A Look Into Ivan Nova And His Struggles On The Mound
Ivan Nova had a good start with the Pirates since he was acquired at the deadline, but he has struggled since. One of his biggest problems is the loss of the ground ball that made him so effective and limited the home runs.
Ivan Nova has made 37 starts as a Pittsburgh Pirate, and his tenure started off great, but has since been downhill. Nova signed a three-year deal this offseason worth $26 million, one in which the contract was broken down yesterday.
Nova’s start with the Pirates, primarily the first three months, saw Nova pitch like a top of the rotation arm. However, since May Nova has pitched like a back of the rotation arm, something more similar to who he has been his whole career. Here is a month by month breakdown:
Nova’s FIP has been over 5.00 each of the last three months, which is never a good sign. FIP is a measurement of what a pitcher can control, otherwise known as the three true outcomes – home runs, strikeouts, and walks. By DRA, which factors in more than just the three true outcomes and uses context, Nova has been better this year than last year, with a DRA of 4.21 compared to the DRA of 4.45 with the Pirates last year. Though that’s a measure of each season, compared to a month by month breakdown.
The main reason Nova’s FIP and ERA have been increasing has been his increase in home runs, and part of the reason is how there has been a decrease in ground balls. More balls in the air give there more of a chance to be balls over the fence, and with a pitcher who doesn’t strikeout many hitters, keeping the ball on the ground is important. Here’s the increase in home runs and a decrease in ground balls:
Looking at the two charts, the high ERA’s and high FIP’s come with the high rate in which Nova has allowed a home run and a low rate in which Nova has got a ground ball. The reason can be an easy fix, Nova has thrown the ball in the lower third of the strike zone less now than when he was acquired:
Nova has been leaving the ball up more compared to what he has been doing with the Pirates that had led to the success he had from August 2016-May 2017. Nova kept his home run rates below 2.0 percent which allowed him to get away with not striking out many hitters. His decrease in ground balls and in throwing balls in the bottom third of the strike zone go along with him decreasing the amount he throws his sinker:
|Month||Fourseam||Sinker||Fourseam GB/BIP||Sinker GB/BIP|
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For Nova, the key to him getting ground balls is his sinker, which allows him to limit the home runs he allows. By limiting the home run, Nova will both improve his ERA and FIP, which will help the Pirates. Nova decreasing the sinker usage in favor of the four-seam has hurt him, and by going back to throwing the pitch near 50 percent of the time will help him get the ball back in the bottom of the zone and get ground balls. If Nova can do that, he can hopefully fix these struggles he has had the last couple of months, and become a solid middle of the rotation starter on a cheap contract.
*Numbers from fangraphs, pitch types, and numbers from brooks baseball, pitch location from baseball savant