We are just over a week into a brand new baseball season, but for some players, the demons of 2012 haven’t gone away just yet. Admittedly, it has been a very small sample size that Ivan Nova has played in during the 2013 season, but the issues from 2012 are beginning to creep into his game again. With a depleted lineup and a deceptively weak middle of the bullpen, it has been no secret that the starting pitching will need to be on-point in order for the Yankees to tread water the next few weeks. However, it appears that maybe Ivan Nova didn’t get the memo.
It doesn’t mean that this is a small-sample size problem that has resulted from a pitcher needing to get back into a groove following a long off-season. Nova has been dreadful for some time now. Going back to the 2012 All-Star Break, Nova is 2-6 in 12 starts with a 7.10 ERA. Further, since July 15, 2013, Nova only exceeded 6 IP 4 times- including one 3 inning game.
Last year, an unfortunate reoccurring trend from Nova was also his tendency to walk batters, giving up 56 walks this year coupled with 10.3 H/9 IP. More troubling, 87 of the hits surrendered went for extra-base hits (28 homers, 7 triples, 52 doubles). To put that in perspective, Nova allow the most extra-base hits, second-most doubles, and 12th most homers in all of Major League Baseball in 2012. By enjoying significant run support and “pitching out of trouble” in 2011, much of the ability of Nova to win masked many of his struggles that fully came to fruition in 2012.
As we look at 2013, Nova has allowed 4 ER in just about 4.2 innings of work, including 5 hits and 2 walks (21 batters faced). The good news for Nova is that there doesn’t appear to be an issue of velocity, as was the case with Phil Hughes in 2011. His velocity, as early as it is, is still hovering in the mid-90s, which right about where he has sat throughout his major league career, so it doesn’t appear that there is an injury. There don’t seem to be too many mechanical issues, though that can be part of the problem. Rather, it appears that Nova’s breaking pitches are his downfall. They seem to either break too far out of the strike zone (hence the walks), or not enough such that they get hit- and hit hard. His fastball is just fine, but with no off-speed or breaking pitches to keep hitters off balance, he will continue to get hit.
So, where does that leave Nova? As confirmed by GM Brian Cashman, Nova does have one option left, so the Yankees have the flexibility to send him to AAA Scranton to work out whatever issues he seems to be fighting. I don’t necessarily see this happening, but the leash will be undoubtedly shorter than it was last year. Don’t forget, through most of the second half in 2012, the Yankees had a very comfortable division lead, and was only pulled from the rotation in late August in favor of David Phelps (when the lead had begun to dwindle to almost nothing). This year, the team hasn’t had a ton of success (yes, I know it’s early), and the regulars- Joba Chamberlain, Hiroki Kuroda, have been struggling. The Yankees may not want to take a chance by allowing Nova to just work it out in the majors, preferring to let Phelps have at it and use Warren in the pen as the long-man.
At the end of the day, whatever the Yankees decide, it is imperative upon Ivan Nova to figure out his issues, and figure them out quickly. The Yankees will be relying heavily upon their rotation not only through the first few weeks, but through the rest of the season, and they cannot afford to throw out a struggling pitcher out on the mound every turn through the rotation. Ultimately, Nova may not reach the heights he showed during 2011, but he has to be better than his 2012 numbers in 2013.