Words With Friends Teammates: Garcia & Nova

Series Preview: Detroit Tigers
Talking Baseball with Jonah Keri (and RAB)

Take it away, Joel Sherman

When I was at Yankee Stadium on Saturday, a member of the team told me something I found interesting: After Ivan Nova’s poor relief appearance on April 19 in Toronto, Freddy Garcia pulled the young righty aside. Usually pitchers pair up with the same partner every day to play catch and Garcia and Nova are partners. Garcia asked Nova what pitch he thought was most important to his repertoire. Nova replied his curveball. So Garcia told Nova that the youngster was not working on the pitch enough. So Garcia said this is what would be done moving forward: While the two played catch, Nova would flip 40-plus curveballs. Garcia’s point was that catch is not just about loosening an arm or keeping it fit. The idea is never to do anything without meaning. Garcia wanted Nova to get such a good feel for the curve that he could throw it in any count comfortably.

(snip)

On Sunday against the Blue Jays – the team that crushed him in relief a few weeks earlier – Nova struck out five: The finishing pitches on each were curves and three of those were called third strikes. With runners on in the second, fourth, fifth and sixth, Nova recorded the final out of the inning with his curve.

Both the increased usage and effectiveness of Nova’s curveball was obvious in his last two starts. PitchFX says he threw just 37 curves (14.5% of his total pitches) in his first three starts (not counting that relief appearance), 21 for strikes (56.8%) and just one for a swing-and-miss (2.7%). His last two starts have featured 58 curveballs (30.5%), 36 for strikes (62.1) and five for swings-and-misses (8.6%). In terms of effectiveness, the pitch went from almost exactly average in the first three starts to more than two runs above average in the last two starts. It’s a big difference.

All the extra curveballs have come at the expense of the changeup, which he’s thrown just twice in his last two starts (one in each) compared to 43 (!!!) in his first three starts. Nova’s never missed bats with his fastball despite solid (but not great) velocity and probably won’t ever miss bats with it because he has almost no deception in his delivery, so it’s going to be tough for him to succeed long-term as a guy that throws 98% fastballs and curves. Phil Hughes had success with that approach in 2010 because he could actually reach back and throw a fastball by hitters (9.2% whiff rate on the fastball, 11.5% on the cutter last year). Nova has gotten a swing-and-miss on 3.8% of his fastballs this year and just 1.8% last September. They’re completely different animals.

That doesn’t mean anything for right now though. The curveball heavy approach is clearly working and there’s no reason for Nova to change it, but there’s a pretty good chance that the league will adjust at some point. It’ll then be up to Ivan to adjust back if he wants to remain a successful starter. It’s the baseball circle of life.

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Series Preview: Detroit Tigers
Talking Baseball with Jonah Keri (and RAB)
  • the tenth inning stretch

    +1 for Sweaty Freddy.

  • Will

    Wow great piece. I like that the veteran guys are taking Nova under their wing. (CC and now Garcia)

  • Chip

    Even if Nova can just get his K/9 into the 7ish range and keep the walks under control, he’ll be a beast with all the grounders he already gets

  • Light

    Bring back Sal Fasano so he can teach Nova the Wang Sinker.

    • http://twitter.com/steveh_MandAura Steve H

      The Wang Sinker sounds like something from urban dictionary.

      • Thomas

        I think that is what the hospital gives you, if have that “erection last longer than four hours” condition they talk about in the Viagra commercials.

        • http://twitter.com/steveh_MandAura Steve H

          Well done.

  • Tank the Frank

    I’ve always thought Nova had a good curve and change. He just needs to mix in a few more changes in his next start. Maybe throw a couple sliders to a righty.

    At his best, Nova could be a contanct GB guy who can steal strikes with command of a good curveball… and he could get enough swings and misses with the curve and change on two-strike counts to be a decent mid-rotation starter. I’d love to see that happen.

  • Monteroisdinero

    Freddy can teach Nova to throw good, effective junk. With an occasional 94 mph fastball he can be a long term player in the rotation.

    • http://twitter.com/steveh_MandAura Steve H

      If only it were that easy.

  • http://twitter.com/steveh_MandAura Steve H

    Veteran presents?

    • http://www.retire21.com first name only male (formerly Mike R. – Retire 21

      Icwudt

  • Bpdelia

    Nova looks like what everyone thought he was. A servicable #5! Who will end up in the pen at some point byt he isnt and wobt be a beast. For a second division team maybe he could be a below avg third starter.
    Good enough though. Developing #5 starters is a big deal.

    • Josh

      HE IS WHO WE THOUGHT HE WAS!

      • jsbrendog

        can we build on this?

        we can build on this.

    • Chip

      He’s currently a servicable #5 who could be a #3 with improvements in command, not too shabby for a rookie

  • FIPster Doofus

    Leadership: Pass it on. Brought to you by the Foundation for a Better Life.

  • J.R.

    I like that Garcia is trying to pass along knowledge, but shouldn’t the pitching coach be the one to make changes to Nova’s throwing routine?

  • Mister Delaware

    Jeter: “What do you think your best tool is?”

    Montero: “Probably my power.”

    Jeter: “Alright, then I’d going to suggest you start BP each day with 20 ground balls to the right side.”

    • J.R.

      Come on, Jeter puts most of his grounders to left side.

      • Mister Delaware

        Am I wrong that you usually identify the IF using the batter’s view? Right side is 1B/2B, left side is SS/3B?

  • Dr. O

    Corny as it may sound, I like stories like this that serve as a necessary reminder that these guys are in this together. Maybe some of those mid 2000’s teams still leave a bad taste in my mouth when The Yankees seemed to be just a bunch of guys who happened to work together. In general though professional sports is followed & covered in this era the way that one could follow or cover the stock market. So sometimes I like to know these guys have a common interest that isn’t entirely comprised of earning a lot of money from the same employer.