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2 to Watch: Tommy John Edition with Nova and Corbin

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Each week during the season, I will profile two players that are interesting either because they are in the midst of a breakout, are performing way above their heads, are interesting for other reasons, or are widely available and useful. This week, it's a "returning from Tommy John" special with Ivan Nova and Patrick Corbin.

Ivan Nova is coming back this week. What version of him will we see?
Ivan Nova is coming back this week. What version of him will we see?
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to week 12 of 2 to Watch! To read previous editions of 2 to Watch, check out this link. As usual, we'll start by checking in on last week's players to see how they've done in the past week.

Note: all stats from Fangraphs and current up to 6/22

Robbie Ray: 5.2 innings, 4.76 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 28% K%, 8% BB%, 3.99 FIP, 3.18 xFIP, 0.333 BABIP

Ray had an interesting start against the Padres. His strikeouts were way up from his previous starts, but his results (ERA and WHIP) were much worse. He gave up a ton of hard contact and was unlucky with some fly balls turning to homers, but overall, it was a poor start, despite the strikeouts. The xFIP was good, though and his swinging strike rate was excellent. If he could keep that up, I would recommend him going forward, but I just don't see this continuing. I'm still selling Ray. He's too reliant on his fastball and bad changeup.

Matt Kemp: 2 HR, 4 R, 3 RBI, 0% BB%, 30.8% K%, .250 BABIP, 0.240/0.231/0.520 (AVG/OBP/SLG)

Well, after writing about how his power has disappeared, he hits two homers and puts up an excellent slugging percentage for the week. However, his plate discipline continues to be awful and I don't think the power surge will continue. One third of his flyballs turned into homers last week, which is obviously unsustainable. I continue to believe that he his hiding an injury that will sap his power all year. I would look to sell him, especially after this mini power surge.

Pitchers returning from Tommy John

This week I'm not profiling any hitters so that I can instead profile two starters returning from the Dr. Andrews elbow dicing known as Tommy John surgery. These guys are coming back to their teams this week (Ivan Nova) and in the near future (Patrick Corbin), so it seemed like a good time to dive in and see what we might expect.

Before I get into them individually, I want to remind everyone that pitchers returning from the surgery often see an increase in walk rates and a decrease in command. This study shows that WHIP increases (along with ERA) after they return. I should point out that the general view is that walk rates increase at least in the first year after surgery, but I found conflicting reports on overall success post-TJ. This review of studies highlights that fact. This last one by the great Stephania Bell at ESPN seals it for me: pitchers do decrease their performance after surgery (scroll down to the pre- and post-surgery graphics for ERA, WHIP, velocity, etc.). Keep this in mind for both of these two players.

If you were expecting a profile of Jose Fernandez, you've come to the wrong place. He is returning next week (hooray!), but you don't need me to tell you that he is going to be great. I have no concerns about how he will perform.

Ivan Nova

Nova is the first one coming back, so I'll cover him first. Let's look backward first.

Year IP ERA FIP xFIP WHIP K% BB% GB% SwStr%
2011 165.1 3.70 4.01 4.16 1.33 13.90% 8.10% 52.70% 6.60%
2012 170.1 5.02 4.60 3.92 1.47 20.50% 7.50% 45.20% 9.10%
2013 139.1 3.10 3.47 3.68 1.28 19.80% 7.50% 53.50% 9.40%
2014 20.2 8.27 6.91 4.51 1.84 12.50% 6.30% 49.30% 5.50%

Well, he's always had bad WHIPs and at his best, his strikeout rate was just ok or above average. But, those 2013 innings are the reason we care about him at all. The groundball rate, FIP, xFIP, and swinging strike rates are all positive, even if they aren't ace-level. It is safe to ignore the 2014 numbers, since he was obviously hurting until he went down for good.

Looking deeper at 2013 then, his individual pitch swinging strike rates show a poor fastball, excellent curveball, above average two seam fastball, good slider, and terrible changeup. He threw his sweet curve (35%) almost as often as his four seam fastball (37%), which is obviously unusual. He threw his two-seamer significantly less than those two (23%) and then the change and slider were only brought out of the attic a few times a month.

All three of his primary pitches were good at getting grounders, so there's more positive stuff there. His four-seamer produced a 19% infield fly percentage, which is pretty darn good. His four seamer has always hung around 93 mph, which is just above average for a righty. Put all this together and throw in the fact that he is only 28, and you can see reasons for predicting a breakout, at least if he hadn't gotten hurt.

So, let's address his injury. He's been rehabbing since last April, so he's had a good recovery time. He had three rehab starts (which seems a little short, but anyway). Here's the stat lines from two of those starts (I couldn't find stats from the other one), courtesy of minorleaguecentral.com:

Team IP ERA FIP SIERA WHIP K% BB% GB% SwStr%
Scranton (AAA) 6 1.50 4.87 4.44 1.00 13.60% 4.50% 38.90% 4.10%
Tampa (A+) 4.2 1.93 1.91 1.93 0.64 15.00% 0.00% 64.70% N/A

The single-A start in Tampa looks excellent, but things got a bit rough in AAA. He didn't get swings and misses like he needs to, didn't get grounders and walked too many batters. He was very lucky to only give up one run and have a 1.00 WHIP. His FIP and SIERA (similar to xFIP) both show how bad the start really was. The third start that isn't shown is the last one at AAA, where he gave up five runs in five innings on seven hits with reports of poor command, which seems to continue his rough pitching from the other AAA start. His overall ERA for his rehab was 4.02. For what it's worth, Nova seemed positive despite the results. You can read more about his rehab starts here.

Nova's velocity hasn't fully recovered and you can get that straight from the horse's mouth.

New York Yankees SP Ivan Nova (elbow) said his velocity might not be up to par for his season debut Wednesday, June 24. Nova said his velocity will be a ‘process.’

What's interesting is that other reports I found all said his velocity and stuff were back to roughly pre-surgery levels, so I don't know what to think. I will always side with the man himself, though.

What can we fantasy players take away from all of this? I think he will be rough out of the gate and would avoid his first few starts at the very least. He was teetering already on the edge of being ownable is shallow leagues, even in 2013, so any decrease in his control, his strikeouts, his velocity, or groundball rate could make him nothing more than a streaming candidate against weaker lineups.

I will be watching him carefully for the next two weeks. If you want to gamble on him and can afford the roster spot, go ahead, but I think he won't get back to his 2013 level and will therefore not be very useful outside of the very deep leagues.

Update: His first start went far better than I expected, even against a bad Phillies offense with 6.2 innings of shutout ball. However, his strikeouts continued the trend from his rehab starts with only one K all game. His xFIP was 6.66 (eerie) and his FIP was 3.71, so don't get too excited just yet. Let's see how his next couple starts go.

Patrick Corbin

Introduction stuff, blah, blah, blah, here's a table:

Year IP ERA FIP xFIP WHIP K% BB% GB% SwStr%
2012 107 4.54 4.00 3.73 1.33 18.90% 5.50% 45.70% 8.80%
2013 208.1 3.41 3.43 3.48 1.17 20.70% 6.30% 45.20% 10.70%

So, this is essentially the same table we looked at for Nova, except Corbin never got any 2014 innings. Their 2013 seasons are actually very similar and both very good. Corbin got fewer grounders but more strikeouts and a better WHIP. Overall, this looks like a young (25) pitcher breaking out.

Corbin throws a two-seamer, a nasty (27% swinging strikes in 2013!) slider, a four seam, and a change up that is just OK at best. Only the two-seamer gets above average grounders, but all four pitches are excellent at producing pop-ups. His slider is a better out pitch than anything Nova has, but his other pitches are comparable.

Ok, so how's he looked post-surgery (15 months after the knife)? Well, he's got 11 innings with a weak 14% K-rate, an OK 7% walk rate, a 3.48 ERA, and a 4.61 FIP. So, not great, but it's a very small sample. He's got two more rehab starts before returning. Only one of his AA starts is available on Minor League Central, so I'm not going to bother with a second table for just 4.2 innings, but his swinging strike rate was over 9% and everything else looked decent.

Despite a decent amount of time searching the interwebs, I could not find velocity readings for any of his rehab starts. The closest I could find was "his velocity fluctuated recently." So, I don't know where his velocity is at. If he can keep it at 92 like it was pre-surgery, he will be in great shape as a lefty, since their average is about 90.

Overall, despite the lesser info we have about Corbin compared to Nova, I like Corbin more. Why? He's a lefty, he pitches in the NL, he had slightly better results and advanced stats before injury, he had a longer recovery time, and he has a better out pitch. I'm less worried about Corbin's strikeouts completely disappearing than Nova.

Corbin could produce something like Gio Gonzalez has this year (FIP and xFIP, not his terrible ERA) the rest of the way. Gio is a good comp simply because he is an above average lefty with a 92 mph fastball playing in the NL. Gio is more of a groundball pitcher than Corbin, so the comp isn't perfect. It is mainly just to give you an idea of his stat line.

As for Nova, that Yankee stadium and AL risk coupled with a risk for a very poor strikeout rate makes me think he will be more of a 2014 Rick Porcello the rest of the season, with a slightly worse ERA in the 3.8 range.

Well, there you go. I hope that was a helpful look at these two second-tier TJ returners and how useful they might be to you in your league. If your waiver wire is so void of starters that Chris Young or Miguel Gonzalez are the best available pitchers, then you should take a chance on either or both of these two young guys just because they could surprise us. Otherwise, use my projected stat lines/comps to weight how valuable these guys will be in your leagues.

Alright, tune in next week for more 2TW! Tschus!