Ivan Nova, it’s a name that has struck a chord with many New York Yankees fans over the past two seasons, even with our own Chris Carelli, who wrote a fantastic piece on him earlier in the week. However, I decided to take a closer look at some other numbers and found that together, we’ve painted Nova’s entire disappointing 2012 season up to this point.
Something has definitely happened this season with Nova. I’m not 100% sure the exact reason, but we can examine a few key numbers that just might give a clearer picture as to Nova’s issues in 2012.
As always, with help from FanGraphs, let’s look at how batters are doing against Nova this year compared to last season. If you haven’t already, please take a look at this primer, which will explain each of these statistics in better detail. First, Nova is enjoying the best swing-and-miss rate of his career at 8.8%, which is 2.2% better than his 2011 season. Oftentimes strikeout pitchers get hitters out by making them swing at “their pitch”, a pitch out of the strike zone. Again, Nova has improved his O-Swing% by 1.2% over last season.
That’s about where it stops for all the positives, he’s striking out more hitters this season. However, his groundball rate has declined, his HR/FB has increased, and his BABIP has skyrocketed. Let’s tackle these one at a time, but we’ll quickly find that there’s a common theme.
Last season, Nova induced grounders in a shade over 52% of balls in play, which is what you want out of a pitcher who features a slider and a fastball with heavy downward action. This season, that number has dropped to 46.1%. That is a substantial decrease and we can learn pretty quickly where that is coming from. Switching back to the plate discipline numbers, we see that he’s getting behind in the count more often than last year (60.4% vs. 57.0% F-Strike%). Behind in the count, means he needs to pitch defensively, rather than proactively.
In 2011, Nova recorded a 70.1% O-Contact%, which was two full percentage points higher than the league average. What this tells us is that he was likely pitching ahead in the count and was forcing batters to try and hit pitches out of the zone. This is something that hasn’t happened as well this season for Nova. In fact, he’s accumulated a 63.5% O-Contact% in 2012. So while, he’s piling up the strikeouts (which could also be a result from a lower O-Contact rate), he’s not supplementing that with bad contact from hitters.
His home run rate, put simply, is atrocious. He’s giving up 1.42 home runs per nine innings. Want a quick comparison? Phil Hughes is hovering at 1.80. Meanwhile, by not inducing groundballs, that means more batted balls are flyballs and line drives, which doesn’t bode well for any pitcher in Yankee Stadium. As such, his HR/FB sits at 15.1%, almost double last year’s total (8.4%).
Finally, a quick look at his last six starts, he’s given up at least six runs in two of them (three earned in one), and nine in his last outing. Unsurprisingly, he’s 1-3 in those starts with a 5.97 ERA. It hasn’t been a lack of run support either, as the Yanks have scored four or more runs in four of his last six starts.
As Chris stated in his piece, “A pitcher can’t hide behind the smoke and mirrors forever.” And right now we are seeing the other side of the coin, the not-so-lucky side. Them’s the breaks in baseball, and Yankees fans need to realize that Nova is not a frontline starter, but instead, the back-end pitcher he was pegged to be while he was coming up through the minors. He can improve, but sadly, we’ve most likely already seen his ceiling.