Ivan Nova has had some success in his three starts as a Pittsburgh Pirates, but it is somewhat of a mirage. Ray Searage is one of the best, and the Pirates brass knows how to spot bounce back pitchers, but there are some trends with Nova that are concerning.
This weekend, the site may seem like an Ivan Nova website. Whether it be if Nova is Ray Searage’s next reclamation and if the Pirates should look to re-sign Nova at season’s end. Both bring up excellent points about how his ERA, FIP, and other metrics along with his home run problems have improved in his short stint. They have, but we’re dealing with a small sample size, even though with Ivan Nova’s control it shouldn’t be a surprise if he pitches effectively the rest of the way. He’ll get plenty of starts against bottom dwellers, so in theory his numbers should prove to be well. But there are some negative underlying trends through three starts that are rather concerning.
Nova’s ground ball problems.
The first problem with Nova is the lack of ground balls, which means more line drives and fly balls. As a member of the New York Yankees, Nova was getting ground balls at a rate of 54.3 percent, line drives 17.3 percent, and fly balls at 28.4 percent. His ground ball to fly ball ratio of 1.91 was also very good as well. So far, in a very small sample, Nova has a ground ball rate of 38.9 percent, line drive rate of 27.8 percent, and a 33.3 percent fly ball rate. His ground ball to fly ball rate is 1.17. He’s still getting more ground balls than fly balls, which is good, especially in a small sample such as 54 balls in play. He’s limited his batting average on balls in play to .313 as a Bucco, very sustainable, but with only 16.1 innings, that can still change easily.
Ivan Nova gives up hard contact at an alarming rate.
Nova’s lack of ground balls is not the only thing wrong. The way balls are hit off the bat, is problematic. Even as a member of the New York Yankees, Nova gave up loud contact. His soft contact percentage of 19.4 percent is not great, and neither are his medium contact (45.1 percent) and hard contact percentage (35.6 percent). Those marks have gotten worse as a Pirate, as the percents are 14.6, 41.8, and 43.6 percent respectively. Nova’s giving up much harder contact now than he was.
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Take Nova’s second start against the Los Angeles Dodgers for instance. The end result of the game was a 1.69 ERA and 2.40 FIP, and he produced those with a .409 BAbip. His number looked very good in that start from the standpoint of run prevention, which is all that really matters in the end. However, in that start, his ground ball percentage of 18.2 percent and his soft contact percentage of 9.1 percent will cause problems in the future.
The problem with just using codes such as soft, medium, or hard contact is that they are vague, so a better way would be looking at average exit velocity. That is where baseball savant comes in handy. Using their search tool, and making the minimum batted ball events to 100, the problem of the hard contact can be seen rather clearly. His average exit velocity ion 91.8 miles per hour is 11th highest in baseball. His average exit velocity on fly balls/line drives of 96.0 miles per hour is fifth worst, and is a main reason for his high home run to fly ball ratio, and his high home run is off the chart. Though, if there is one bright side, Nova’s average exit velocity of ground balls is 89 miles per hour, which is not great but not the worst, and he ranks 37th.
In conclusion, there are some numbers that do cause alarm in his Pirates success. His batted ball rates do come in a small sample but if they continue, the success likely will not. His batted ball velocity is rather concerning, as it was with the Yankees as well. BAbip only tells so much of a story, as the way the ball hit can indicate whether the BAbip can remain low or remain high, or even come back to the mean. With the amount of hard contact that Nova allows, I would not be surprised if his BAbip starts to and remains high. These underlying numbers are concerning and an eye should be kept on them through the rest of the season.