Nova not missing many bats, but should we worry?

Michael Salfino of the Wall Street Journal (h/t Rebecca) recently had a piece looking at Ivan Nova’s ability to miss bats, or lack thereof. He writes:

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.*

RANK PITCHER/TEAM Swinging Strike% ERA
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

Source: Fangraphs.com
*minimum one inning per game; through Wednesday

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.

0 thoughts on “Nova not missing many bats, but should we worry?

  1. Sean P

    That’d be nice Steve, but if you look at Nova’s history there is nothing to suggest he’ll magically start missing more bats. He’s got a career K/9 of 6.3 in the minors- that’s hardly inspiring.

    • Steve S.

      He’s a sinkerballer. He doesn’t need a high SO/9 to be effective and eat a ton of innings, but his current contact rates are extreme.

      • bornwithpinstripes

        i agree , rather pitch to contact, then try to be fine and walk to many..

      • Sean P

        He actually doesn’t throw a sinker, but has some natural drop on his fastball, according to the scouting reports as well as Pitch F/X. He gets some groundballs, but not a ton- here’s his contact breakdown for his minor league numbers http://statcorner.com/pitcher.php?id=467100

        Bottom line is if he’s ever going to be more than a 4/5, he needs to strike batters out.

        • Steve S.

          Oh, then we agree. I think his current ceiling is that of a 4 or 5, unless he picks up another pitch. But that’s still valuable, especially if he eats up innings and saves your bullpen.

  2. bornwithpinstripes

    how about villa nueve , stands us on our heads .get lit up today..we always make bums look like gibson

  3. Duh, Innings!

    I wouldn’t write off Ivan Nova at all. “Write off” shouldn’t even be in the discussion when talking about him.

    Nova has demonstrated that he is a young, promising, solid fifth starter and a cheap one at that making just over $400K this year who has potential to be a fourth-starter for a little more than that next.

    Let’s say he finished with fifth starter numbers this year then pitched like a fourth starter this time next. If Hughes pitched like a third starter and either Betances or Banuelos pitched like a fifth starter next year, and Sabathia remained a Yankee after this year, the 2012 Yankees rotation could be three-fifths homegrown and two-fifths under $900K.

    I think Nova has shown he is good enough to be the Yankees’ fifth starter for all of 2011. The key is can Burnett/Colon/Garcia be the 2/3/4 all year? Something tells me Colon or Garcia will fall off at some point although maybe not because it’s almost June and neither shows signs of slipping and Burnett will ultimately be a #3 at best thus the Yankees will have to get a #3 or better starter for the stretch run, but Nova should be left alone to do his own thing. The only way I don’t leave him alone is if he really sucks, then I send him back to the minors for more work.

    The only way I replace Nova is internally e.g. Hughes or one of the AAA starters. I wouldn’t (want the Yankes to) trade him or any of the other top pitching prospects for a starter.

    • T.O. Chris

      I’d be willing to trade Nova in the right deal, for the right starter, but I agree with holding onto him in any other situation. He isn’t a pitcher you should be looking to ship out of town at all, but if he is the difference in a package for a front line starter you have to add him in.

      I would trade Nova in a small package for Francisco Liriano for example, he just has too much upside and potential to say no to for a Nova. I wouldn’t however put in Betances or anyone of that ilk for him.

      Banuelos is the only “untouchable” in our system to me, I love his upside. After that everyone falls into a “for the right guy” scenario.

    • smurfy

      I strongly agree with you, uh, D’uh. We’d be smart to keep Nova, and work on a reliable third pitch (only two changeups last night), consistent movement (his fastball didn’t seem as lively last night [ref Sean P., above]). I like his curveball!

      Sure, I’d include him on a big trade, if they beat down the door, but I’ve grown wary of proven pitching talent (wonderous how Atlanta gave up the second best innings-eater to us last year; how Liriano always seems available, sore shoulder and all). Much cheaper if we can develop our own.

      • T.O. Chris

        No one is going to be “beating down the door” Nova, he isn’t that kind of prospect. I’m not suggesting we trade a ton for a guy like Liriano, but if Nova and one or two other medium level prospects gets you that kind of talent level you can’t pass it up. At worst Liriano is a better bottom of the order arm, with potential far surpassing Nova”s.

  4. Reggie C.

    RESOUNDING YES! (20/20′d).

    Nova’s WHIP is going to actually worsen in this outing against the Mariners. The. Mariners.

    Very disappointing outing. I’m sure Cashman is sighing somewhere hoping Phil Hughes’s control of the 4 seamer/cutter returns.