Despite his 4-1 win/loss record, Ivan Nova has arguably been the worst pitcher in the rotation. His 5.44 ERA and 4.95 FIP are worrisome numbers for a pitcher coming off a great season, and stats show that he’s pitching to mixed results. Perhaps the scariest indication comes from his H/9, which has increased from 8.9 in 2011, to 12.1 in 2012. Despite an improved K/9, 5.33 in 2011 to 8.37 this season, and an increased flyball rate, 28.9% in 2011 to 35.5% in 2012, opposing batters have gone from hitting .254 last year, to .326 this season. This would appear backwards, a higher flyball and strikeout rate should mean less hits from offenses, but Nova’s BABIP has jumped from .283 last year, to .380 this year. Such a dramatic increase in BABIP can be a warning sign, but with a linedrive rate still at career 18%-ish, we’re likely seeing some bad luck in small sample size. Ground balls sneaking through the infield and bloop singles are likely creating extra baserunners for a guy that’s otherwise shown mostly improvements on the mound.
One aspect that hasn’t improved is a surprisingly high homerun rate. Last year, Nova gave up only 13 homeruns in total, but he’s already allowed 9 this season. With an increase in flyballs and a new dependence on the slider, the homerun rate rising is expected, but an 18.4% HR/FB is absurd. The culprit is mostly his changuep, a pitch that’s seen four homeruns off lefties, despite throwing the pitch only 32 times. (11%)
The difference between pitch outcomes for the changeup between 2011 and 2012 are vast. This year, Nova is drawing around a quarter of the groundballs, almost triple the flyballs, and seeing one of every eight changeups leaving the park. In total, 4 of these changeups have accounted for 44% of Nova’s total homeruns, 2 off of Matt Wieters, 1 from Nick Markakis, and 1 from Luke Scott. The first homerun from Wieters, came off a pretty terrible changeup up and in to the left handed hitter. While there isn’t much besides bad location here, Wieters’ next homerun came from a well-placed 0-2 pitch on the outside. Markakis would go on to crush another bad changeup down the middle of the zone in that same game, but Scott’s homerun was another well-located pitch away. In half the instances, location was an inssue, but the pitches away were also hit hard. Considering three of these were off current Oriole players, and one of which was an Orioles last year and likely still friendly with his old teammates and coaches, I wonder if Baltimore has picked up on Nova tipping his changeup. Although the pitch type is an easy one to tip, the flop in groundball and flyball results and a huge boost in whiffs means he might be throwing it differently.
|Year||H Mvt||V Mvt||MPH||Spin Angle||RPM|
From 2011 to 2012, there is a slight spin angle change, a difference of only 7 degrees more in 2012, but also a slightly higher RPM. This causes the pitch to average around a half inch more movement away from left handed hitters, but it also gives its nearly 3 inches less drop. The decreased sink of the pitch might be enough to account for the increased flyball rate and decreased groundball rate, and the slightly extra break away from lefties could cause more whiffs. Still, the lack of more vertical movement might account for some harder hit balls, but in that case I’d also expect to see a big jump in his line drive rate from the pitch, which you can see doesn’t exist.
While the changeup is a slightly different pitch than it was in 2011, I feel it might be more than coincidence all 4 homeruns off the changeup have come from connected players. Between Nova’s high BABIP and HR/FB rate, I think his xFIP of 3.78 is much more indicative of what he’s capable of this season. I still believe Nova is capable of putting together a big season thanks to his new slider. That 8.37 K/9 this year could mean big things if he can figure out whatever is haunting his changeup and his BABIP comes down to earth.
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