It wasn’t long ago that many pundits and fans believed the curtain had dropped on the Yankees’ playoff aspirations this season, and depending on where you sit with the pinstriped Empire, the theory was eagerly embraced. Of course, and as per usual, calls of the Yankees’ demise were premature, as of September 1st the Bronx Bombers are 3.5 games out of a wild card spot.
While Alfonso Soriano and his massive bat (literally), as well as the return of Alex Rodriguez (just admit it) and Curtis Granderson have played a big role in the Yank’s revival, so has Ivan Nova. In fact, Nova’s impressive run has come at a time when CC Sabathia continues to struggle, and the staff’s real ace Hiroki Kuroda, has finally revealed he’s in fact mortal (and has been shelled in recent starts).
Now if you follow the Yanks regularly (out of hate or love) then you know Nova has been awesome since returning from a demotion to the minors. On the year now, Nova has locked up 8 wins, an impressive ERA of 2.88, and opponents are hitting .255 off of him. The 26 year-old has done so in approximately 109 innings pitched.
So, considering what Nova put up numbers wise last year, it’s been a welcome surprise for the Yanks and their legions of fans. In 2012 Nova won 12 games, but his ERA was an awful 5.02, and the opposition hit .288 against him. The righthander’s WHIP was 1.26 while this year it’s been 1.08.
While granted, some folks will be tempted to question whether Nova can keep this up (and understandably so), it does look like there’s more to his recent success than just ‘dialing it up’ or ‘new found confidence’. The thing is, Nova has busted out a sinker this year, which catcher Chris Stewart recently told the NY Post he believes has been key to the pitcher’s success.
Now granted, according to Brooks Baseball, Nova was throwing the sinker early in the season when things weren’t going so well. As Stewart noted in the aforementioned report, however, it can be hard to fine tune a pitch in the bigs. Since returning to the majors, Nova’s been using the sinker more, and in July he threw it around 30% of the time and in August it accounted for 35% of his pitches.
When you consider that Yankee Stadium is a hitter’s park, and that Nova’s four seam fastball and curveball have a propensity to become dangerous flyballs when contact’s made, having a sinker to utilize is huge. Especially for games when Nova doesn’t have his best stuff, which can be a nasty curveball and a 93-94 MPH plus fastball. Nova’s sinker has been producing a groundball (per ball in play) around 65% of the time. This could also be why the pitcher’s left on base percentage has risen by 8% this year, and why Nova’s thrown two complete games this season. Prior to 2013 he had never thrown one in the big leagues.
So, does this mean Nova is here to stay as a frontline starter? And has finally made good on the hype that surrounded him earlier in his career? That remains to be seen. One thing’s for sure though, thanks to Nova and the addition of his sinker, the Yanks still have a fighting chance in the playoff race.