Sometimes Numbers Do Lie: Not So “Super” Nova

Thus far, Nova has been as lackluster as the numbers (at least most of them) would indicate, and has clearly been given a lift by the Yankee bats. One could only wonder what his record would look like if he was not getting almost nine runs per start. For a moment let’s forget about the ERA and go a little deeper. What is particularly discouraging is his ground ball rate, which at 45.6% is only slightly above the league average of 44%. Considering the fact that he’s a sinker-baller, inducing ground balls should be his livelihood. Although Nova’s fly ball percentage is below the league average at 34.9%, an alarmingly high number of those fly balls are leaving the ball park with his HR/FB ratio at nearly 20%. However, this is a team-wide trend as the entire pitching staff has an average HR/FB ratio of 14.4%. Just to give a little context, according to FanGraphs, an average HR/FB ratio is 9.5% with a ratio of 13 % being considered awful. I’ll let you fill in the blanks as to where the Yankees stand.

Back to Nova, despite a general perception of mediocrity surrounding his season to date there are some encouraging numbers to point to that would suggest he will be able to turn it around. For one, he is striking an awful lot of guys out, averaging 9.55 K’s/9 and also has a K/BB ratio of 3.25. The 25-year old righty has been able to generate so many whiffs by getting batters to chase at over 30% of pitches outside the strike zone. The two key numbers to look at in terms of Nova’s ability to strike batters out is the contact percentage of opposing batters on balls thrown outside the strike zone (which is 54.5% with the league average at 68%) and his overall contact percentage, which is below the league average of 81% at 77.9%. These numbers indicate that the issue with Nova obviously has nothing to do with his stuff, but being able to effectively locate it. If he is able to do that, his ERA is bound to come down and he may actually be able to earn that winning record.

4 thoughts on “Sometimes Numbers Do Lie: Not So “Super” Nova

  1. While one would expect someone with a career GB rate of 51% to be throwing predominantly two-seam fastballs, I'm not sure that's true. Off-hand, he seems to through mostly four-seam fastballs. Pitch f/x also suggests he's throwing two-seam (sinking) fastballs 6-7% of his pitches. This value is about the same in 2011 and 2012. Then again, the eyes can deceive and pitch f/x has had difficulty with certain pitchers and discerning types of fastballs until recently.

  2. I wouldn't necessarily say the high strike out rate is a positive. I know I'm no pitching coach, but i feel as if he's been throwing more four-seams up in the zone, which subsequently leads to swing and misses, but also hard it balls. It would explain the higher K rate, and the increased E.R.A. Last year, watching him pitch, it seemed he made his living off of getting ground balls and keeping the ball in the zone. He'll keep the ball down with the two seam, but not nearly as much with his four-seam.

    • Strikeouts are the best single outcome for the fielding team. Sustaining a high strikeout rate, particularly swinging strikeouts is the best indication of dominance of pitching over hitting, and predictive of future success in run prevention. If the increase in strikeouts comes at the greater cost of another skill that the pitcher has control over, like decreased gb% or increased BB%, then there are arguments to be made.

      Usually a young, strikeout heavy pitcher would struggle with walking batters. Nova, surprisingly has improved his walk rate since last year. He, or any pitcher can live with a league average gb% the way he's missing bats. The mystery of how many new flyballs are leaving the park is something Brien just wrote about.

  3. Not sure where you are getting your run support numbers. Yankees have scored 48 total runs in Ivan Nova's 8 starts this season. That's 6 R/GS.