2014 Season Preview: Breakout Candidate – Ivan Nova

14 Mar

Of all reason previews on River Avenue Blues, I like the breakout candidate: Ivan Nova the most so far. The preview on C.C. Sabathia is important, too but there is little new in that post. We talked about his problems in details last year — Changeup, NOT fastball, is the key for SabathiaWhat’s wrong with C.C. Sabathia — so we aren’t going to repeat ourselves for the time being. Here is RAB’s take on the outlook of Ivan Nova this coming season:

These last three years have been really up and down for Ivan Nova. He has alternated being excellent and awful, which, really, isn’t all that different from most young pitchers. We’ve seen enough flashes of dominance to think Nova can pitch near the front of a rotation down the road, assuming he puts it all together at some point. Does that mean he’ll be Max Scherzer or Felix Hernandez? No, of course not. Those guys are very rare. Can he be as valuable as Anibal Sanchez for a few years though? I think we’d all take that. I know I would.

Unfortunately, taking that step forward to become a consistent, top flight starter is really tough. Many have tried, most have failed. Nova does two things that make you think he can one of the few to take that step forward: he misses bats and he gets ground balls. Or at least he’s shown the ability to do those things at various points over the last three years. After striking out 13.9% of batters faced with a 6.6% swing and miss rate in 2011, Nova has bumped it up to 20.2% and 9.1%, respectively, the last two seasons. He also sandwiched an okay 45.2% ground ball rate in 2012 around 52.7% and 53.5% ground ball rates in 2011 and 2013, again respectively.

The ability is there, we’ve seen it every so often. Nova needs to find a way to marry that 2012-13 strikeout rate with the 2011 and 2013 ground ball rates to be the best possible pitcher he can be. He did that last summer, at least for a little while. He was pretty terrible before going on the DL with a triceps problem, but he resurfaced in late-June and pitched well through the end of the season. That’s the guy the Yankees want to see all the time, the late-June through September version of Nova. That guy racked up both strikeouts and ground balls.

I think that, in general, Nova is a tough pitcher to wrap your head around. He looks like he should be one of the best pitchers in baseball because he’s got some really good stuff, the big frame scouts love, and confidence that borders on arrogance, but there’s a disconnect between what he looks like and what he actually is. I think part of the reason why he’s so difficult to understand is the way he’s changed just over the the last three seasons. When Nova dominated in the second half of 2011, it was because he emphasized his slider. Less than two full seasons later, the slider was a non-factor and the curveball became his go-to secondary pitch. It’s also worth noting Nova doesn’t use his fastball as much as he once did these days, and in fact for most of the last year he threw his curve more than his heater. That’s … uncommon.

The pitch usage suggests Nova is still looking for what works for for him. That’s a guy making adjustment after adjustment, not for the sake of fine tuning his game or perfecting his craft, but out of necessity. If Nova didn’t start throwing his curveball so much last year, he might have been stuck in Triple-A. Maybe the new fastball-curveball approach is the one that leads to the breakout and long-term success. We did wonder the same thing about his fastball-slider approach after 2011, remember. I don’t think we can say anything definitive about what pitch mix works before for Nova. The guy’s a mystery.

Last season was a step in the right direction but now another step forward is needed. Nova needs to put together a full, productive season from start to finish. No more wake-up call demotions to Triple-A (he’s out of options anyway), no half season of awfulness followed by a half season of excellence, just a full year from start to finish.

I think Nova is capable of having that kind of season in 2014. It’s about time he does, really. He’s making some decent money ($3.3M during his first trip through arbitration) and he turned 27 back in January, so Nova is entering what should be the best years of his career. If he doesn’t break out this summer, you have to wonder if he ever will. I wouldn’t go as far as calling this a make or break year for Nova, it’s not like he’ll never pitch in the big leagues again if he doesn’t perform well, but this is the time for him to advance his career and cement himself as a cornerstone piece for the Yankees going forward.

 

要。點。概。譯
要成為穩定、一流的先發真的很難,很多投手嘗試過,但大部分都失敗。Nova有兩點讓你認為他可以更進一步成為少數幾個穩定、一流的先發之一:他讓打者揮空以及讓打者擊出滾地球。至少他過去三個球季的幾個時間點都顯示他有能力做到這兩點。

2011年球季,他三振13.9%面對的打者,6.6%打者揮空率;但在2012和2013年球季,面對打者的三振率和揮空率上升到20.2%及9.1%。再者,2012年打者擊出滾地球比率是45.2%,但2011年和2013年被擊出滾地球比率是52.7%和53.5%。

所以Nova是有能力的,至少我們有時看得到他的能力。Nova必須找到方法將2012~2013的三振率和2011及2013的被擊出滾地球比率結合,這樣才能成為發揮他能力的最好投手。

大致而言,Nova很難讓人摸得著頭緒。他 看起來像是應該成為大聯盟最好的投手之一,他有很好的球威,球探愛的大體型,近乎自負的信心,但是他看起來的樣子和他實際上怎樣卻連結不起來。我認為他很難懂的一部分原因是他過去三個球季的改變。2011年下半季他很威的時候,主要是靠滑球,但不到兩年後,滑球卻不是他的球種之一,反倒是曲球成為他仰賴的第二種球。值得注意的是Nova快速球用的沒以前多,事實上去年大部分時間他投的曲球比快速球多。這…很不尋常。

球種的運用顯示Nova還在找尋成功方程式,也就是調整再調整,不是微調或讓技巧更好,而是因為需要做調整。假如Nova去年沒投那麼多曲球,他可能就困在3A,或也許新的快速球/曲球組合方式是他突破年和長期成功的原因。但在2011年後,我們也懷疑過他快速球/滑球的組合,記得吧?我想我們不能說某一球種組合一定適合Nova,他是個謎。

去年Nova往正確的方向邁進一步,現在是需要更往前一步的時候,Nova必須完整一季、從頭到尾有好的表現,不能再被下放到3A(他也沒有下放權了)然後才當頭棒喝,不能前半季很糟,然後下半季才表現優異,必須是季初到季末的完全好表現。

我認為Nova在2014年球季有能力做到那樣的表現,也該是他有那樣表現的時候了。他年薪不錯(第一年仲裁US$3.3M),一月份才剛過27歲生日,所以Nova應該進入他生涯的最佳球季之一。如果他今年夏天沒有突出表現,你必須質疑他到底會不會有。我不會說今年是Nova不成功則失敗的一年,因為又不是說他如果表現不好就不會在大聯盟投球了,但現在是他生涯進步及鞏固他成為洋基要角的時候。

 

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