Spring Battle: Yankees 5th Starter: Is There Potential Value In CC Sabathia or Ivan Nova?

by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

It was assumed by most that CC Sabathia would simply be handed a spot in the Yankees somewhat questionable rotation.  While the group has potential to produce, there are questions hovering offer each of them:

  1. Masahiro Tanaka (health)
  2. Michael Pineda (health)
  3. Luis Severino (sophomore, ability to work deep into game)
  4. Nathan Eovaldi (various, though breakout candidate)

Assuming Sabathia was handed the fifth spot would’ve left Ivan Nova on the outside looking in.  However, based on their spring performances that may no longer be the case (through Monday):

  • CC Sabathia – 7.1 IP, 7.36 ERA, 2.05 WHIP, 4 K, 4 BB
  • Ivan Nova – 13,1 IP, 4.05 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 8 K, 5 BB

Yes it’s “just” a few innings in exhibition games, but for Sabathia this is a continuation of a disturbing trend.

CC Sabathia
Forget about any off-the-field issues, his stuff has simply been declining.  While his velocity rebounded slightly last season he still averaged 90.1 mph on his fastball.  That helped lead to a SwStr% of 9.1%, his lowest since his rookie year (8.9% in 2002) and helping to explain the ordinary strikeout rate of 7.37.  Given his age, injuries and the state of his stuff, there’s little reason to expect a rebound.

He’s also suddenly become very prone to the long ball, with HR/9 of 1.19, 1.96 and 1.51 over the past three seasons (the last two of which seeing him throw just 46.0 and 167.1 innings, respectively).  Right-handed hitters certainly got the best of him, which leads us to believe that his best fit could be as an extremely expensive left-handed specialist:

  • vs. LHH – .186/.235/.283
  • vs. RHH – .303/.362/.500

You could also argue that he’s simply better suited as a long man, given this split (ERA):

  • First 9 Batters – 3.58
  • Second 9 Batters – 4.72
  • Third 9 Batters – 5.86

Either way, the numbers scream of a pitcher who has little business in the rotation.

Ivan Nova
While he posted a 5.07 ERA in 17 starts last season, we have to remember that he missed the bulk of 2014 (4 starts) and was still working his way back into form.  His fastball velocity was back (93.0 mph) and there was some poor luck behind the numbers (70.4% strand rate).

Of course Nova is never going to be a “sexy” option, with mediocre numbers across the board for his career:

  • Strikeouts – 6.67 K/9
  • Control – 3.03 BB/9
  • Groundballs – 50.1%

Despite the groundballs he’s always had home run issues (1.04 HR/9) and he owns a career 4.33 ERA and 1.39 WHIP.

At the end of the day Nova is likely the better option, but that doesn’t say much.  Neither of them are pitchers fantasy owners should be flocking to and if they become integral parts of the Yankees’ rotation it likely means that it’s going to be a long season for the team.

Sources – Fangraphs, MLB.com

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