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Pirates Signing Ivan Nova to a Three-Year Deal

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According to Robert Murray, the Pittsburgh Pirates are signing right-handed pitcher Ivan Nova to a three-year deal worth $26 M, which will also include a $2 M signing bonus.

The Pirates traded for Nova at the trade deadline last July, acquiring him from the New York Yankees for Tito Polo and Stephen Tarpley. He made 11 starts for the Pirates, posting a 3.06 ERA over 64.2 innings, with a 1.10 WHIP and a 52:3 K/BB ratio. Over seven seasons in the majors, he has a 4.30 ERA, a 4.26 FIP and a 1.37 WHIP in 793.2 innings.

UPDATE 9:28 AM: Ken Rosenthal confirms the deal, and says it’s pending a physical.

UPDATE 9:30 AM: Analysis from Tim Williams…

The initial reaction here is going to be that Nova’s price is low. It’s low, but not that low. At the start of the offseason, the ask for Nova was five years and $70 M. He was never going to get that much guaranteed, although his later reported offers in the 3/$36 M range seemed more in his expected range. So the Pirates are getting him for $10 M less, rather than $44 M less in guaranteed money, with the latter option never really being realistic.

I wrote last week that Nova’s market was surprisingly quiet, with the Pirates being the only team linked to him. They tried to extend him at the end of the year, but he declined. He did say that he wanted to remain in Pittsburgh, as he liked his time with the team, and it obviously worked well for him when you look at the numbers. It’s hard to say if the lower price was due to a low market, due to Nova really wanting to return to Pittsburgh, or a bit of both.

The only thing that matters here is what kind of pitcher Nova will be. He was fantastic with the Pirates at the end of the year, putting up a 3.06 ERA and a 3.13 xFIP. There are things which led to these numbers that I don’t think he can repeat. The biggest would be his 1.1% walk rate, which is down from his 7.1% rate. He did have a 5.9% rate with the Yankees prior to the trade. I could see him ending up lower than his career rate, but expecting this extreme would be unreasonable. His LOB% was also 68.7%, when typically he has trended higher than the normal 70% range, with a career 73.5%. So that could be something to watch.

Then there are the good trends. One of the issues for Nova prior to the trade was a high HR/FB rate. He was at 21.3% before the trade, and 7.8% after the trade. His career is 13.1%, and a normal number is around 10%. I wonder how much of the career numbers were impacted by him playing in the AL East his entire career? I do think the HR/FB totals will stay down and end up around the typical league average. Another good thing is that his strikeout rate of 19.8% tied his second best year, which came in 2013. His best year was 20.5%.

When you combine a higher strikeout rate, a lower walk rate, and fewer home runs, you’re going to tend to get some good outcomes. Again, I don’t think we can expect him to put up an ERA around 3.00, but I do think he could be expected to put up an ERA around 4.00 and possibly below. If the Pirates can get three years of that production, it would be a massive upgrade over what they had last year. It would also mean Nova fits in well in the rotation behind Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon.

The Pirates might not be done there. After the Nova deal was reported, Ken Rosenthal said that they’re still pursuing Jose Quintana from the White Sox.

A rotation of Cole, Quintana, Taillon, Nova, and one of the many starters from Triple-A would make the Pirates a serious contender. I’ll have more on the Quintana rumor in a separate article.

UPDATE 10:35 AM: Jon Heyman reports that Nova can also earn $2 M per year in performance bonuses.

So it looks like this deal could end up as high as 3/$32 M, which is closer to Nova’s expected market. But Nova would have to be productive for those three seasons for this to happen. No word on the specific incentives, but typically those are broken down by innings and games started.

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John Dreker
John Dreker
John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball. When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.

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