Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova may be the secrets to this season

It has been a bumpy right for Yankee fans to start spring training. Already injured, Alex Rodriguez was implemented in another steroid scandal. Curtis Granderson was injured. Shortly after that Mark Teixeira was injured. All of this has drawn attention to an aging, potentially weak Yankee lineup. The potential lack of power in the offense may be true, but it is distracting everyone from the strength of the Yankee pitching staff.

This season the Yankees return as potent a 1-2-3 punch as they’ve had in years in CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte and Hiroki Kuroda. Sure, the latter two are old, but that’s a starting rotation you can count on. Still, it takes more than three starters to get it done in baseball. That’s why, for all the emphasis on the offense, the real secret to the 2013 season may be the performance of Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova.

Hughes’ solid 2012 gets overlooked. While he wasn’t as strong as his breakout 2010 season (which was really just a solid first half of the season), Phil did give the Yankees 191.1 innings of 4.35 xFIP baseball and 1.9 fWAR. That’s solid production from a back of the rotation starter. If you take a step back and look at Hughe’s performance over the last three years, he’s managed two solid seasons. Sure, his 2011 was dreadful, but in two of the last three seasons he’s shown progress as a young arm.

Nova’s development thus far has mirrored Hughes’, only a season behind. His breakout year was 2011, when he gave the Yankees 165.1 innings of 4.16 xFIP pitching, good for 2.6 fWAR. The consensus view is that he stumbled in 2012, but the numbers don’t back that up. His K/9 went up from 5.33 to 8.08. His BB/9 went down to 2.96 from 3.10. He increased his innings total to 170.1. That’s progress.

He did struggle to keep the ball in the park. He gave up an unsightly 1.48 HR/9, more than double his 2011 rate, and saw his BABIP jump up .331, but before I write him off as the new A.J. Burnett I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and say that his 5.02 ERA was due to bad luck and development. His 2012 xFIP was 3.92. His true performance is somewhere in between, but if he develops at all in 2013 he is positioned for an improved season.

If Hughes and Nova can show themselves to be average starters, let alone better than average, then the Yankees will have one of the strongest rotations in baseball. It will be led by seasoned veterans, with two young arms rounding out the back of the rotation. A rotation that ranges from strong to average, one through five, is more than enough to keep any struggling offense afloat. The main reason not to be overly concerned about the Yankee season is the pitching. The success of that pitching may very well rest on the continued development of two young pitchers who have been stronger these past few seasons than many Yankee fans realize.

8 thoughts on “Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova may be the secrets to this season

  1. The big x factor in all of this is Pineda. Because then if someone gets hurt or ineffective (Nova, Hughes are the likely candidates at first glance, but Pettite and Kuroda are OLD and it would surprise no one if they fell apart) he'll slide into the rotation and if he can be solid, let alone if he can be the star we wanted, that will shore up the rotation. I suppose it's possible that Nova, Hughes, Pettite and Kuroda all pitch well and we don't need Pineda, but I doubt it.

    • Phelps is probably the the #6 Starter. Then, if Adam Warren bounces back, he can see some action. Pineda will probably pitch a full month of games before he reaches the MLB. Maybe more than a month before his speed and accuracy are good enough to be on a MLB squad.

      • Warren has NOT looked good in the few opportunities the Yankees have given him to show his stuff either last season or here in spring training. I would not be the least bit surprised to that if the Yankees to work out a trade sometime this year for a bat that Warren is part of what the Yankees are willing to give up. Just my opinion.

        • I pretty much agree with what you say. Just a 50-50 hope that he has a strong first half and gets traded at the deadline or comes up if needed.

  2. This is potentially a dominant pitching staff. If the Yanks can find a way to muddle through until May 15 or so and stay within five games of the lead, then they should be able to make a run. Of course, that’s assuming Granderson isn’t striking out 40% of the time and Teixeira at least somewhat resembles his past. Then, a return to at least average major league 3B form from Alex Rodriguez and this team might be OK. However, that’s asking an awful lot. But the odds have to be with them, given the absolute run of horrible injury luck they’ve encountered thus far.

  3. I'm looking forward to seeing not only Hughes and Nova having breakout years but Phelps establishing himself as well and Pineda finally paying dividends in the 2nd half of the season. With a little bit of luck and no set backs for either Tex or Granderson the Yankees should be just fine. Then hopefully A-Rod comes back after the All Star break and even if he mostly DH's the offense should do just fine. At least that's my opinion.

  4. I absolutely agree that Phelps also has potential to be an x-factor this season (in fact, I expect it). I'm not as hopeful for Pineda. I do believe that he'll return from his injury, but I'd just as soon see him come back late this year, or not at all, rather than rush him.