Game Thread: Yankees at Blue Jays, Sunday April 21

The Yankees and the Blue Jays have gone in opposite directions so far this year. Coming into the season the Yankees were projected to struggle due to injuries and austerity, while the new look Jays were supposed to thrive. So far the Yankees are off to a strong start, while the Blue Jays are currently in dead last. But the baseball season can change from one game to the next. Today the Yankees put Ivan Nova on the mound while the Jays counter with one of their new players, Josh Johnson. Once upon a time Johnson was a rising Ace with Florida. He was also made of glass. This season he’s off to a poor start (so you know he’ll give the Jays eight strong innings). Nova, meanwhile, has also struggled. My gut says this will turn out to be a pitcher’s duel, but if I’m wrong it could be a 10-8 ball game. Use this as your game thread. Enjoy!…

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What Nova Can Work On

As you probably know by now–thanks to last night’s canceled game thread–the Yankees will be skipping Ivan Nova‘s turn in the rotation, opting to go with Phil Hughes tomorrow; Nova will work out of the bullpen in between starts.

Nova struggled in his first start. Though he struck out five batters, he didn’t finish five innings, tossing just 4. in Detroit on the fifth. He also gave up four runs (all earned) and allowed seven baserunners (five hits, two walks). Something else of note, though, happened in that game and Mike explained it the other day: Nova was throwing a sinker at the Tigers’ batters. If we head over to BrooksBaseball and check out Nova’s player card, we can see that he threw the sinker 15% of the time, his third most used pitch behind his fastball (46%) and his curveball (25%). It would seem that goal number one would be for Nova to use that sinker when he’s brought in for a relief outing.…

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Nova Adds A Sinker

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Ivan Nova didn’t give the greatest performance on Friday, but he did break out a new pitch. Giving up 5 hits, 4 runs, and 2 walks in 4.2 innings is hardly something to get excited about, but beyond the numbers, Nova could be taking a giant leap with his career, and the Yankees a giant leap with their pitching philosophies.

One of the weakest parts of Nova’s repertoire is his hittable fastball. Although he’s capable of velocity in the mid-90′s, Nova’s four-seam fastball lacks movement, and was hit around for a .371 average and .632 slugging percentage in 2012. Compare this to his slider and curveball, which respectively allowed .254 and .170 batting averages. His breaking pitches have developed well over the last few years, and from 2011 to 2012, he saw a spike in his K% from 13.9% to 20.5%. With a year and a half of success with his slider and curveball, he’s developed a high ceiling with genuinely nasty secondary pitches, but his four-seam fastball has been the weak link holding him back.…

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Just one more day …

Tonight, the 2013 Major League Baseball season begins, with the Texas Rangers playing the Houston Astros. The most beautiful thing about the baseball season is that it changes how I spend my leisure time. Nothing on TV tonight? They always play baseball. Can’t think of something to do after work? Call a buddy and watch some baseball. Don’t know how to spend time on a sunny afternoon? Upper deck tickets are cheap on Stub Hub and the 4 train moves fast. 162 games plus the playoffs means something to do, something to watch and something to talk about for half the year, and in terms of weather it’s the better half of the year.

After the gift of always having something entertaining to do, my second favorite thing about the baseball season is following story lines. Most Yankee fans are upset because the team enters 2013 in the weakest state that it has been in since 2008. Not only is the team not favored to win the AL East, but many believe the team will miss the playoffs.…

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Nova Discusses His New Arm Motion

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Following Nova’s start yesterday, Chad Jennings of LoHud grabbed some quotes from Ivan Nova and Joe Girardi on the pitcher’s shorter delivery.

“In the beginning, it was hard,” Nova said. “But now I feel more comfortable. … I’m better down (in the zone), throwing more strikes.”

“I think he’s commanded his fastball better and I think he’s had a better downhill plane because of the little adjustment he made with his hands,” Joe Girardi said. “To me that (was) his inconsistency a lot of times last year was his command would get a little bit off. He didn’t walk people, but he didn’t hit his spots. And I’ve seen an improvement in that.”

This isn’t exactly a new delivery for the right-hander, as he specified yesterday that he uses this shorter arm motion when throwing the curveball. This isn’t all too uncommon, as most pitchers attempt to get a slightly higher arm slot on curveballs to increase the sinking action. Here is what the release points of both Nova’s fastball and curveball looked like in 2012.…

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How Young Yankee Pitchers Have Altered Their Mechanics (GIF’s Included)

Ivan Nova
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There’s been a lot of talk about the slider that Nova added in the middle of the 2011 season, but few talk about his changed mechanics. His hand position is the biggest difference.

In 2011, Nova brought his hands above his head during the windup. Sometime in 2012, he changed this by keeping his hands level to his chest. This does a number of things, but most importantly it allows him to keep his head steady and maintain eye contact with the catcher. When he had his hands over his head, Nova was forced to drop his head, thus causing him to lose focus of home plate and slouch prior to his stride.

Since 2010, Nova’s BB% has dropped from 9.2%, to 8.1%, to 7.5%. Keeping his hands to his chest may be one factor in his improved walk rates.

David Phelps
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David Phelps made the same adjustment as Nova. Although he does keep his hands slightly higher, Phelps drastically improved his posture at the beginning of his windup, and his head stays remarkably level.…

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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.…

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The Shallow Depths

Though the season hasn’t even started, the Yankees have already had their depth tested in two positions. Curtis Granderson‘s injury has opened up a spot in the outfield, and the catching situation has been much maligned since the Yankees declined to re-sign Russell Martin and passed on signing A.J. Pierzynski. And with Derek Jeter‘s ankle injury, we’ll see the infield depth tested as Eduardo Nunez and/or Jayson Nix get some time at short to spell the Captain.  On the other hand, the pitching seems to be fairly deep.

The bullpen is well-stocked and some pitchers (think Clay Rapada and Cody Eppley) will not last the year on the 25-man roster. Likewise, though not quite as widely, the starting rotation is considered to be an area of strength. It’s certainly a talented rotation featuring CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, and Hiroki Kuroda. But is it as deep as we think?

Phil Hughes has already suffered an injury.…

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Nova Shows A Shorter Arm Motion In Spring Training Debut (GIF Included)

On Saturday, Ivan Nova gave us 2.0 innings of one hit baseball to think about. For the most part, Nova was hitting spots like a lunatic, 22 of his 27 pitches were strikes, and the one hit he gave up was an infield single off the end of his own glove.

Weak contact is something that Nova grew unaccustomed to in 2012. His 16.6 HR/FB% was the fourth highest rate of all qualifying pitchers last season. It wasn’t always like that though, in 2010 and 2011, Nova’s home run rate was half of what we saw in 2012, and his groundball rate was 6% to 7% higher. It wasn’t only contact rates that made Nova look like a different pitcher, but his strikeouts sky rocketed from 13.9% in 2011 to 20.5% in 2012. While the walk rates also took a step back, Nova somehow evolved into a strikeout pitcher, and that wasn’t necessarily a good thing.

Now Nova and the Yankees are looking to find the 2011 pitcher, rather than his 2012 counterpart.…

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