10 Keys to Turning Around Ivan Nova's Shocking Letdown Season

Stephen Skinner@https://twitter.com/oswegos1Contributor IIJune 6, 2012

10 Keys to Turning Around Ivan Nova's Shocking Letdown Season

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    The 2012 season has not shaped up the way Ivan Nova or the New York Yankees had hoped. While it is still early in June, there is time for the young pitcher to turn things around.

    2011 was the first full season for the 25-year old hurler, and after going 16 -4 with a 3.70 ERA, expectations for Nova were set very high.

    To date, the results have been disappointing.

    Entering Wednesday's start against the Tampa Bay Rays, Nova holds a 5.60 ERA and a 1.58 WHIP.  Those are hardly the kind of statistics the club was looking for from the pitcher who finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting last season.

    What are the keys to turning his campaign around?

    This article will examine 10 factors to Ivan Nova regaining his winning form.

10. Pitch Better Early in the Game

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    A disturbing pattern has developed this season in Ivan Nova's starts.  Batters facing him within the first 15 pitches he throws are hitting .304. 

    That is a far cry from last season when hitters could only manage a .245 average through that number of pitches.

    Is he not warming up the same way?  Is his focus different at the start of a game? 

    Only Nova can answer those questions, but it is clear that he is putting more pressure upon himself early in games by allowing the first men he faces to reach base.

    UPDATE:  In the first 15 pitches Wednesday night, the first three hitters were one for three.

9. Get the Leadoff Man Out!

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    Perhaps it is the result of his struggles in the first 15 pitches, but the top of opposing batting orders is hitting a whopping .375 against Ivan Nova this season.

    Last year they hit a paltry .176.

    The old baseball adage for pitchers says to get in front of the count on batters.  In Nova's case, he needs to get in front of the lineup.  Letting the top of the order get on base at a rate that will get a player into the Hall of Fame isn't going to help with things like pitch count or wins.

    To turn this season around, Ivan Nova needs to start at the top.

    UPDATE: In Wednesday's game against the Tampa Bay Rays the leadoff hitter - Desmond Jennings - was two for four.

8. Runners on Base

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    In 2011, Ivan Nova managed runners on base by limiting opposing hitters in that situation to a .244 batting average.

    This season has been a different story as the average of those batters is up 41 points to .285.

    Either there is a technical issue that can be corrected with work by pitching coach Larry Rothschild, or there is a focus issue with the 25-year old pitcher. 

    Each case is correctable, but Nova will need to fix things now before the season is lost.

    UPDATE: In Wednesday's game the Rays' hitters were one for eight (.125) with runners on base.

7. Limit Right-Handed Batter Production

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    One of the myths in baseball is that right-handed pitchers have better success against right-handed batters.  The reason it is a myth is Ivan Nova.

    While last season hitters from the right side of the plate did fare well against the Yankees' pitcher (.275 average), it still pales in comparison to the .344 average they have in 2012 when facing Nova. 

    Even though left-handed batters are also having more success against the young hurler (their average is up 42 points to .282), they are at least manageable. 

    The 69 point increase for right-handed batters, however, is virtually out of control.

    Nova will need to get more efficient against the "righties" if he intends to return to last season's form.

    UPDATE: The Rays' right-handed batters were four for 17 (.236) against Nova in Wednesday's game.

6. Pleading the Fifth

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    If you are a major league hitter and want to break out of a slump, ask your manager to put you fifth in the order against Ivan Nova.

    One of the inexplicable differences between Nova's 2011 season and this year sits directly with the fifth man in the opponent's batting order.

    Last season the "five hole" in the lineup hit .233 with no home runs for the entire year.  Through May of 2012, the number five hitter in the order is hitting .444 with six home runs.

    Certainly that spot needs to be silenced for Nova to have any chance at turning his year around.

    UPDATE: Ben Zobrist batted fifth for the Rays in Wednesday's game and went 0 for 3 against Ivan Nova.

5. Improve the Second Time Through the Lineup

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    Typically pitches 31 through 60 for a starting pitcher are those that batters see their second time to the plate.

    In 2011, Ivan Nova limited hitters to a .254 batting average during that period of the game. This season, that category—like so many of the others —has seen a dramatic increase in batters' success against Nova as they have hit .349.

    Is he tiring early, or is he just not changing his pitch selection each time through the lineup (as was a problem with fellow starter Phil Hughes earlier in the year)?

    Hopefully Larry Rothschild can decipher the issue and put a halt to the mid-game failures.

    UPDATE: In Wednesday's game against the Rays, hitters were 0 for seven against Nova from pitches 31 to 60.

4. Reverse the Fly Ball to Ground Ball Ratio

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    Ivan Nova is blessed with a very "heavy" sinking two-seam fastball.  Pitchers with that as their "out" pitch typically have a very high ground ball count from game to game.

    Last year, 55 percent of the outs (of balls put into play) Nova accounted for were via ground ball with 45 percent coming from fly balls.

    This season the numbers are virtually reversed with only 46 percent of the outs coming from GB and 54 percent from FB.

    It could be an indication that there is a technical issue with his "two-seamer".  Since that is the pitch he best gets batters out with, Nova needs to correct the flaw, or it could be a very long season.

    UPDATE: In Wednesday's game Rays' hitters had six fly balls and 13 ground balls against Ivan Nova.

3. Stop Giving Up Home Runs!

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    All season long, one thing that has plagued the entire New York Yankees pitching staff has been the home run.  The team is yielding fence-clearing blasts at a rate that places them next to last in baseball for that category.

    Ivan Nova has been the club's biggest culprit (tied with Phil Hughes) in allowing HR this year.  The 13 blasts he has given up represent the amount he served up the entire 2011 season.

    For a pitcher who was one of the best in keeping balls in the park last year, this is a very disturbing reversal of fortune and is perhaps the most important statistic that Ivan Nova needs to improve upon for success.

    UPDATE: In Wednesday's game Ivan Nova yielded no home runs in eight innings pitched against the Tampa Bay Rays.

2. Once Ahead, Finish.

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    Last year when Ivan Nova jumped ahead in the count, he held opposing batters to a .227 average with a total of six home runs for the season.

    This year when going up 0-1 in the count, Nova is letting hitters off the hook to a tune of a .322 batting average with seven home runs, and we are only one third of the way through the season.

    Normally pitchers are encouraged to get ahead in strikes on batters, but with Nova, it would appear to be a curse.

    This is something only Nova can work out, and the answer may not be too far away in a spot somewhere between his ears.

    UPDATE: Ivan Nova held the Rays to a one for 13 performance when he started a batter with a strike on Wednesday.

1. A Minor Adjustment

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    2011 wasn't all a bed of roses for Ivan Nova. In July he was sent to the minors to make room for Phil Hughes' return to the rotation.  At the time he was a respectable 8-4 with a 4.12 ERA.

    Nearly a month later, he returned to the big league club and didn't lose again during the regular season.  Over his last 11 starts, Nova went 8-0 with a 3.02 ERA.  It can be argued that he was the Yankees' best pitcher over the last two months of the year.

    Given the shocking letdown this season has been for the promising star, perhaps a trip to the minor leagues is the best prescription for his problems.

    UPDATE: After Wednesday's eight inning, four hit performance against the Tampa Bay Rays, a trip to the minor leagues for Ivan Nova appears to be doubtful.