Ivan Nova has been dominating in a Pittsburgh Pirates’ uniform, but that doesn’t justify the Yankees pursuing him this offseason.
The New York Yankees know the kind of player that Ivan Nova is. In fact, the Yankees know Ivan Nova so well, that they traded the last two months of his contract to the Pittsburgh Pirates for basically nothing. Since being dealt, Nova has pitched like an ace in Pittsburgh, but that doesn’t mean the Yankees should go after the right-hander in free agency this offseason.
Nova, originally signed as an international free agent, has been in the Yankees’ organization since 2004. After enjoying a breakout campaign in the minor leagues in 2010, Nova was promoted to the big league club to work out of the bullpen.
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When 2011 rolled around, Nova had earned himself a rotation spot. That season, Nova went 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA in 165.1 innings, which was good enough for fourth in the AL Rookie of the Year voting. With pitchers like Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia on the roster, the Yankees desperately needed a successful young arm in their rotation; Ivan Nova was exactly that.
The Yankees valued Nova so highly at point, they refused to include him in a deal for starter Cliff Lee. That speaks volumes to the potential they believe had yet been tapped into. Part of that untapped potential included a changeup that still needed work, though Nova was never able to master the pitch due to the fact that he was forced into the rotation.
Nova relied heavily on his two-seam fastball instead, though the pitch wasn’t very flashy. Along with the fastball, Nova threw a slider/cutter combo that didn’t overpower hitters, though he was able to miss enough bats to remain in the rotation.
While there was plenty of good in the relationship between Nova and the Yankees (let’s not forget the year he had braces), there was also plenty of downside, especially towards the end. Four starts into the 2014 season, Nova exited his start with discomfort in his elbow, which eventually led to him requiring Tommy John surgery.
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Nova would not return to the rotation until June of 2015, but he was hardly the same pitcher when he returned him the injury. From his return until the end of the season, Nova posted a 5.07 ERA in 17 starts, going 6-11 in 17 starts and ultimately losing his rotation spot.
So, what exactly has changed? It can’t be the goatee that Nova now sports in Pittsburgh, though admittedly, it looks pretty good. The Pirates have a wizard in pitching coach Ray Searage, who has fixed pitchers like A.J. Burnett and Francisco Liriano, among others. Nova is the latest product of Searage’s magic, though the move out of Yankee Stadium should not be understated here.
Since returning from Tommy John surgery, Nova has been getting killed by left-handed hitting. Believe it or not, lefties own a .298/.355/.528 slash line against him over that span of time. With the short porch in right field, it should be to no one’s surprise that Nova owned a 1.8 HR9 on the Yankees this year.
After the move out of Yankee stadium, Nova has seen that number shrink to 0.7 HR9. Some of the mistakes he makes no longer punishes him the way they used to, as home runs have been suppressed and he’s getting more outs, which help him stay in the game longer.
Can you recall a time you were raving about an eight inning, eleven-strikeout performance from Ivan Nova? The fondest memories I own of Nova would him getting torched the second time through a lineup, and having to rely on the bullpen to pitch five, maybe six innings in a game.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in something like this, especially when it’s from a former player whom your team spent so much time working with, trying to get these types of performances out of him. Nova will be turning 30 this January, which means any team that invests in him will likely be getting his declining years.
While you can make an argument that he’s turned a page and this is the pitcher he now is, he still has an injury history. On top of that, Nova has never topped more than 170 innings in a season.
With the depleted free agent market this offseason, Nova has the chance to get paid like a #2 starter, perhaps even a #1. For a young team on the rise like the Yankees, signing a 30-year-old with injury history isn’t exactly the wisest investment.
Even ith money coming off of the books this year and next year, the team should stand pat on the free agent market and search the trade market for pitching. If another team wants to give Nova $15 million a year annually over four years, let them. The Yankees know who Ivan Nova is, and he isn’t worth anymore of their time.