IVAN NOVA, RIGHT HANDED PITCHER
|Born: January 12, 1987
Signed: International Free Agent, 2004 (Yankees)
How Acquired: Free Agent
Country: Dominican Republic
Agent: The Wasserman Agency
WTM’s PLAYER PROFILE
|Nova was well regarded at the time the Yankees signed him out of the Dominican, but he progressed more slowly than they originally hoped. He eventually did add velocity and improve his command, and got established in their rotation in 2011. His fastball typically averages a little under 93 mph and he didn’t lose velocity in the wake of his 2014 Tommy John surgery. He doesn’t throw strikes as often as before the surgery, though. His main secondary pitch is a curve and he infrequently throws a change. Neither is a dominant pitch. Nova is generally a groundball pitcher, with a career groundball rate of 50.7%. Just the same, he’s frequently suffered from very high HR/FB rates, some of which may result from Yankee Stadium and from the offenses in the American League East. Even for a pitcher in the DH era, Nova is a stunningly bad hitter, frequently just waving half-heartedly three times and taking a seat. The Pirates acquired Nova at the 2016 trade deadline.
Nova put up good numbers across the board, mostly as a starter, in his DSL debut.
The Yankees moved Nova up to rookie ball, where he started and relieved with largely the same results as the previous year.
Nova made the jump to full season ball and pitched exclusively out of the rotation. The numbers weren’t good, as he got hit hard and had a very low K rate. He pitched well initially, but struggled badly for most of the season. Baseball America nevertheless rated him the Yankees’ 18th best prospect due to his stuff.
Nova spent the season in the Florida State League and again didn’t put up very good numbers. The Yankees didn’t put him on their 40-man roster after the season and San Diego claimed him. They returned him to the Yankees at the end of the pre-season.
Nova split his time evenly between AA and AAA. He had a semi-breakout in AA, with a good ERA but weak BB and K rates. He got hit much harder in AAA. BA rated him the Yankees’ 16th best prospect after the season.
The Yankees sent Nova to AAA to open the season, called him up for two relief appearances in May, and then brought him up in late August and put him in there rotation. He made significant improvements in AAA and held his own in the majors.
Except for three starts in AAA in July, Nova spent the season in the Yankees’ rotation. He was effective without dominating, posting a low K rate. He obviously benefited in the W/L column from the Yankees’ offense.
Nova posted a much higher ERA, but his xFIP was actually lower than the previous year, 3.92 to 4.16. A .331 BABIP seems to have had an impact. Nova’s BB and K rates were actually very good, but opponents batted 288/349/511 against him. Much of the problem was gopher balls, as he allowed 28. Nova made only three starts after August 21 due to shoulder inflammation.
Nova had his best season, although he missed a month early in the year due to triceps inflammation.
Nova struggled through four starts, then suffered an elbow injury in April and had Tommy John surgery, ending his season.
When he was able to pitch, Nova went on rehab and the Yankees called him up in late June. He was only moderately effective; his xFIP of 4.59 was better than his ERA, but not by a lot. He continued to have trouble with the longball, allowing one every seven innings.
The Yankees started the season with Nova in the bullpen. He moved to the rotation in early May and pitched reasonably well that month, but he had an ERA of 7.52 in five June starts before pitching better in July. He continued to have trouble with gopher balls, allowing one every five innings. The Pirates acquired him at the trade deadline for two players to be named later, who turned out to be Stephen Tarpley and Tito Polo. Nova was outstanding for his first eight starts with the Pirates, posting a 2.41 ERA and completing two games. He had two rough starts after that stretch, but finished with a good game against the Cubs. He was somewhat hittable, with opponents batting .273 against him, but he walked almost nobody and wasn’t plagued with the gopher ball problems that he had in New York. His groundball rate was high at 52.3%. There didn’t seem to be any element of luck in Nova’s performance with the Pirates, as shown by his 3.13 xFIP. His BABIP was an unremarkable .318. A lot of his trouble with the Yankees resulted from an extremely high 21.3% HR/FB ratio. That ratio dropped to 7.8% with the Pirates. A normal HR/FB ratio would be about 12-13%, but you’d expect a lower ratio for a pitcher whose home games were in PNC Park, which reduces HRs.
The Pirates made it clear well before the 2016 season ended that they wanted to bring Nova back and made at least two extension offers to him in September. They ended up signing him shortly before Christmas to a three-year, $26M contract. The amount was well below what many people expected, given the extremely limited pool of free agent starters. In fact, no other team was ever closely connected to Nova.
His 2017 season turned out to have two distinctly different halves. Initially he picked up where he left off in 2016, pitching with remarkable efficiency and going very deep into games. In April, he walked only one batter in 36 innings and threw two complete games, one of them a shutout and one just eight innings in a loss. He continued pitching well, although not quite as well, until late June, when things started to go south. Here are his numbers:
Through June 17 (14 starts): 2.91 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 0.9 HR/9, .654 opp. OPS
Obviously, a major part of the problem was gopher balls. Nova allowed 29, but he got hit hard generally. Left-handed batters were also a problem, as they hammered him for a 309/342/516 line. Right-handed hitters batted 249/294/419. Nova’s groundball rate dropped from 53.6% in 2016 to 45.7%. Nova also hampered the team at the plate, where he was remarkably bad even for a pitcher on a team that’s had a chronically poor-hitting pitching staff. In 51 ABs, Nova had one single, no walks and 31 strikeouts.
What happened in 2017 was probably nothing more than Nova reverting to his true talent level after an uncharacteristically great run. That probably didn’t surprise a lot of people, which is why the Pirates were able to sign him to such a modest contract. Sure enough, Nova in 2018 had almost exactly the same season as in 2017. He had a very bad stretch in May, putting up a 7.61 ERA for the month. He went on the disabled list with a sprained finger in late May and stayed on it for less than two weeks, and it seemed to help. He had a 1.75 ERA in June, then posted a 4.40 mark the rest of the way. He threw fewer innings per start, and 26 fewer overall, than in 2017, which is probably more realistic. As in 2017, he had significant troubles with gopher balls, allowing 1.5 per nine innings, or 26 total. He had a significant platoon split, allowing an .835 OPS to left-handed batters and .707 to right-handed. His farcical hitting continued; he went 1-for-53 with 30 strikeouts. In 161 career plate appearances, he now has no walks and 92 strikeouts.
Nova is a classic low-risk, low-reward pitcher. He’ll probably put up a very similar season in 2019, assuming he stays healthy, but keeping him in the rotation won’t bring the Pirates any closer to getting back into the playoffs. With Tyler Glasnow gone, though, and Chad Kuhl out for the 2019 season, they probably don’t have the depth to try trading Nova.
2017: $7,000,000 ($2,000,000 bonus, $2,000,000 in possible incentives)
2018: $8,500,000 ($2,000,000 in possible incentives)
2019: $8,500,000 ($2,000,000 in possible incentives)
|Signing Bonus: $80,000
MiLB Debut: 2005
MLB Debut: 5/13/2010
MiLB FA Eligible: N/A
MLB FA Eligible: 2019
Rule 5 Eligible: N/A
Added to 40-Man: 11/20/09
Options Remaining: 0 (USED: 2010, 2011, 2013)
MLB Service Time: 8.024
|July 15, 2004: Signed as an international free agent with the New York Yankees.
December 11, 2008: Selected by the San Diego Padres from the New York Yankees in the major league phase of the Rule 5 draft.
March 29, 2009: Returned to the New York Yankees by the San Diego Padres.
November 20, 2009: Contract purchased by the New York Yankees.
July 28, 2016: Traded by the New York Yankees to the Pittsburgh Pirates for two players to be named later; Tito Polo and Stephen Tarpley named to complete trade on August 30.
November 3, 2016: Became a free agent.
December 22, 2016: Signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates as a free agent.