Ivan Nova has been one of the league’s best pitchers this year by certain measures. The graduate of the Ray Searage school of pitching has elevated his game substantially since arriving in Pittsburgh. However, there is a disparity between how he’s pitching this year versus how he was when he arrived in Pittsburgh. The most evident change is that Nova is not generating strikeouts — at all — or limiting walks as much, which doesn’t bode well for his future.
Nova’s time with the Yankees started off promising, but tailed off due to difficulties with injury. After emerging for the Yankees in a spot starting role in the middle of the 2010 season, Nova pitched his way into a rotation spot. Over the next three years, Nova did his job at the back end of the rotation by eating innings and being moderately effective. Normalizing those three years for 200 innings, he was a 2.6-fWAR/200 pitcher.
In 2014, Nova suffered a torn UCL that led him to Tommy John surgery. That season was lost, and the next one went terribly, with him floating near replacement level by every measure. Through his time with the Yankees in 2016, he wasn’t any better. His ERA, FIP, and DRA were all still above four and sometimes above five, which led to his trade to the Pirates.
Since being dealt to Pittsburgh, Nova has undergone a resurgence. He hit the ground running after being dealt there, dominating in just over 64 innings with the Bucs. He was a 1.2-RA9 WAR and 1.9-fWAR pitcher over that stretch; even the less enthusiastic 0.6 pWARP was still very solid. He succeeded in limiting walks and home runs to an extreme extent with a BB% of just 1.1 percent and a HR/FB rate of 7.8 percent.
This year his successes have remained, but there’s been a shift elsewhere. Nova’s walks are up a tad to only two percent. His HR/FB rate is down to 7.5 percent. On the other end, his strikeouts, which weren’t very high to begin with, are down to a measly 13 percent. When looking at his pitch data for this season, there’s a somewhat logical conclusion: Nova is throwing his sinker a lot, so more contact. But, he’s done that for a few years.
The big shift has been in the contact rate outside of the zone. He’s seen a spike of over 9 percentage points in that department, but it still isn’t the highest of his career. Nothing here suggests Nova is maintaining his success from the second half of last season.
Nova’s start looks flukey at best. There hasn’t been a change in any of his contact profiles. He’s essentially the same in terms of contact quality and contact type. This has led to his 5.21 DRA — which has a contact component — being more than two runs higher than his 3.15 FIP. It makes sense, too. When the same quality of contact is being generated against pitches that are outside the zone, it’s not going to be good. Hitters have more to offer at, essentially.
All in all, Nova should probably try to strike more guys out.
Anthony Rescan is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @AnthonyRescan.