hope he can continue to develop in his Yankee tenure

  5. thecutoffman

    I think Nova is criminally underrated. He's a 25 year old pitcher, who has compiled a 115 ERA+ in about 215 career innings, and he is still improving. He was hitting 96 on the gun yesterday, and made some of the O's hitters look foolish, striking out 7. His K/9 in the past hasn't been stellar, but I think he will make a jump this season.
    He didn't get they hype coming up through the minors, so he's not seen as a #2-3 type pitcher, which he has the potential to be. I think Nova will establish himself nicely behind CC this year as the #2 pitcher, and will maybe even make the All-Star team.

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