An Improving Ivan Nova

Apr. 15, 2012; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher Ivan Nova pitches during the first inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-US PRESSWIRE

When we think of Ivan Nova, we think of a groundball-inducing machine that relies on a heavy, well-located fastball for success. To think so, we'd be right. In 2010, Nova induced grounders at a 51.4% clip, and in 2011, at 52.7%.

Given these numbers, we wouldn't expect a lot of strikeouts from this type of pitcher. And again, we'd be correct. In 2010, Nova struck out just 14.1% of the batters he faced, 4.4% below league average for the year. In 2011, Nova fanned just 13.9% of the batters he faced, 4.7% below league average for the year.

This season, however, has been an entirely different story. So far, Nova is striking out 26.8% of the batters he faces, 7.6% above the current league average. This may correlate well with an increasing O-Swing%, or the percentage of pitches batters swing at outside of the strike zone. Nova's O-Swing% is up to 30.1% this season, 4% higher than his 2011 mark and up from 22.6% during 2010.

As for his command, he's walking just 3.6% of the batters he faces, far lower than the 8.1% he walked in 2011 and the 9.2% he walked in 2010.

Despite Nova's apparent ability to get batters to chase pitches, and his newfound superb control, he has strayed away from what has made him a successful pitcher, as he's induced grounders just 41% of the time.

Of course, we are dealing with just 13 innings of data, but I find it difficult not to get excited about a start like this from Nova. He throws hard, induces lots of grounders, and is seemingly learning how to get batters to chase and to swing and miss. In the meantime, he's also improved his command, a positive that has carried over from his otherwise poor Spring Training.

At some point, Nova will begin to induce more grounders, he'll strike out fewer batters, and he'll walk more batters. Simply stated, regression will occur, as his improvements are all very extreme due to the small samples we're working with.

But even if some of his improvements remain, and I truly do not think this is out of the question, we would be watching a young pitcher continue to improve before our eyes, and that is certainly something to look forward to.

All statistics from Ivan Nova's player page at fangraphs.com.

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