Ivan Nova’s approach against the Twins


Ivan Nova made his first start for the 2011 Yankees last night, limiting the Twins to just three runs in six innings of work. He threw only 83 pitches (50 strikes, 60.2%), so I’m sure he had enough in the tank for another inning, but with there’s no sense in pushing him this early in the season given the team’s bullpen. Just like last September, Nova looked like a hero the first time through the order but had to fight his way through the lineup after that, a problem not uncommon for young pitchers.

Despite apparent claims of “four plus pitches” from Rick Sutcliffe on the ESPN broadcast, Nova actually threw three different pitches last night: a fastball (55), curveball (15), and changeup (13). The Twins loaded their lineup with left-handers – Delmon Young and Danny Valencia were the only non-lefties/switch hitters to start the game – so it’s no surprise that he didn’t use his new cutter/slider at all. It’s just not a pitch designed to attack righties lefties. As you’d expect, Nova was pounding the ball to his arm side all night, or away from lefties in plain English. All he was trying to do was prevent those guys from getting around on a pitch and hooking it into the short porch in right:

Update: Apparently some sliders were misclassified as changeups by PitchFX, and he threw nine total on the night.

(via BrooksBaseball.net)

I was a bit surprised to look back and see that four of the six hits Nova allowed were doubles, and that they all came in just two innings (the fourth and fifth). Justin Morneau sent a 1-0 fastball into right-center for the two-bagger in the fourth, and two batters later Jim Thome doubled to almost the exact same spot on a 3-2 changeup to plate a pair of runs. It actually wasn’t a bad pitch at all, Thome just went down and got it…

Sorry for the crappy quality, but you can see that the ball is well down in the zone. That’s just straight up good hitting by a guy (that should be) headed to the Hall of Fame. Alex Casilla slashed a double past Mark Teixeira at first on a 1-1 fastball in the fourth, and Tsuyoshi Nishioka dunked a gapper to left-center on a 1-0 heater two batters later. The first time through the order, Nova allowed just one baserunner, a walk to Valencia (Thome also reached on a Derek Jeter error, which I’m not holding against the pitcher). After that though, he faced 15 batters and six of them picked up hits, including those four doubles.

As you’d expect, Nova was fastball heavy the first time through the lineup, throwing 22 of them out of the 28 pitches (78.6%) he needed against the first nine hitters. He scaled it down to 24 heaters out of 38 total pitches (63.2%) the second time through the order, and just nine of the final 17 pitches he threw were fastballs (52.9%). The third time he faced Joe Mauer and Morneau, each batter saw nothing but curveballs (only two pitches each, so SSS). The table on the right shows the distribution of pitches each time through the order, just so you can see the actually breakdown. Remember, Nova only faced six hitters the third time through the lineup.

Although he generated just six swings and misses (three on fastballs, three of curveballs), a dozen of the 18 outs Nova recorded last night were on ground balls (counting two double plays). He’s never been much of a strikeout pitcher (just 6.3 K/9 in the minors), but grounders are the next best thing and he’s always gotten plenty of those (53.5% grounders at High-A and above). If he keeps that up and finds a way to keep the opponent at bay after the third inning, he’s going to be a quality starter in this league for quite some time. The lefty-heavy Red Sox are going to be one hell of a test next weekend, but the Twins were a fine tune-up on Monday.

Categories : Pitching
  • http://deleted How Ya Doin

    What does “SSS” stand for? The only SSS I know about are the 3 things a man does in the morning.

    • Tampa Yankee

      Small Sample Size

    • Gonzo

      Or before he goes out for a night on the town.

      • Mister Delaware

        Unless he’s a Detroit reliever.

  • ZZ

    Again I have to ask if you even watched the game. He used his slider.

  • bakekrukow412

    Hopefully, Boston will still be in a funk when we meet them. It’ll be interesting to see what Nova can do when Papi comes up with men on in the sixth.

    Also, I’d just like to warn everyone. Out of boredom, I made the mistake of clicking on the “shocking meat video” on the side. DON’T click that if you ever want to enjoy bacon again.

  • Henry

    “The Twins loaded their lineup with left-handers – Delmon Young and Danny Valencia were the only non-lefties/switch hitters to start the game – so it’s no surprise that he didn’t use his new cutter/slider at all. It’s just not a pitch designed to attack righties.”

    Mike, you’re going to have to re-write that. You’re contradicting what you’re saying here. We all know they ARE designed to get out lefties, so wouldn’t the fact that he DIDN’T throw any be surprising?

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

      Sliders? Those are traditionally used against same-side batters since they break away from them.

      • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

        Aaaaaaand I’m a dumbass, I just saw the typo. Should say lefties, my bad. Fixed the post.

        • Henry

          I don’t mean to be a pain in the ass, but it brings up a conundrum… I was talking about cutters, and as well know, it’s NOT the same as a slider. So imho, there needs to be a clear distinction on whether it’s a cutter or a slider. Because if it’s a cutter, then it IS a surprise he didn’t use it lat night, but if it’s a slider, then the point stands.
          With that being said, I think it’s safe to say it IS a slider just based on the pure fact that it wasn’t thrown last night.
          Yes, yes, I know

  • Gonzo

    I am glad they gave this kid a chance in the bigs. I don’t think he needs to work on anything in the minors. IMO, he needs more MLB time to develop not minor league time. The question is whether they will, or can afford to, let him take his lumps in the bigs. I always think of IPK in this situation. I think Nova can have better results than IPK did initially, so that helps.

    I happy they went with the Nova and a retread instead of the two retreads for 4th & 5th.

    • Rockdog

      Yea, agree with this. And with all the talent at AA and AAA, all they really need from Nova is for him to be a solid 4/5.

  • vinny-b


    thank you for the column.

    would you still trade Nova for Ian Kennedy?

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

      Did I ever say I would do it? And yeah, I probably would trade Nova for Kennedy since the latter is a better bet to stay in the rotation long term.

      • vinny-b

        you had mentioned it in chat a while back.

        I just don’t believe Ian Kennedy can pitch in the AL East. Although, i could see him having some success in his current division.

        • Johnny O

          In YS3, I’ll take the ground ball guy over the fly ball guy.

          And the guy I heard has 4 plus pitches.

          • Gonzo

            I drove three hours to a place I heard had good marinara.

          • Accent Shallow

            You jest, but for years, I’d heard Nova as having three plus pitches — fastball, curve, change.

  • Ross

    “The Twins loaded their lineup with left-handers – Delmon Young and Danny Valencia were the only non-lefties/switch hitters to start the game – so it’s no surprise that he didn’t use his new cutter/slider at all. It’s just not a pitch designed to attack righties.”


    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

      Typo, should say lefties.

  • Adam

    I think Nova’s start last night while promising was more lucky than good. Sure, Ivan’s final line looks pretty good, but anyone who watched the game last night saw that he was teetering awfully close to disaster in the fifth inning, just as he has shown in the past. It’s going to take him some time to learn how to get guys out the second time around and we need to be patient, but I think his success is far from certain.

    • bakekrukow412

      I feel like if he had been facing Boston in that fifth inning it would have teetered all the way to disaster and beyond.

      • Adam

        oh yeah, Nova’s going to need a better approach if he wants to get out of Boston alive because if Burnett is any guide the Sox aren’t all that impressed by a good fastball he’s going to need to show them more than that.

  • A.D.

    Looking forward to Nova down the road against righty-strong lineups to see what he can do with that slider. Otherwise good start today, and presumably has enough pitches in the arsenal that he will figure something out with the second time through the order.

  • viridiana

    Rather impressive that he got through six with his velocity down. Last year, I saw him hit 96, even 97. He was mostly 91ish with the fastball last nite. Velicity drop every bit as sharp as Phil’s. Hopefully, just the early season cold.

    Wouldn’t say he was lucky either. Wasn’t the two-run inning prolonged by a little bleeder that A-Rod (understandabvly) could not get to. That could have been the third out. Thome would not have gotten a chance.

    • A.D.

      His avg fastball was ~93 last year according to fangraphs, so not a huge dip

      • Tank the Frank

        Also, that 97mph we saw was unprecedented for Nova. Scouting reports always had Nova in the low 90s in the minors. I think he was a little amped up in his first couple starts. His velocity came back down to earth after a couple games last year if you remember.

        • http://twitter.com/cephster Ross in Jersey

          That and a few of the stadium guns were juiced last year. I remember the gun in Detroit and Toronto seemed to be way off, memorable for the Kay “Oh my God Joba is throwing 100 mph again! BUT HOW?!” monologues.

          • Mike

            MLB teams don’t use a physical gun for velocity anymore. Every stadium uses the pitch f/x system to record pitch data. The velocities you see on the broadcast are accurate.

  • ZZ

    Are you really going to leave the article like this saying he didn’t use his slider?

    • Tank the Frank

      Yeah I could’ve sworn he threw a few sliders last night. The second pitch Delmon Young’s first AB if I’m not mistaken. 84mph…got him to swing and miss.

  • Monteroisdinero

    What I really like about Nova is he will throw ANY of his 4 pitches in hitter’s counts. Any non-fastball, let alone 3 of them, in hitter’s counts is a plus.

  • king of fruitless hypotheticals

    I think its great he made it six batters the third time through–they’re the toughest six, right? If his arm were a little more season-ready, he could have at least faced the next three with little strategic loss.

    Fantastic showing for his first outing of the year, and if we can expect 2-3 runs through six innings every time he comes out, that’ll be a great year!

  • Mike

    That was a bizarre game last night coming in at only 2:45. The umpire had a funky zone and was calling strikes on lefties practically in the right handed batter’s box. At least he was consistent and did it for both pitchers. I was following on game day simultaneously & felt like I was watching a National league game at one point with the zone that guy had.