Ivan Nova’s Big Day


(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

About 20 months ago, then 21-year-old Ivan Nova wasn’t much more than an afterthought in the Yankees’ farm system. His performance was solid yet unspectacular (6.6 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 52% grounders) in 22 starts (and two relief appearances) with High-A Tampa in 2008, not enough to earn him a 40-man roster spot after the season. The Padres, then in search of anyone young and able to throw remotely close to 90 mph, gobbled him up in the Rule 5 Draft but were so unimpressed in Spring Training that they sent him right back to the Yanks at the end of camp.

So Nova went about his way last year and had what was arguably his worst season as a professional. He struck out just 5.8 batters per nine innings and walked a career high 3.8 per nine, avoiding total destruction by generating 54% ground balls. It was his first taste of both the Double-A and Triple-A levels. Knowing that Nova not only had a much better chance of sticking with a big league team in 2010 if taken in the Rule 5 again, but also that they’d likely lose him to free agency if he didn’t stick (since it would have been his second time on outright waivers), the Yanks added him to the 40-man roster last December and penciled him in as a 7th or 8th starter type to stash away in Scranton.

Following a three inning relief cameo in mid-May, Nova returns to the big leagues tonight to make his first career start, an exciting moment in every player’s career. It’s all part of the team’s plan to keep their regular starters rested down the stretch and in September. He made this opportunity possible by having the best season of his career with Triple-A Scranton, striking out a career high 7.1 batters per nine, walking three per nine, and getting his usual helping of ground balls (54%). Even more encouraging is Nova’s continued trend of becoming less and less hittable; he allowed a whopping 11.0 hits per nine innings during his first full season back in 2007 (.337 BABIP), but has gradually whittled that down to 8.4 this season (.303 BABIP). Certainly not great, but pitchers that rely on the ground ball will always give up their fair share of base knocks.

In the 2008 Prospect Handbook, the first time Nova was considered one of the Yanks’ top 30 prospects according to Baseball America, he was said to have a fastball that “sits 90-94 mph” with “a solid-average curveball and changeup” as the team’s 18th best prospect. The scouting report improved a bit next year, when he was San Diego’s 30th best prospect. Those same pitches – fastball, curve, change – were now said to grade out as “above-average when they’re on.” As the Yanks’ 16th best prospect before this season, Nova had the same basic scouting report and was dubbed a number four starter in the big leagues if his command and secondary pitches improved, which is still his ultimate ceiling. Modest, but useful to a team set at the front of the rotation for the foreseeable future.

The biggest knock against Nova is his delivery, which I explained last winter in his prospect profile. It’s too smooth and effortless. There’s very little deception and hitters haven’t had too much trouble picking the ball up against him, hence the inflated hit totals earlier in this career. Here’s video of his big league debut and a minor league clip so you can see what I’m talking about. A nice and easy motion, for sure, but it doesn’t take much effort to find the ball before it comes out of his hand. If Nova could find a way to hide the ball a bit better, his stuff probably plays up a touch and improves not only the results, but his long-term outlook.

As for tonight, the Blue Jays actually present a nice matchup for the now 23-year-old. They’re an extremely impatient team, swinging at an American League worst 31.6% of the pitches they see outside of the strike zone. As you probably deduced given their homer happy ways, the Jays also hit a frickin’ ton of balls in the air, a MLB high 43.5% to be exact. Nova, a groundball fiend that is stingy with walks, plays right into Toronto’s weaknesses as long as he doesn’t catch too much of the plate. As long as he doesn’t get the jitters and elevate his pitches, he should be fine. The Jays will chase when he nibbles and the ground balls, which infrequently go for extra bases, will come. Tonight would actually be a good night to give Derek Jeter a break and let Ramiro Pena handle short on the turf, as well.

Nova’s not going to come up and give the Yanks a late-season kick in the rear by firing off dominant start after dominant start, he’s just not that kind of pitcher. What he should do is provide bulk innings and hopefully keep the game close enough that two of the Yanks’ biggest strengths – the offense and bullpen – can nail down the win. Then again, I welcome surprises.

Categories : Pitching


  1. Angelo says:

    Nova’s not going to come up and give the Yanks a late-season kick in the rear by firing off dominant start after dominant start, he’s just not that kind of pitcher.


    On a serious note, I wouldn’t expect it either, but it’s certainly possible that he pitches really well (even if it has to do with players never seeing him before or luck.)

  2. There’s gonna be a lot of Russians getting excited to watch Ivanova’s first start, and they’re gonna be depressed when they see some dark-skinned Dominican kid on the hill.

  3. Ross in Jersey says:

    The only thing I don’t like about this match-up is that if he misses spots against the free-swinging Jays, the ball is going to go a long way. Against other teams he may be able to get by with subpar stuff, but this Toronto team will punish mistakes like nobody’s business.

    Still though, here’s hoping he has a good start. I’d settle for 6 innings and 4 runs, nothing crazy. The Yankee bats will need to get to Morrow, who looked pretty good when they faced him this year. At least we miss Romero…

  4. Andy In Sunny Daytona says:

    I hope Ivan goes up to Vernon Wells and says, “I must break you”.

  5. Scout says:

    I refer to prospects like Nova as FPPs — future Pittsburgh Pirates — because their greatest value to the organization is usually what they can fetch in exchange from teams going nowhere and looking to dump salary.

  6. Jose the Satirist says:

    Nova has a 3.59 FIP(148 IP) this year. Innings 1-4 he has a 3.15 FIP(91 IP), innings 5+ he has a 4.28 FIP(57 IP). Granted the sample size is small. I’ll still be interested in how he does tonight once he goes through the order the second time.

  7. Andy In Sunny Daytona says:

    Kevin Towers must have liked him to take him 2 years ago. Just needed a little more seasoning.

  8. Jay T says:

    I am going to respectfully disagree with you on what happened in San Diego, Mike. The Padres were going to let Nova learn in the pen but towards the end of Spring Training, they had a couple of injuries within their pitching staff. At that point, they couldn’t “afford” for Nova to learn on the fly. The Yanks were more than happy to bring him back.

    Nova has good stuff. I saw him pitch last year and he looked good. He is even better this year as you stated. While I agree he isn’t #1 or #2 material, he can be both a solid mid-rotation guy and innings eater. I think he will do pretty good this year.

    • Angelo says:

      This isn’t to be an ass or anything of that sort, but every single time someone from RAB “see’s” a pitcher in person, they say “he looked really good in person, I expect his ceiling to be a #3 starter (when the pitcher is considered a 4-5 guy).” Something like that, at least.

      Although I’d love to agree with you, I’d take the consensus opinion in this case.

  9. Pasqua says:

    I suppose we can always hope for a “supernova” tonight, amirite?



  10. Zanath says:

    Predictions for Girardi’s nickname for him?

  11. Andy In Sunny Daytona says:

    Can we nickname him “El Camicero”?

  12. Dela G says:

    damn i missed TSJC

    he is on FIYAH today folks

    call the FIYAH depahtment

  13. Ross in Jersey says:

    And tonight backing up Nova will be the vaunted 7-8-9 of:



    Hope Nova has his shutout shoes on tonight.

  14. LeftyLarry says:

    Boy those 7 guys he struck out ever 9 innings in Triple A must really suck!

  15. Ivan Nova says:

    Please just let me pitch.

  16. BigGuy says:

    Mike, I’ve been watching Nova at SWB since he was promoted last year and you’re analysis is right on the money !

  17. Lisa says:

    After seeing tonight’s line-up, he needs to be super! I really can’t figure Girardi out. Today would be a good day to put your best line-up on the field with a rookie. Give him a veteran presence behind the plate. Maybe give Jeter his day off yesterday. I don’t understand the way Joe thinks sometimes. So, today, we have Cervelli, Nunez, and Pena against a very potent Jays team that we have struggled against. We are also sitting Kearns who has been hitting really well lately.

  18. mustang says:

    “Nova’s not going to come up and give the Yanks a late-season kick in the rear by firing off dominant start after dominant start, he’s just not that kind of pitcher.”

    And he wasn’t suppose to do what he did in AAA either lets see what the kid can do before we pigeonhole what he is.
    When a player gets to the majors his minor league profile is exactly that.

  19. Pete says:

    I’m trying my best to think of a clever dentist pun, but my brain’s mush today. Plus it’s 5pm – I’m out, suckers!

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