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This week, we tackle a pair of pitchers who are still in their mid-20s yet might already be considered disappointments at this early stage of their careers, yet a recent resurgence has put them back on the pitching map. Let’s start with the pitcher that recently changed teams before we get to the bonus baby.

Ivan Nova

Nova has always had the upside but was largely viewed as a failed project with the Yankees, a team for whom he compiled a 4.41 ERA over 729 career innings, but it didn’t take long with his new Pittsburgh club for Nova to discover a new level of effectiveness. In seven starts since the Pirates acquired Nova from the Yankees at the trade deadline, the right-hander has gone 5-0 with a 2.53 ERA and just two walks in 46.1 innings pitched.

Date

IP

R

H

HR

BB

K

PC

September 8

9.0

1

6

0

0

4

94

September 3

6.0

2

5

1

1

6

70

August 28

6.0

1

3

1

0

4

75

In his last start, Nova tossed a one-run complete game for the second time in his last four outings, shutting down the Reds. His previous two starts were both against the Brewers, a club that specializes in giving out humongous K counts, though for Nova it resulted in a modest 10 strikeouts over 12 combined innings; in fact, Nova has whiffed more than seven batters in a game just once this season, that being an eight-count of Ks against the Blue Jays back in late May.

His pitch-count efficiency with the Pirates has been incredible, and over the past four starts Nova has kept the count under 100 pitches despite throwing a pair of complete games and amassing four straight quality starts. Over those four games, the right-hander has needed an average of just 11.2 pitches per inning over 30 combined frames, keeping the count extremely low in total during his six-inning starts and extrapolating even better efficiency when going the distance.

Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage gets a lot of credit for his ability to extract the most value out of veteran pitchers, and Nova appears to be the latest example. Check out his delivery as a Yankee and as a Pirate:

With Yankees

With Pirates

The angle of these videos might not be ideal, and the nuts and bolts of Nova’s delivery has remained largely the same, but one thing that is noticeable is the efficient path of momentum that he carves as a member of the Pirates. With the Yankees, Nova had some back-side lean that would lead to his falling off the mound to the first-base side after release point. But his current line of kinetic energy is much more efficient, with his momentum continuing toward the target after release point due to directing his stride right at the target.

It might seem like a subtle difference, but for a pitcher who is trying to hit precise locations while maximizing velocity, the ability to keep everything on-line to the target is a tremendous asset. Nova has been able to maximize his borderline stuff by honing his pitch command with the simple mechanical fix, and though his strikeout rate may not be enticing fantasy owners, the Pirates have to be more than pleased with the results.

Kevin Gausman

I’m writing this in the afternoon just prior to Friday’s start, so please forgive me if this analysis is slightly outdated as it is based on his last couple starts leading up to his game against the Tigers. I covered Gaus back in May, highlighting the effectiveness of his fastball-curveball combination over his first few starts of the season. He hit a bit of a rough patch in early summer, but Gausman has been breezing through lineups over his last several games, including a streak of 19.2 scoreless innings heading into Friday’s start.

Date

IP

R

H

HR

BB

K

PC

September 3

6.0

0

2

0

2

8

109

August 28

7.0

0

7

0

0

9

108

Both of the above starts came against the Yankees, a team that Gausman has owned this season even as the New York lineup has undergone a considerable facelift. Gaus has faced the division rival Yankees five times this season (he has faced no other team more than twice this year), with a composite ERA of just 0.80 and a magnificent K:BB of 32:5 over 33.2 innings of work. If we take out his performance against the Pinstripes off the ledger then Gausman’s ERA on the season increases by 0.46 runs, as he has a modest 4.06 ERA against the rest of MLB.

Besides his domination of the Yankees, what has been the culprit behind Gausman’s step forward this season? His K rate is up and his ERA is down, but most of the other peripherals are consistent with last season, so is this a case of one team not being able to figure out the right-hander or more of a general line of improvement?

His walk rate was already an asset from a statistical point of view, but Gausman;s ability to keep the free passes at bay while upping the rate of empty swings has been very impressive. He has six different pitch types listed at Brooks but just three that are thrown more than 2.5-percent of the time, as Gaus relies mostly on a four-seam/curveball/splitter combination to keep hitters off-balance. He is one of the few hurlers that throws both a split and a changeup, but the latter has slowly been phased out of his repertoire as Gausman has honed his focus on just the one offspeed pitch.

His success with the fastball and curve has not been replicated well since we last checked in with Gaus back in May. Since that time, opposing batters are slugging .477 off the four-seamer (.193 ISO) and a ridiculous .593 against the curve (.241 ISO), with 15 of his 22 homers allowed during that stretch coming off the fastball. It’s the splitter that has saved his bacon, as batters have hit just .200 with a .318 slug and 50 strikeouts in at-bats that end with the pitch since May. The split has finished eight of his 17 strikeouts over the past two games, topping the K counts of the fastball (five) and change (four).

What about his mechanics?

Mechanics Report Card

Feb ‘15

Sep ‘16

Balance

50

60

Momentum

60

60

Torque

65

65

Posture

50

65

Repetition

50

60

Overall

B

B+

I have long been impressed with Gausman’s ability to make large mechanical adjustments. His delivery morphed from high school to college and then again when he became a professional, and given the magnitude of change it seemed that he was just following the tutelage of different coaches, a trait that earns Gausman considerable points on the coachability scale. His baseline delivery has always been strong, but the latest iteration might be the best version yet.

Literally every mechanical attribute on the report card is now in the plus range, and his overall grade is teetering on the verge of A-grade. The grades in the middle column above represent the scores that I gave him in the 2015 Starting Pitcher Guide, grades that stood on their own as impressive, and I gave his overall grade a bump up to a straight B because of the perceived upside (where his learning curve and previous adjustments played a role). He has fulfilled that promise and exceeded expectations in a smaller time frame than expected, and his current delivery takes advantage of an impressive blend of stability (which was merely average before) and power (which has always been elite). He has found that a closed stride keeps him better aligned due to his personal signature (which dictates his ideal hip angle), giving way to a huge increase in repetition and an associated decrease to his walk rate, which has been comfortably plus for two straight seasons.

Thank you for reading

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