Ivan Nova's first spring start this past weekend was everything you would want to see from a young pitcher coming off a bad year: he was efficient (27 pitches in 2 innings), his velocity was good, he was aggressive with his fastball, and most importantly, he located that fastball. Nova threw 22 of his 27 pitches for strikes, the bulk of them 4-seamers, and drew praise from everybody for how well he commanded the pitch.
After the outing, it was revealed that Nova had been working on a new arm angle in the offseason, one designed to shorten up his release and make it easier to repeat. Michael Eder of IIATMS/TYA examined the change in arm angle yesterday and provided a side-by-side GIF comparison to show just how much shorter Nova's arm motion was. Based on the early results we saw on Saturday and the problems Nova had in 2012, this change in arm angle could be just what he needs to turn things around this season.
A while back I put Nova's 2012 season under the microscope as part of my "2012 Stat Trends" series to try to figure out just what caused his horrible results. One of the biggest issues I noticed with Nova was his poor 4-seamer command within the strike zone, especially early in the count when hitters are more apt to look for fastballs. Too often Nova was catching the middle of the zone and not hitting corners with his 4-seamer, and as a result he gave up the bulk of his 87 XBH allowed off the 4-seamer. Nova's inability to consistently command his 4-seam fastball lessened the effectiveness of his slider and curveball some, and any pitcher will tell you life is tough when you can't command your fastball, no matter how good your offspeed stuff is.
This change in arm angle for Nova should help correct those fastball location problems from last season, both from a mechanical standpoint in terms of ease of repeatability in his delivery and from a mental/emotional standpoint. Nova pitches with emotion and confidence out on the mound, and it's pretty easy to tell from his facial expressions and body language when he's feeling good and confident and when he's not. Being able to locate his fastball more consistently and hit his spots in the zone for strikes instead of doubles in the gap is going to help Nova's confidence and keep him calm and in rhythm. If he's calm, he's more likely to maintain his mechanics, and if that's what this new arm angle leads to then Nova could be in store for a big turnaround this season.
Now there's no need to clamor for "the Nova from 2011" based on this mechanical change. Strikeouts are always better than groundballs and I'd like to see Nova continue to pitch for swings and misses this season. But if the trade-off from this new arm angle and the better fastball command that should come with it is XBH turning into GB outs, that'll be great news.
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