Ivan Nova Needs to Reverse His Recent Trends

DENVER, CO - JULY 23: Starting pitcher Ivan Nova
DENVER, CO - JULY 23: Starting pitcher Ivan Nova /

When Ivan Nova takes the ball for the Pittsburgh Pirates tonight he will be looking to reverse some alarming recent trends

The Pittsburgh Pirates traded for Ivan Nova on August 1st last season. Nova then turned in two great months in a Pirate jersey. These two months led to Nova earning a new three-year 26 million dollar contract from the Pirates in the offseason.

While Ivan Nova’s overall results in these two months were strong (3.06 ERA, 2.62 FIP) there were some red flags. The two major red flags were his 21.2 percent line drive rate, and his hard contact allowed rate of 32.7 percent. His 68.7 percent strand rate was also unsustainable.

When you pair these red flags with Ivan Nova’s struggles in his six and a half seasons as a New York Yankee, re-signing him should have seemed like a bad idea. Unfortunately, Neal Huntington and the Pirates saw otherwise. Now, re-signing Nova is starting to blow up on the Pirates.

Ivan Nova got off to a great start in 2017. In the month of April he posted a 1.50 ERA, 2.81 FIP, and he threw a pair of complete games. This led to Nova being named the National League Pitcher of the Month in April. Since the start of May, however, Ivan Nova has struggled immensely.

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In his past 17 starts Ivan Nova has pitched like the below average pitcher he was with the Yankees before coming to Pittsburgh. He has allowed more hits (124) than innings pitched (106 2/3), he has allowed an average of 1.60 HR/9, and he owns a 4.39 ERA and a 4.82 FIP in these starts.

His home run rate in these starts is the first of multiple alarming trends from Nova in these 17 starts. Another alarming trend is his inability to miss bats. While Nova has never been a strikeout pitcher during his career, it has gotten worse than ever since May. He is averaging just 5.65 K/9 and he has generated just an 8.5 percent swinging strike rate in these starts.

Going hand in hand with an inability to miss bats in these 17 starts is a spike in contact allowed. Ivan Nova’s contact rate has jumped to an alarmingly high 83.4 percent, while his hard contact rate of 34.0 percent is equally as concerning.

Ivan Nova has also allowed line drives at a 24.7 percent rate during his rough patch. Opposing hitters also own a 40.7 percent pull rate off of Nova. When a hitter pulls the ball the odds of them making hard contact and therefore recording an extra base hit increases substantially.

A possible reason for these issues with Ivan Nova is a drop in usage of his fastball. In the month of April Nova threw his two-seamed fastball, which is his best pitch, 74.3 percent of the time. In his past 17 starts this number has dropped to 69.4 percent. Meanwhile, his curveball usage has risen from 17.5 percent to 22.0 percent.

Whatever the reason, Nova has thrown his two-seamed fastball less since the end of April. It is possible that this is a contributing factor to his struggles. Ivan Nova has been at his best in Pittsburgh when he has relied upon his two-seamed fastball and this is something he needs to go back to.

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Ivan Nova’s past 17 starts have not gone well. During these starts, he has shown some alarming trends. He is not generating nearly enough swings and misses, he is allowing too much hard contact, too many line drives, and too many home runs. If Nova does not improve upon these issues, he will just continue to struggle. And if Nova continues to struggle, then the Pirates are stuck with an albatross of a contract for two more seasons.