I know it has been a little while since he pitched, but I wanted to take a look at Ivan Nova’s last outing. It was one of his most impressive performances of the season despite it being his first start back from injury. In total, Nova went six innings, giving up just two runs on four hits (only two of which went for extra bases) and two walks, with eight strikeouts.
Honestly, my expectations were pretty low for Nova in this start. He has been hit hard all year, giving up a ridiculous quantity of extra-base hits en route to a 4.81 ERA (including his most recent outing). While his strikeout rate is at a career high and his walk rate has been pretty low, one would expect him to be having a career year. Instead, Nova has been one of the weak points in the Yankee rotation, and I figured that missing time with a shoulder injury would likely cost him his rotation spot. However, Nova proved the doubters wrong with a strong outing. I was curious to see what was working for him.
Looking at Nova’s outing on Brooks Baseball, the first thing that comes to mind is his fastball. His average velocity on the pitch jumped a good 0.6 MPH, going from 93.46 to 94.07. Just to put that number in context, an average fastball of 94.07 MPH would place Nova 7th among qualified starters in average fastball velocity (behind usual suspects Stephen Strasburg, David Price, Jeff Samardzija, Matt Moore, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander). With the increased velocity also came better movement, as both the vertical (by about two inches) and horizontal movement by about 2/3 of an inch) on the heater were increased. The extra life on the pitch corresponded to a four-fold increase in whiff rate, 16% in his last outing compared to just over 4% for the rest of the season. This is a massive difference, even though the change in velocity and movement seems to be relatively small. For what it’s worth, Texas Leaguers shows more dramatic differences in velocity and movement.
While the improved fastball is the main thing that jumps out at me, there are some noticeable differences in Nova’s curveball as well. The velocity of the pitched jumped about 2-3 MPH over his season average, though the vertical and horizontal break actually decreased. This could mean that he was throwing a tighter, sharper pitch, and consequently, opposing hitters whiffed at it about twice as often as they did earlier in the season.
The fastball and curve were Nova’s bread and butter in his most recent outing, as they have been throughout the season. He threw them about 83-percent of the time earlier in the season, and threw them nearly 90-percent of the time his last time out. I have no idea if Nova made a mechanical change during is time on the DL — it appears he did — or if the extra rest has simply given his raw stuff a little boost. Regardless, the extra hop on Nova’s fastball and tighter curveball seemed to be very effective in the small sample size of one outing. At this point in the season, Nova is auditioning just to earn a spot on the postseason roster. Unless he is absolutely lights out and another Yankee starter suffers an injury or setback, it is hard to picture Nova earning a spot in the playoff rotation. Regardless, if he continues to show his improved fastball velocity and more effective curveball, the Yankees could have a tough decision on their hands.