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.