Nova Shows Off New Windup Against Rays

I’m not sure what to think of Ivan Nova. There are times when he’s absolutely dreadful, and then there are times when he’s the most dominant pitcher in the rotation. And that’s no exaggeration when you consider the 3.18 ERA he put up in the second half of last year, and the 1.26 ERA he dished out in 35.2 IP in June this season. In comparison to hid great streaks, before his recent DL stint, he put up an 8.59 ERA in his previous 5 starts.

As odd as it may seem, inconsistency is a necessary hardship when you rely on 25 year olds in your rotation. Yankee fans aren’t entirely accustomed to such young and inexperienced pitchers struggling to mature through important major league games. It’s important to keep in mind that Nova is still very young, just a year removed from the learning the slider, and it’s that type of inexperience that will cause him to lose a feel for things.

I’m firmly in the camp that you must deal with growing pains if you want a shot at youth on your team. To watch 25 year olds struggle is a necessary evil if you want young players. With that said, Nova needed a big wakeup call following his previous five awful starts.

The Yankees placed Nova on the disabled list in mid-August with inflammation in his rotator cuff. Perhaps there really was an injury, and his shoulder caused him to struggle, but during that time, the righty didn’t just wait for the pain to stop. He made a major change to his windup mechanics.

Nova's mechanics before and after his DL stint.

Before the disabled list, Nova would begin the windup by moving his throwing hand and glove over his head. Now, hes completely cut that out of his mechanics, and instead keeps both his hands at waste level.

Nova's mechanics before and after his DL stint. (Edited)

Here are both clips edited to meet up at exactly the release point. His previous windup was a hybrid of the standard modern day mechanics, with the addition of the hands over his head that you’d see in the sweeping windup more prevalent to the early years of baseball. You can watch Paul Byrd use those sweeping mechanics here. This style was lost because it was thought to provide less control, as well as being more injury prone. In the case of Nova, who was dealing with both control and injury issues, losing this portion of the windup may have been the answer the Yankees were looking for.

In theory, it should allow Nova to concentrate more on his balance and prevents him from looking away from the plate. While this will help his control, the PITCHf/x numbers indicate that his pitches moved better than before.

Nova’s Raw Pre and Post DL PITCHf/x Numbers
Pitch Count Velo VMvt HMvt Angle Rate
Four-seam (Pre)  1238 (50%)  92.8  7.56  -4.85  213  1,843
Four-seam (Post)  43 (51%)  94.1  9.05  -5.98  213  2,227
Curve (Pre)  690 (28%)  80.2  -6.74  5.44  39  1,523
Curve (Post)  30 (35%)  81.5  -4.67  2.72  29  984
Slider (Pre)  310 (13%)  87.2  3.74  -0.74  191  833
Slider (Post)  4 (5%)  87.4  5.14  -1.86  199  1,051

Keep in mind that the sample size is far too small to be significant over the longterm, but early indications show that he may have both improved velocity and movement. The four-seam fastball averaged 94.1 mph on Saturday, compared to 92.8 previously. There was also additional movement in both rise and horizontal movement in to right handed batters, which was due to nearly a 400 RPM increase in spin. Although there was less movement on the curveball, the velocity slightly increased along with a much tighter break, similar to a slider. The pitch was good for a 7 whiffs against the Rays.

Hopefully the change lends itself to more consistency. I’m fairly optimistic that Nova can develop some better command with this windup, but for now, at least he can use it to mess with hitters who are expecting the old mechanics.

Finally, I don’t know what to make of it, but his new windup reminded me a lot of another pitcher in the rotation. This is far from me stating that they’ll end up pitching anywhere near the same, but I think it’s fair to assume that CC Sabathia may be helping Nova out.