Ivan Nova came into this season as one of the bright spots in the Yankees rotation and even got off to a decent start before declaring himself, “the greatest pitcher in the world.” Lately though that hasn’t been the case at all. In fact, he may actually be worse than Phil Hughes these days.
Over Nova’s past seven games, he has just two quality starts and terrible numbers. His ERA is 6.39 over that time with a 1.65 WHIP, and opponents have a healthy .310/.381/.563/.944 line against him. He’s basically turning everyone he faces into a All-Stars and has given up more home runs, 13, and extra-base hits, 40, than anybody else on the team.
Nova’s problem is unlike that of Hughes, who suffers from lack of quality pitches as well as command. Nova’s problem is just command. He’s leaving far too many pitches over the middle of the plate. 12 of the 13 homers he’s allowed were right down the middle, not up, not down, and batter have a 1.408 OPS against him when he does that. He really needs to focus on staying away from the fat part of the plate.
His strikeout and walk rates, 7.83 and 3.71 respectively over his past seven games, are solid which is a good reason to think he may turn this around yet. The walk is higher than his career mark, but the strikeout rate is much higher too. Include those first three games of the season and it is 8.3 K/9, a full two strikeouts better than his career 6.1 mark.
He’s evolving as a pitcher and he’s still learning some of his new tricks. His newest trick is the changeup, a pitch he didn’t use much last season. Opponents have a 1.923 OPS against his changeup and the pitch has accounted for five of his 13 homers. That pitch, more than any other one, is the one hanging over the middle of the plate.
The changeup may be part of the reason for his improved ability to strike batters out, but it is costing him. Hopefully over time he can harness the pitch and use it to make himself a more complete pitcher. For now though it seems like he’s going through a bit of growing pains.