Game 149, Yankees at Mariners
Jason Vargas vs. Ivan Nova, 7:00pm (ESPN telecast, so note the change in start time).
You may have seen Jeff Sullivan’s post on Jason Vargas’ recent mechanical tweak, or Kyle Boddy’s follow-up at The Hardball Times – essentially, Vargas added an Eric Bedard/Felix Hernandez-style “twist” in his delivery to add a bit of velocity while improving his deception. (Kyle discusses how a twist might produce such results in his article).
Tonight’s a great opportunity to see how well the new approach works – can he maintain the velocity increase? It’ll be especially valuable since it’ll be his second straight start at home, so the impact of pitch fx calibration will be moderated. For an example of what I mean, check out his last road start here compared to his start in late August here. They look like two different pitchers – the movement’s different, the speed’s different, even the spin rate’s quite distinct. Now compare them to his start with the new mechanics. Clearly, he picked up some velo, but we need to figure out how much of the improvement carries over, and how it might be impacted by his pitch mix too.
I’m biased, obviously, but I find this fascinating. We’re able to watch a pitcher evolve with such focus. It’s not perfect; that Oakland start can realllly throw off a trend analysis. But we learn from the player what he’s trying to do, and now we’ve got all this data to illustrate it and to show how it impacts his effectiveness. Again, just like with Phil Hughes, we’ve got a pitcher who’s constantly tweaking his mix, his pitches themselves, and his delivery to stay in the rotation, and we’re perhaps more aware of it than ever before. Maybe it’s a lot of heat and not a lot of light, but as a Jamie Moyer fan, I’m just fascinated as to how guys throwing 86-88 can survive in this league – by what separates Vargas from Vasquez, or Travis Blackley. Deception and command are huge, but I do wonder if constantly evolving and adapting isn’t part of it as well.
The Yankees send out Ivan Nova, who’s had a very effective year for New York. He’s got a fastball in the 92mph range that looks quite straight, but gets a very good number of ground balls. He also throws a curve and change-up. I’m fascinated that a pitch with very little horizontal movement and an fairly normal amount of sink can produce the GB rates that Nova’s put up. But there, just ahead of Nova on the fangraphs leaderboard, is Zach Britton, who throws a 92mph FB (from the left side) with similar sink and gets similar results with it. I don’t know enough about either to really push this as a comp; Britton’s is a two-seamer and it has much more horizontal movement, but there’s certainly a precedent for Nova’s GB ability. Speaking of precedents, Britton shut out the M’s in May. On the plus side, Nova gets comparatively few whiffs and few strikeouts, and I’m getting fairly sick of the M’s striking out so much. However, the line-up includes Wily Mo, Olivo, Trayvon Robinson and Luis Rodriguez, so…maybe next game.