Should the Pirates be Worried About Ivan Nova?

CHICAGO, IL - JULY 08: Ivan Nova
CHICAGO, IL - JULY 08: Ivan Nova /

Should the Pirates be concerned about Ivan Nova’s recent trends?

On August 1st, 2016, the Pittsburgh Pirates swung a trade with the New York Yankees. In this trade they sent minor league pitcher Stephen Tarpley and outfielder Tito Polo to the Bronx Bombers in exchange for starting pitcher Ivan Nova.

When the trade happened it was not received well by Pirate fans. Personally, I was not a fan of the trade either. After all, Ivan Nova had never been very good with the Yankees. However, Neal Huntington and Ray Searage once again worked their magic with a pitcher.

Since joining the Pirates Ivan Nova has been a horse, having pitched 185 1/3 innings in 29 starts. He has walked just 18 batters (0.89 BB/9), allowed just 19 home runs (0.92 HR/9), and he has tossed 5 complete games.

As a member of the Pirates Ivan Nova owns a 3.16 ERA, 3.60 FIP, and a 3.80 xFIP. These numbers are all light years better than the pitcher he was in New York. However, there might be reasons to be concerned about Nova moving forward.

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One of Ivan Nova’s biggest issues in New York was that he allowed too many home runs. This was, however, partially due to him pitching his home games at Yankee Stadium and being in a division that also featured hitter friendly Fenway Park and Camden Yards.

Regardless of the reason, Nova allowed 1.14 HR/9 in 729 innings pitched for the Yankees from 2010 through 2016. The home run issue became extremely troublesome during his final three years in New York when he was allowing 1.61 HR/9 in 212 innings pitched.

During Ivan Nova’s last 12 starts, the home run ball has become to show its ugly face again. Nova has allowed 13 home runs in 78 2/3 innings pitched (1.60 HR/9) during these 12 starts. That is a home run rate that is simply too high.

While Ivan Nova has never been a swing-and-miss pitcher, this has been especially true his past 12 starts. Nova is averaging just 4.58 K/9 during this stretch, and that is flirting with disaster. Pitching to contact is what Ray Searage and the Pirates want from their pitchers, however, when he needs a strikeout Nova is often times incapable of recording it.

The lack of swings-and-misses from Nova has led to increased contact. With increased contact, comes more hard contact. Ivan Nova has allowed hard contact at a 32.7 percent rate his past 12 starts. This is higher than the league average.

An increase in hard contact has led to an increase in hits allowed and the more hits a pitcher allows the more runs they will allow. In his first 6 starts Nova allowed just 7.7 H/9, while his past 12 starts have seen him allow an average of 9.3 H/9. The 39.9 percent pull rate he has allowed during this stretch has also been alarming, as well as contributing to his increase in extra-base hits allowed.

A strong groundball rate has always helped Nova work around a lack of strikeouts. However, his groundball rate has dropped from 50.4 percent during his first 6 starts to 46.7 percent his previous 12 trips to the mound. A drop in groundball production from a pitcher will always lead to an increase in hits and home runs allowed, too.

All of this has amounted in Ivan Nova owning a 3.78 ERA and a 4.93 FIP his past 12 starts. During this stretch, his xFIP is 4.57. So while he is projected to pitch better moving forward, it is not much better. This comes after having a 2.14 ERA, 2.62 FIP, and a 3.41 xFIP his first 6 starts of the season.

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Ivan Nova’s inability to generate swings-and-misses has always been concerning. It now appears that his might be catching up with Nova. In his past 12 starts (78 2/3 innings pitched) Nova’s swing-and-miss rate has continued to drop while his contact, hard contact, and pull rates have all continued to climb.

As these three rates have climbed, Nova has allowed more hits and his home run issues have returned. This should be a bit of a concern for the Pirates and their fans moving forward. If Ivan Nova continues to pitch the way he has the past two months, then the last two months of the season could be trying times for Ivan Nova.