Yankees pitcher Ivan Nova is currently tops in baseball in one category that no big-league hurler wants to lead: Throwing pitches that are easy to hit.
He compiled a chart looking at the leaders in this dubious distinction, which is as follows:
Not Missing Many Bats
Here are the starting pitchers with the lowest swinging-strike rates.*
|113 (of 113)||Ivan Nova, Yankees||3.9%||4.29|
|112||Brad Penny, Tigers||4.3%||4.45|
|111||Tyler Chatwood, Angels||4.4%||4.06|
|110||Javier Vazquez, Marlins||4.5%||6.02|
|109||Wade Davis, Rays||5.0%||3.71|
|108||Dustin Moseley, Padres||5.0%||3.15|
|107||Kyle McClellan, Cardinals||5.1%||3.11|
|106||Kevin Correia, Pirates||5.6%||3.84|
|105||Carl Pavano, Twins||5.6%||5.28|
|104||Jeremy Guthrie, Orioles||5.6%||3.45|
|103||Mike Pelfrey, Mets||5.6%||5.37|
As expected, there’s lots of mediocrity on that list, and the two pitchers who have outperformed their FIP are rookie Wade Davis and journeyman Dustin Moseley, who pitches at cavernous Petco. Nova’s overall contact rate stands at 90.6%, which is also the lowest mark among qualifiers in all of baseball. Any time a ball is put in play, bad things can happen. If you keep the ball on the ground, you can work yourself out of trouble through inducing DPs and outcomes improve in general for extreme ground ball pitchers, which Nova is. His overall GB rate is 51.4%, which is the same as his mark from 2010 and good for 10th best in the AL among qualifiers.
But to be sure, even as a ground ball pitcher you can’t make a living in MLB pitching to those rates of contact. Even a classic sinkerballer like Chien Ming Wang had a swinging strike rate of 6.6% and a contact rate of 85.6% for his career. Elite pitch-to-contact specialists such as Roy Halladay sit around 80% most seasons. In a larger sample last year, Nova came in at 83.6% overall contact rate and a swinging strike rate of 6.8%. He’ll need to replicate that in order to maintain his spot in the Yankee rotation this year. Hopefully were just looking at a small sample that’s due to correct, and not a adjustment made by opposing teams in his second year in the bigs. Clearly, the book on Nova right now is to swing the bat early and often. If he can make hitters pay for their aggressiveness, featuring more breaking balls or working out of the zone with the fastball early in the count, he could have more success and these numbers should adjust over time.
But even without any game plan adjustments, this could also be a function of simply not being in midseason form. When Nova was called up in August of last year, he was sitting 93-95 with the fastball, regularly touching 97. Fangraphs had his average fastball velocity at 92.9 MPH in the bigs last year, but just 91.9 MPH so far this season. Many pitchers will build up arm strength as the season progresses, and a little extra zip on the heater may be all he needs to miss a few more bats. Pitch type values bear this out, his fastball had a -1.1 mark last year and a -3.4 mark this year. There’s no doubt Nova needs to induce more swings and misses, but I wouldn’t write him off just yet.