It was hard not to be disappointed by Ivan Nova last year. As Yankee fans, usually we reserve the disappointment for the top pitching prospect, but this guy could throw hard, he could locate, and he certainly had confidence. In 2011, Nova discovered a slider, which became an extremely effective tool in the second half of the season. Nova would return from the major leagues on July 30th, 2011, and sporting his new slider, he finished the season with 73.2 innings and a 3.18 ERA. In 2012, his new pitch helped him increase his strike out rates to a strong 20.5 K%, but when it wasn’t fooling hitters, the pitch was tagged. In addition to his failing breaking pitch, his four-seam fastball allowed hits and home runs at an alarming rate.
I noticed early on in Spring Training that Nova’s fastball looked to have a lot more sink on it, and sure enough, the right-hander added a sinker into his regular repertoire by the first start of the season. According to the tabular data at Brooks Baseball, the sinker helped him achieve more ground balls, but added little deception to his four-seam fastball, as the pitch was hit around even harder this time. In the first month of baseball, Nova allowed a .542 batting average on the pitch and a .750 slugging percentage. The sinker was slightly more effective, but it was still hit at a .333 rate and slugged at .467. To add to that, his slider wasn’t nearly as effective as it was in the previous season, and Nova finished his first four starts of the season with a miserable 6.48 ERA.
Nova went to the disabled list on April 27th with what the team described as tricep soreness, as well as an oblique strain, and also a neck injury. Perhaps he was truly injured, but the mixed messages on what was really wrong make me believe that the organization tried to give him time off and work outside of the major leagues without using one of his options. He returned to pitch for the Yankees on May 25th and May 29th, and threw 6.0 innings, giving up 7 hits, 1 run, 2 walks, and earned 8 strikeouts. He didn’t throw a single slider, threw one change up, and his fastballs showed more vertical movement behind a cleaner release point.
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