Nova’s Quietly Bad Season Thus Far
Ivan Nova has quietly been pretty awful for the Yankees this season. He has been getting a pass because of the run support the Yankees have given him and the good grace he built over last year. On the year Nova is 4-1, with a 5.44 ERA, and a 1.67 WHIP. Nova has been every bit as bad as Phil Hughes but has managed to escape the criticism that Hughes has gotten. Hughes is trending upwards and Nova downwards so maybe that will soon change.
In addition to the reasons I gave prior I think Nova does not get the criticism Hughes does because Hughes was the higher rated prospect with more expectations, and he has frustrated Yankees fans over the last few years now. I will start off with the few positive things I can say about Nova that you hope he can build on. His 8.37 K/9 compared to his 2.93 BB/9 is very good and a big improvement over last year. Also, his stuff looks the same if not better. His fastball velocity has increased and his slider has continued to develop into an out pitch, as it has a 20.91 whiff %. Also Nova’s xFIP is 3.57 which suggests he has gotten a little bit unlucky. However, this has not translated into good results as Nova has gotten bombed this year.
They’re some pretty ugly numbers for Nova this year. Nova’s batting line against this year is .326/.381/.623/1.004, which is pretty egregious. If a hitter has a career OPS of 1.003 they are a no doubt 1st ballot Hall of Famer. In fact the only 8 players in MLB history who have a career OPS higher than what Nova is giving up this year are Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, Barry Bonds, Jimmy Foxx, Albert Pujols, Hank Greenberg, and Roger Hornsby. Also, Nova has a ridiculously bad HR/FB rate of 18.4% and a BABIP of .380. Those numbers are so high that you know there is no way they can stay that high. Last year Nova’s HR/FB rate was 8.4% and his BABIP was .283. Part of the reason Nova is giving up more home runs is obviously because he is allowing more fly balls than he did last year. Nova’s fly ball percentage this year is 35.5% compared to 28.9% last year and his ground ball % is 45.7% this year compared to 52.7% last year. Keeping the ball on the ground was a key element to Nova’s success last year that is missing this year.
Nova’s fastball has been getting killed at an alarming rate this year. Fangraphs has Nova’s fastball as 10.2 runs below average, which makes it the worst fastball in MLB this year. (Click Fan Graphs to see the chart) Yes it is even raked worse than Jamie Moyer’s Stone Age fastball. Also Nova’s whiff percentage on his fastball is a mere 2.37 %. Nova’s velocity is better than last year so the issue must be the location. Here is a graph of Nova’s fastball locations this year courtesy of The River Ave Blues. You can click on the graph to make it larger if you want to.
As you can see a lot of the fastballs are up in the zone and when you combine that with home run friendly Yankee Stadium it is not good. To get back to the pitcher he was in 2011 Nova will have to pitch down in the zone better. I am not saying this is going to last forever or it can’t be fixed. I am saying he is going to need to improve a lot to live up to the expectations the Yankees had for him this year. As I mentioned earlier Nova’s stuff has looked good, so he has the ability to turn it around. Another thing Nova has going for him that you cannot see in any of these stats is his mental toughness. Nova has shown from his first MLB start when he drilled Jose Bautista that nobody will intimidate him. Nova has continued to battle this year and has gotten out of some really though situations. Unfortunately, if he cannot locate his fastball his mental toughness may not matter. With the injuries to the bullpen the Yankees need length and effectiveness from their starters badly. Hopefully he can regain his form from last year and become the #3 starter that was expected out of him.