When Ivan Nova began his brilliant second half last year, he surprised everyone by adding a new and efficient slider. He increased it’s usage monthly, throwing it 11% in June, 16% in July, 24% in August, and 19% in September. Breaking out a pitch mid-year and showing plus stuff is very unusual, and many were unsure whether the pitch would hold up in 2012. Eight starts into the season and it would appear as if it will stick as a legitimate plus pitch, he’s nearly doubled his K/9, but Nova is showing obvious signs of instability throwing the slider.
In his most recent start, Nova threw 103 pitches against the Reds, 27 of which were sliders. (26.2%) He learned quickly in the game that he was going to struggle with fastball command and became reliant on his breaking pitches. Catcher Russell Martin said after the game that the only difference between Nova this year and last was the fastball finding it’s way up in the zone, which I brought up in early April. With so many breaking pitches, Nova became a whiff machine, showing some seriously nasty pitches against a mediocre Reds lineup. All-in-all he had 21 whiffs on Saturday, 7 of which came from the slider (25.93%) and 8 from the curveball (33.33%). He was able to achieve 12 K’s in 6.0 IP, and although he was less than satisfied with the results, he shouldn’t ignore the pieces of the game where he was dominant. So what made his breaking pitches so special?
|Pitch Type||Selection||Velocity (MPH)||V-Mvt (Inches)||H-Mvt (Inches)||Spin Angle (Degrees)||Spin Rate (RPM)||Whiff%|
From the graph above, the velocity of both pitch types didn’t change much from his other 2012 starts, and both differences are in movement. The curveball had nearly 10 degrees less spin angle in comparison, and along with about 250 less RPM, the pitch broke 2 inches less downward. While less movement might appear inefficient, the tighter movement might work to confuse hitters with his other breaking pitch. The slider had a very similar spin angle to his other starts, but again the RPM was down around 200, which caused the pitch to break an additional inch downward.
The picture above shows Gameday’s identification of the pitches and averages their vertical movement. The four-seam fastball and slider remain on nearly the exact same path until 15 feet from the plate where the slider dives an additional 5 inches.
Compare the paths of the four-seamer and slider in the graph above that shows the rest of his 2012 starts, and you’ll see the path starts to diverge around 25 feet from homeplate. The difference here between 15 to 25 feet is the difference of around .12 seconds and .20 seconds. While this might not seem like a huge difference, you can get a perspective of how quickly your reaction time has to be to tell between pitches by testing your own reaction time here.
Nova’s slider was filthy on Saturday, and along with a very tight curveball that he could throw for strikes, he broke his own strikeout record. The issue of course was the 5 runs he gave up. This has to be put into perspective though, the first run scored due to 2 walks he issued in the first innings, the second scored on a double that any other outfielder not name Raul Ibanez could have caught, along with a weak groundball double through 5.5 hole. That .393 BABIP of his continued to show his unluckiness in the 5th inning when he allowed another groundball to center field, and then a bunt single. Joey Votto would then hit a homerun.
Above is his pitch selection to Joey Votto during the at bat that lead to a three run homerun, and the difference between Nova’s brilliant start and another pitching disaster. There are no excuses for that pitch location, as Joey Votto should be the last guy on the team to get a slider in his hot zone. Nova is improving on the pitch in every start, and while it was dangerous on Saturday, every now and then we’ll see one that he can’t locate, and don’t want that to happen to the 2010 NL MVP winner. The 25 year old right handed pitcher is running into some seriously bad BABIP luck, some questionable changeup issues, and still learning the slider. The pitch cost Nova a win on Saturday, but the 12 strikeouts should tell you how valuable it will be with more experience. For now we’ll have to live with the Nova struggling with it from time to time, but in the long run the pitch could make Nova a front of the rotation starter.
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