Hoping for a better 2013 from Ivan Nova

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Teixeira played first base, got seven at-bats in Instructs yesterday
Another home run (allowed) for Ivan! (Abelimages/Getty Images)

Hopes ran high for Ivan Nova entering this season. After an up-and-down first half, which ended with his demotion to AAA, Nova came back looking more impressive than ever. In 11 starts he threw 73.2 innings and held opponents to a .242/.297/.364 line, which amounted to a 3.18 ERA. He still wasn’t striking out many batters, but he compensated with a low walk rate (2.4 per nine) and home run rate (just four). Given the Yankees’ pitching woes heading into the offseason, his breakout was greatly appreciated.

Yet 2012 proved to be a rough sophomore ride for Nova. He got smacked around at times in the first half, though he did end the first half with a sub-4.00 ERA. Since then, however, he has mixed good starts with absolutely horrid ones. THe horrible ones have dragged his numbers in the wrong direction; his ERA now sits above 5.00, and he has essentially no chance to make the postseason rotation, should the Yankees advance. So what happened to young Nova?

In at least one way he improved in 2012. His strikeout rate jumped from 5.4 per nine in his first 207 innings to a hair over 8 per nine this year. At the same time he has kept his walk rate at a reasonable level, 3 per nine, which is right around his career rate. But at the same time that batters are whiffing more often, they’re also making solid contact more often. Opposing hitters have managed an 860 OPS against him this year, which, as our own Larry Koestler points out, is by far the worst in the the majors (among qualified starters).

The main culprit, as you might imagine, is Nova’s home run rate. At nearly 1.5 per nine innings, he has more than doubled his rate from last season. He has also allowed doubles and triples at rates greater than most of his peers. His 52 doubles allowed ranks second in the majors, and his seven triples allowed puts him in a five-way tie for first place. Among his triples-allowing mates is a name that proves interesting when discussing Nova’s 2012 season: James Shields.

We turn to another RAB correspondent, Moshe Mandel, for the skinny on Shields and Nova:

For those who don’t speak Twitter, it means that only two pitchers in history have struck out so many and walked so few while still getting battered by opposing hitters. The Yankees can only hope that Nova continues to parallel Shields’s career path.

The biggest difference is that Sheilds’s 2010 was his age-28 season, and he already had nearly 800 innings in the books. By that point he had established himself as more of a finesse guy, striking out just a hair over 7 per nine but walking under 2 per nine from 2007 through 2009. But in 2010 his strikeout rate jumped to 8.3 per nine. His walk rate rose a bit, but his biggest problem was with the home run ball. He’d struggled with it slightly earlier in his career, but in 2010 he allowed 1.5 home runs per nine — almost exactly Nova’s rate.

So not only do Nova and Shields share one of the odder pitching seasons in baseball history, but they also showed similar changes in that year. Both saw an unusual increase in strikeout rates to go along with a slight rise in walk rate and noteworthy jump in home run rate. Unsurprisingly, Shields also had the highest OPS among AL starters in 2010.

In 2011 Shields bounced back, leading the league in complete games and finishing with a sub-3.00 ERA. He hasn’t had quite that level of success this year, though a 3.62 ERA is still fine for a mid-rotation starter. It also lines up with his peripherals from 2011. That’s encouraging for the Yankees and Nova. Can he make the same kind of bounce back in his third full big-league season?

Obviously we can’t determine any of that from where we sit. The numbers might line up, but clearly not everyone follows the same career path. Who knows what adjustments Shields made following his rough 2010 season. But there has to be some optimism for Nova. Again, his added ability to strike out hitters certainly bodes well for his future. He is also entering his prime years now — 2013 will be his age-26 season. To count on him, then, is a bit much. But to hold out hope is reasonable enough.

Nova does have one more start scheduled in 2012, and it could rank among the most important of his career. No matter how he pitches he’s likely done for 2012, unless the Yankees decide to carry him in their postseason bullpen. But it would be nice to end the season on a high note, after a tumultuous second half. There could be brighter days in 2013. Given the near-uniqueness of his 2012 season, it’s hard to see things going any worse for him.

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Teixeira played first base, got seven at-bats in Instructs yesterday
  • http://www.twitter.com/_swarlesbarkely Drew

    Glad to see you are blogging on some sort of regularity again, Joe.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joe Pawlikowski

      We’ll see how long it lasts. Work usually lets up a bit the final week of a month, so I had some time on my hands.

      • http://twitter.com/#!/Clay_Bellinger Clay Bellinger

        Out of curiosity, what do you do full-time?

        • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joe Pawlikowski

          Internet marketing.

        • pat

          Pron

          • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joe Pawlikowski

            Dude you’re not supposed to tell anyone.

      • http://www.twitter.com/_swarlesbarkely Drew

        Not that Mike’s opinions aren’t appreciated, but it is nice to have a different perspective. Was concerned the blog was going to be renamed Axisablues.com soon.

  • nsalem

    I don’t think we will see Nova pitch any more important innings this season. There is much too much at stake. I think the path of least resistance will lead Girardi to this conclusion and we will Phelps start a meaningful game on Tuesday. If Nova bombs in a season deciding game (I think it’s a strong possibility he would) and it alters our playoff status, Joe would have much to much explaining to do and the fallout for Girardi would be deafening and perhaps effect his own job status. Going down with Phelps would be much more palatable.

  • LarryM., Fl.

    My issue with Nova has to do with decision making process. Yesterday was a prime example of his process. Grose was at bat, batting ninth in the lineup. Nova gets two strikes on him with fastballs. He tries a breaking pitch no strike on the call or a missed swing. Nova ended up trying to nibble on a guy hitting .229. Nova treated the batter as a top hitter in the league.

    His first start off of the DL, Nova starts out an is aggressive. He throwing his fastball 93+ which makes his breaking pitch that more effective. He had a wonderful game. The next two games, he’s throwing less heat and breaking pitches are inconsistent.

    Nova has excellent physical stats for a pitcher. Like most young pitchers he needs to combine the body and the head. The head is usually last to arrive. I find fault first with Nova for not learning his lessons well. I assume(dangerous)that the coaching staff and Martin are giving him helpful hints on the mental aspects of the game and location improvement. He leaves the ball up and gets bombed.

    I look for Nova to improve in 2013. I pin my hopes on sophomore jinx which will be gone and the maturation process to kick in over the winter.

    I hope. The Yankees should be able to get him to improve on his pitch selection and aggressiveness. If not he’ll be gone or moved to the bullpen but what does it say about our pitching caches?

    • Jose M. Vazquez

      I would say that the catcher is the one making the selection of what the pitcher throws. The pitcher could always say no, of course.

    • toad

      I’m inclined to agree with this. Nova has certainly demonstrated the ability to do well. That doesn’t mean he ever will. Solving head problems is not easy.

  • Jose M. Vazquez

    In the mid nineties the Yankees had the two Connor pitching coaches and teachers. Whenever a pitcher went the wrong way they sent him to Billy connors (the heavy one). I remember El Duque being sent once to correct some fault that he developed. I don’t know if the Yankees have any other teacher like that now. I believe he had other duties and was recently fired. I believe that Nova has good enough stuff to be a very good pitcher in the big leagues. I think he should be shut down and have someone teach him exclusively during Spring traing or during the Winter. You just cannot find the type of arm that this young fellow has. I would not trade him (only if you could get equal value and that is hard to do). Maybe he needs a change in delivey or maybe it’s some other small thing, but I’m sure someone can fix him.

  • yo fahgetabowdit

    Nova has great swing and miss stuff since coming back from the minors last year. My opinion is that he is lacking the concentration to challenge guys the way he does. He is getting a lot of strike outs by not throwing balls, or throwing balls that are very borderline (but good pitches). He absolutely cannot miss his spots though. The Homerun to Lawrie yesterday was not a bad pitch, it was high and outside. Lawrie (who will be one of the best 3rd basemen in the league soon.) just absolutely muscled that ball over the fence. He just cannot leave his slider hanging over the plate though. He needs to adjust if he is going to challenge guys like that. Hopefully he works on command big time this winter/spring.

  • Lance

    Here’s my question: Say Andy & Kuroda come back on one year deals, and Pineda’s recovery goes well or extremely well. Where does Nova even fit? The rotation would presumably be CC-Kuroda-Hughes-Pettitte-Pineda with Phelps available as a swingman (unless they decide to trade him). Do you just stash Nova in AAA? Make him a long reliever? Trade him?