After rebounding from a DL trip and Triple-A assignment, Ivan Nova had an incredible comeback story in 2013. He won the Pitcher of the Month award in August, and with Hiroki Kuroda‘s regression, Nova was the Yankees best starter by September. But after a couple of games against the Red Sox, Nova’s potential was questioned. Batters hit his fastballs and watched his curveballs fall out of the zone. He went just 4.0 innings in both games against the Red Sox, and gave up a combined 11 hits, 6 walks, and 7 earned runs. After a complete game shutout of the Giants, Nova spoke about these performance the and indicated why he pitched so poorly.
“Sometimes you put it like this (sideways), sometimes you put it like that (straight up and down),” Nova said. “You don’t try to stay in one position. I don’t know if that was the problem, but I was watching the video and sometimes I do (change the glove) a little bit.”
Nova’s curveball emerged as deadly this season, and his sinker prevented hard fastball contact, but against the Red Sox, hitters ignored the curveball and pounded his sinker. I assumed the Red Sox lineup was good enough to identify the pitches, but upon hearing Nova’s assessment and watching video, it’s pretty clear that Nova was tipping his pitches.
In the pictures above, Nova is preparing to throw his curveball and fastball out of the stretch. The placement of his glove when throwing the curveball is level to the ground, but when throwing the fastball, Nova tilts the glove up. It’s not a major difference, but it’s enough for hitters to recognize the pitch selection early.
He didn’t do this 100% of the time though. I’d estimate that 60-70% of the time, the level glove indicated that the curveball was coming, and the tilted glove indicated that the fastball was coming around 90% of the time. It was rather easy, especially in the first 3 innings, to predict a fastball. According to Brooks Baseball, on September 15th, hitters swung at the four-seamer 39% of the time, and the sinker 37% of the time, while the curveball only generated 25% swings. Of his 84 pitches that day, there were only two whiffs by Nova, both coming on the curveball.
Hopefully Nova’s problems were as simple as the glove orientation. The video certainly makes it look like the Red Sox knew what was coming the majority of the time. The results against the Giants looked better, but we’ll see how he fairs on Thursday against a better offense in the Rays.