The Red Sox, Ivan Nova, and low fastballs

Zoilo Almonte starting rehab assignment with Double-A Trenton
Game 140: Give them nothing, take from them everything
2012 is on the left, 2013 on the right.
Nova’s fastball location in 2012 (left) vs. 2013 (right).

Ivan Nova was a punching bag last season. I think that’s a fair way to put it. He allowed an MLB-high 87 extra-base hits despite only throwing the 83rd most innings (170.1) in baseball, and opponents tagged him for a .288/.349/.511 batting line. Nova turned every hitter he faced last summer into someone resembling 2010 Nick Swisher (.288/.359/.511). He was terrible.

Things have been much different this year, particularly of late. Nova was just named the AL Pitcher of the Month for August and has a 2.06 ERA in 74.1 innings and ten starts since officially rejoining the rotation in July. Opponents have hit .224/.297/.294 against him during those ten starts, which is slightly better than 2013 Chris Stewart (.215/.288/.280). He’s been a rotation godsend.

As David Golebiewski at Baseball Analytics showed today, Nova’s success this year stems from his ability to keep his fastball down. Scrapping his slider in favor of a curveball helped as well, but keeping the fastball down — the heat maps above show how much his location has improved — has been crucial in limiting extra-base hits. Opponents slugged .597 (!) off his heater in 2012, but this year that sits at just .397. The league average for starting pitchers is .443, according to Golebiewski.

The Red Sox are one of the better low fastball hitting teams in the baseball — slugging an MLB-best .505 against low heaters according to Golebiewski — so the key for Nova in tonight’s start is going to be that curveball. Breaking out his rarely used changeup and possibly showing some sliders as a change of pace pitch could be in order as well. Nova is excelling because he’s keeping his fastball down and the Red Sox are mashing because they hit those low fastballs. The Yankees will have to adjust accordingly in tonight’s opener.

Zoilo Almonte starting rehab assignment with Double-A Trenton
Game 140: Give them nothing, take from them everything
  • WhittakerWalt

    If only he coulda turned them all into Playoffs Nick Swisher, amirite?

    • Travis L.


  • Travis L.

    I have given my prediction of 7+ IP, 8K, 3BB, 2ER in Nova’s start tonight (with a Yankees win of 4-2). I’m missing all the game threads, so hopefully I come back to you as a celebrity or something for being correct. I think we’d all take that performance from Nova tonight.

    Go Yankees!!

  • trr

    IMO, It’s better to use a mix of pitches – as long as you have command of all of them. Otherwise, I think you’re better relying on yout best pitch or two. The Red Sox lineup is a challenge for any pitcher, and all of our pitchers will need to be at their best for us to win this series.

  • Bobby Swink

    As good as Nova has been, opposing players are still hitting him better than Chris Stewart hits against even the worst of pitchers. That’s pretty horrible for Stewart. And yet he still gets more playing time than Romine. I simply do not understand.

    • Cliff

      Romine hasn’t exactly been lighting it up. Stewart is one of the better pitch framers, apparently.

      • Caballo Sin Nombre

        I think someone misheard that. What they said was that Stewart was one of the best “picture framers” in MLB. Yep, he frames his pictures himself. You should see his house. Lovely.

  • ropeadope

    Tonight’s lineups:


    1.CF Brett Gardner
    2.SS Derek Jeter
    3.2B Robinson Cano
    4.LF Alfonso Soriano
    5.DH Curtis Granderson
    6.3B Alex Rodriguez
    7.1B Lyle Overbay
    8.RF Ichiro Suzuki
    9.C- Chris Stewart

    SP: Ivan Nova

    Red Sox

    1.CF Jacoby Ellsbury
    2.RF Shane Victorino
    3.2B Dustin Pedroia
    4.DH David Ortiz
    5.LF Daniel Nava
    6.1B Mike Napoli
    7.SS Stephen Drew
    8.C- Ryan Lavarnway
    9.3B Will Middlebrooks

    SP: Jake Peavy

  • hogsmog

    Am I the only one who feels as excited as if this series were the ALCS? I’ve got those postseason chills.

  • Mike N

    It looks like at least as big a difference from last year is that he’s not right over the center of the plate, but at the edge. Is there a reason to think that is less relevant?