The Yankees’ newest starting pitcher, Ivan Nova was never really considered much of a prospect. However, after a posting a 12-3 record with a 2.86 ERA for AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Nova suddenly started getting a lot of press and then a call up in late August. The question is: what does the future hold for Ivan Nova?
Ivan Nova, SP, New York Yankees: 6’4″, 210 lbs 1/12/87
(Statistics from Firstinning.com)
Signed to an $80,000 bonus in 2004, Nova started his career as just another international arm that might, but probably wouldn’t, eventually turn into something useful. Nova had a decent debut in state-side ball in 2006, posting a 2.72 ERA in the Gulf Coast League with a stellar 36/7 K/BB over 43 IP. Unfortunately, full season ball would not prove to be so kind to Nova. Promoted to Charleston in the SAL, Nova was far less impressive. His K-rate plummeted, his command wasn’t particularly good…2007 simply was not a good year for Ivan Nova.
Promoted to High-A Tampa in 2008, Nova did slightly better. His K-rate went up a tad, he generated a lot of grounders…but the command still wasn’t really good, and for a 21 year old in the Florida State League, his performance wasn’t really all that laudable. Nonetheless, he was selected by the Padres in the Rule 5 draft, only to be returned after a terrible spring training. Promoted to AA to start 2009, Nova’s peripherals regressed significantly…however, thanks to an elite groundball rate Nova’s surface stats remained good with a 2.36 ERA. Promoted in mid-season to AAA, Nova’s GB rate fell precipitously, and his ERA exploded to 5.10.
Sent back to AAA in 2010, Nova had his best season as a pro. His K-rate was the highest since rookie ball, his groundball rate was excellent, and his walk rate improved (although it still wasn’t particularly good). Aside from a rough May Nova was stellar, especially after the All-Star break where he posted a 37/8 K/BB in 41.1 IP. Thus far in the MLB Nova hasn’t been quite that good, mainly due to a decline in his K-rate. Nonetheless, his combination of groundballs, strikeouts, and average command has still made him a useful piece. With Andy Pettitte injured, Nova has been crucial to the Yankees’ stretch run.
With only CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes, and AJ Burnett signed past 2010, the Yankees will need to retool their rotation for 2011, and Nova could be a part of that effort. Nova combines a low to mid 90s fastball with significant sink along with a potentially plus curveball and a solid change…a more than adequate MLB starter’s arsenal. Nova has roughly equal success against both lefties and righties (although in the past he’s shown some strange splits, struggling against righties in 2009 but doing well against lefties, and then the exact opposite in 2008). One of the keys to Nova’s success has been a recent uptick in velocity, which is not terribly uncommon even at his age. That said, an ongoing MLB investigation into allegations Nova and a Trenton teammate injected each other with B-12 (remember, that’s the stuff Miguel Tejada and Rafael Palmeiro were injecting too…) in 2009 is a source for some alarm, although nothing has come of it yet. Overall, while Nova has his question marks and had a rather unremarkable minor league career, he has the stuff to be a MLB starter, and if he can replicate his AAA numbers, he could actually be a fairly decent one. While he won’t be an ace by any stretch, Nova should be able to post an ERA in the 4.00-4.50 range, and if his K-rate returns to AAA levels a sub 4.00 ERA might even be in reach.