Thus far in his young career Ivan Nova has made a handful of serviceable starts, having not allowed more than three earned runs in an outing until last night. He deserves credit for aiding a rotation struggling to find consistency (which is not easy for a guy just coming out of the minors). Unsurprisingly, members of the Yankees organization have continued to show faith in the rookie.
Part of this faith, I’m sure, is necessitated by default as the playoffs are quickly approaching. The team needs to position itself to succeed (even if it means sending an $11.5M veteran to the bullpen and a league minimum rookie to the mound). However, even if this was early April, and he was hypothetically filling in for a starter on the DL, the club would still take notice of an effective arm regardless of whether the duration of his stay with the team was different.
Prior to Nova’s fifth inning meltdown last night, Michael Kay and Ken Singleton commented on Nova’s effectiveness, and attributed his performance to a fast-paced aggressive style. Perhaps there is a degree of truth in this assertion. It’s certainly plausible that a correlation could exist between a pitcher’s assertiveness and the pace of the game.
Instead of sporting the infamous “deer in headlights” expression that we’ve all seen on one too many occasions from various pitchers (here’s a hint regarding one such example: his initials rhyme with SToP), Nova hurls the baseball almost as soon as he receives it. Mark Buehrle would be the quintessential example of this style of pitching. In stark contrast, during some of the rough stretches of Mike Mussina‘s latter years, the polar opposite effect was observed. The time in between each pitch may as well have been an eternity.
I suspect, though, that a significant portion of Nova’s success stems more from his pitch location and selection. Just take a look at the graph below which plots each of the pitches he has thrown. When I first took a look at it, I noticed spots everywhere, which is exactly the point. He’s not afraid to challenge any part of the strike zone at any given time. Sure, there will be times when he’s burnt (such as last night) by stray pitches, but more often than not, this type of pitching proves favorable.
Similarly, when considering the pitch selection over the course of his starts, there are some positive signs. Although he primarily utilizes the fastball, he’s shown a willingness to fall back on the changeup or curveball. This makes him much more dynamic. On the other hand, Guys like A.J. Burnett or Phil Hughes often become predictable with their pitches because they aren’t as confident with some of their secondary options. Fortunately for Nova, he also has some decent velocity and movement on his pitches which certainly helps his cause.
Clearly, he has struggled through the third iteration of the batting order. The silver lining though is that his pitch count has been relatively low by the time that he gets there. If he can continue to develop and mature as a pitcher, the Yankees may have a quality back of the rotation arm for the foreseeable future.
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