Will the Sophomore Slump Get to Nova and Pineda?

The sophomore slump is a notion that a player who has a breakout rookie year will experience a downturn in his sophomore year. Most think it’s due to teams watching more tape and figuring out tendencies and the pitchers failing to make an adjustment quick enough. The Yankees are relying on two sophomore pitchers this year in Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda to build on their success they experienced in their rookie year and not fall victim to the sophomore slump. It will be a huge key to the Yankees season.

How much has the sophomore slump affected pitchers recently? I looked at rookie pitchers over the last 5 seasons (not including last year since we do not know their sophomore stats yet) that had breakout rookie years and compared their numbers to their sophomore years. I used rookie pitchers who pitched at least 120 innings in their rookie year with what I deemed to be good success.  The stats I used in order are W/L record, ERA, WHIP, and K/9.

Player Rookie Year Rookie Stats Sophomore Stats
Justin Verlander 2006 17-9, 3.63 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 6.0 K/9 18-6, 3.66 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 8.2 K/9
Francisco Liriano 2006 12-3, 2.16 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 10.7 K/9 6-4, 3.91 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 7.9 K/9
Jered Weaver 2006 11-2, 2.56, 1.03, 7.7 13-7, 3.91, 1.38, 6.4
Matt Cain 2006 13-12, 4.15, 1.28, 8.4 7-16, 3.65, 1.26, 7.3
Josh Johnson 2006 12-7, 3.10, 1.29, 7.6 0-3, 7.47, 2.42, 7.6
Jeremy Guthrie 2007 7-5, 3.70, 1.20, 6.3 10-12, 3.63, 1.22, 5.7
Jair Jurrjens 2008 13-10, 3.68, 1.37, 6.6 14-10, 2.60, 1.24, 6.4
Edinson Volquez 2008 17-6, 3.21, 1.13, 9.5 4-2, 4.35, 1.32, 8.5
Armando Galarraga 2008 13-7, 3.73, 1.19, 6.3 6-10, 5.64, 1.56, 6.0
Brian Bannister 2007 12-9, 3.87, 1.21, 4.2 9-16, 5.76, 1.49, 6.6
Tommy Hanson 2009 11-4, 2.89, 1.18, 8.2 10-11, 3.33, 1.17, 7.7
Brett Anderson 2009 11-11, 4.06, 1.28, 7.7 7-6, 2.80, 1.19, 6.0
J.A. Happ 2009 12-4, 2.93, 1.23, 6.5 6-4, 3.40, 1.37, 7.2
Jeff Niemann 2009 13-6, 3.94, 1.35, 6.2 12-8, 4.39, 1.26, 6.8
Rick Porcello 2009 14-9, 3.96, 1.33, 4.7 10-12, 4.92, 1.38, 4.6
Jamie Garcia 2010 13-8, 2.70, 1.31, 7.3 13-7, 3.56, 1.32, 7.2
Wade Davis 2010 12-10, 4.07, 1.35, 6.1 11-10, 4.45, 1.37, 5.1

Based off these 17 pitchers over the last 5 seasons 7 pitchers experienced no major downfall in their performance. They are Verlander, Cain, Guthrie, Jurrjens, Hanson, Niemann, and Garcia. Only Jurrjens made a huge improvement in his 2nd year but Verlander, Cain, and Guthrie improved slightly, and Hanson, Niemann, and Garcia were slightly worse but still had solid years. 5 pitchers suffered significant injuries in their sophomore season. They were Liriano, Johnson, Volquez, Anderson, and Happ. Also, 5 pitchers suffered what I would include to be a sophomore slump. They would be Weaver, Galarraga, Bannister, Porcello, and Davis. So based off the last 5 years teams should worry about their sophomore pitchers staying on the mound just as much as their performance. When pitchers make a big jump in innings in their sophomore season it can lead  to injuries. This makes sense in this day and age of over protecting pitchers to at times extreme lengths. Of the pitchers who got hurt their sophomore season only Johnson has been the same pitcher again. Of the pitchers the pitchers who have had sophomore slumps only Weaver has gotten back to being an elite pitcher. Galarraga, Bannister, and Porcello have been big flops and Davis needs some more time to determine that. So the stats over the last 5 years are pretty even in whether or not pitchers have a sophomore slump or not. If you want to say the injured players had a sophomore then 10 players did and 7 did not or since injuries are unpredictable you can throw out the injured guys and say 7 pitchers did experience a sophomore slump and 5 did not. So the sophomore slump is not really a myth, but perhaps it is overblown a little.

How can Pineda and Nova avoid the sophomore slump? First they must stay on the mound. Pineda and Nova are both big guys who should be able to handle the innings although Pineda could stand to loose a few pounds right now. Nova pitched 173.2 innings last year and Pineda pitched 171 innings so they both can pitch close to 200 innings this year without issue. They both also need to continue to develop their secondary pitches.                                                                                                        

Nova’s slider came on at the end of last year, but it will need to continue developing so he can get more strikeouts. Nova’s peripheral numbers were as good as his regular numbers looked on the surface. Nova only had 5.33 K/9 compared to 3.10 BB/9. When you are only averaging about 2 more strikeouts than walks per 9 innings that is not very good. Nova’s FIP was 4.01 compared to his 3.70 ERA. Nova had success last year due to his 52.7 GB % and his .283 BABIP. However, what I love about Nova goes beyond these numbers. I think he has a great mound presence and great mental toughness so that should help him going forward along with improved stuff.

Pineda is the opposite of Nova because he needs to develop his secondary pitch to get more ground balls and not more strikeouts. Pineda has a fantastic fastball and slider, but needs his changeup to keep hitters off those pitches. Pineda had a stellar 9.11 K/9 compared to 2.89 BB/9. He also had a very good 3.42 FIP compared to his 3.74 ERA. The number he needs to improve is 36.3 ground ball % compared to his 44.8 fly ball % especially at Yankee Stadium. Pineda will also have to erase doubt about the end of his season last year even though I do not think much of those doubts since his peripheral numbers down the stretch last year suggested he was getting a little unlucky and was not as bad as he appeared. He will also have to deal with the pressure of New York like all new players.

Nova and Pineda both have the goods to continue to develop and avoid the dreaded sophomore slump. There are things they have to work on like any other young pitcher, but they are fixable. It would be nice if they fixed them this year because if they do the Yankees could do something special this season.

About Matthew B

I am a student at William Paterson University and studying to become a sportswriter. I have a huge passion for the Yankees and love sharing my opinions on them. I can analyze every aspect of the Yankees very well. I am very active on Twitter so feel free to contact me there Twitter: @RAYROBERT9

Posted on March 8, 2012, in Personal Opinion, Player Analysis and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. I saw on MLB Clubhouse Confidenial that Jeter has the best BABIP( batting average of balls in play) of any player in the majors who has 2500 at bats. Now that’s an immortal.

  2. Oh by the way it was .355.

  3. Most of the pitchers who struggle their sophmore year have increased their innings by more than 25 innings in one year, (the Verducci list) in one season. Both Hughes and Nova were on this list last year. It’s next to impossible to analyze pitching. There are less than 10 pitchers in the majors that have had 5 good seasons in a row. That’s why they are called aces.

  4. Pineda is on the Veducci list this year, throwing 171 innings last year or 31 more innings at age 22.

  5. Holland, Harrison for the Rangers and Hellickson for the Rays are also on the list.

  6. Good use of Stats Matthew nice article. Porcello was a surprise to me he has a good first season than not so much his second season.

    Hopefully Pineda and Nova can stay strong. With Pineda it’s a little different since he is switch from the west to the east.

  7. Good research Matthew. There’s no doubt that young pitcher’s have a bigger challenge in their second seasons

    The league adjusts. Scouts have a full yr of MLB video to dissect in the offseason. Hitters also start to see a pitcher more. A veteran hitter like Jeter may have 70-80 ABs against a vet pitcher but only 3 or 4 vs a rookie. It’s important for a young pitcher to make adjustments right back. I think the changeup is key to both Nova & Pineda’s development as well altering their sequences and locations. Pineda should also look to utilize his 2-seamer more to induce grounders.

    Then there is the Innings jump Matthew mentioned. Many rookies reach career highs in IP and they are also “high stress” innings since ther’s always pressure to impress. Nova constantly had to prove himself last yr – game after game. As well as he pitched, they still sent him back to AAA. So rookies can never let up.

    While the Yanks shouldn’t run these sophs into the ground, they also can’t baby them. They tried to baby Joba and Hughes and they both have had multiple & substantial arm injuries.

    Rather than try to establish an arbitrary innings limit before the season – just monitor a guy’s health and look for red flags or signs of fatigue. Every pitcher is different and saying Nova & Pineda can’t throw more than 185 IP this yr is not the way to go.

  8. Yes the innings jump is a big part of this. The problems for teams is pitchers have gotten hurt by being babied or by not being babied so not much they can do.

    • Sometimes the team doesn’t have the patience to bring the pitcher through the system. The Rays took their time with Matt Moore bringing him along slowly, Joba was too good too quick which made it difficult for the Yanks. Both he and Kennedy were pushed to the big leagues out of need. Cashman realized this was a mistake, now he is determined not to do that with the young pitchers in the system. It still doesn’t mean they will be successful. Verlander, Halliday, Lee, and Cain all had a year where they had their troubles.

  9. Looking forward to seeing Pineda’s 2nd outing of this spring tomorrow. Hopefully a little uptick in his fastball and improvement in his 3rd pitch.

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