Even though Ivan Nova and David Phelps have comparable stats in spring training, Nova should be the fifth starter instead of Phelps because he has proven that he can be a dominating starter in the regular season, and Phelps is a better fit out of the bullpen.
The first four starters in the rotation will definitely be C.C Sebathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Phil Hughes and Andy Pettitte. That is a solid first four and based on last season success should be able to give them length and many quality starts.
Two seasons ago, Nova finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting, after finishing with a 16-4 record and a 3.70 ERA. After being recalled from a brief stint to the minors, he had an 8-0 record with a 3.18 ERA in the last two months. The Yankees will need the starting pitching to be as good as or better than last season because the offense will surely not be scoring quite as many runs. Another advantage of Nova is that he has proven to have the ability to get out of trouble within an inning, in the past.
Nova also has four plus pitches which makes him ideal as a starter as opposed to coming out of relief. The pitches that he has in his arsenal include a four-seam fastball that he throws between 92-97 MPH, a circle change at about 85 MPH, a slider and a nasty 12-6 curveball that he delivers at a deceiving 79-82 MPH.
Super Nova had a season that was not up to his standards in 2012, where he had a 12-8 record with a sky-high 5.02 ERA. However, he is more of the pitcher that he was in 2011 than he was in 2012. Nova had a 2-5 record with a 6.40 ERA in 10 starts after the All-Star Break, but that is partly due to rotator cuff inflammation that he had.
However, he proved that he was motivated to win back his spot in the rotation after not earning his way into the postseason rotation last season. He showed up a few weeks early to spring training and in his last outing he only allowed four hits in four innings. So far in spring training, Nova has appeared in three games, pitched nine innings and has only allowed one run. He has also recorded five strikeouts.
It is also very conceivable for Nova to bounce back because many rookies who perform well experience a sophomore slump. This happens as a result of the scouting report making its way around the league and the hitters becoming more familiar with the pitcher (or vice versa). Examples of recent players who have bounced back after their sophomore slump include Jason Hayward, Austin Jackson, John Jaso and due to injury in his second season, Buster Posey.
In the exhibition season, he has expertly repeated his pattern from 2011 of being able pitch into and out of trouble by limiting the damage. The other candidate, David Phelps, has stats wise had an even more impressive exhibition season. He has appeared in four games, pitched 14 innings, while recording six strikeouts and only one run.
However, Phelps will be need more as a “utility” pitcher, since he can be effective as spot starter, as a seventh inning pitcher or coming out of the bullpen in long relief. A stat that proves this is that he made 11 starts last season, and came out of the bullpen 22 times, but still finished with an ERA of 3.34. This proves that he is able to pitch effectively in any role.
It is important for the Yankees to have somebody like Phelps who is ready to start in case of an injury. Also, in case of ineffectiveness, the Yankees would be much better off with Phelps relieving Nova in the rotation than the other way around. Putting Phelps in the bullpen will make that part of the pitching staff even deeper, while complimenting the starting rotation, which will be the strength of the team.