Under The Radar: Ivan Nova

Breaking down the payroll, part four
Optimism running high in Yankees' camp
(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Less than a week into Spring Training, most of the focus has been on Mariano Rivera‘s retirement teaser, Michael Pineda‘s golden arm, and CC Sabathia‘s massive but slimmed down body. Position players have yet to officially report, and the battle for the fifth starter’s job has yet to begin in earnest. Thanks to the Eric Chavez and Raul Ibanez signings, there aren’t many other questions to be answered right now. And then there’s Ivan Nova.

The team’s number two starter heading into the postseason last year, Nova has gone through the first three days of camp with minimal fanfare. He’s thrown two bullpen sessions and fielded some grounders, but otherwise his rotation-mates have garnered all of the attention. Given his personality, he probably doesn’t mind at all.

“There’s a quiet confidence to him right now, and it’s good to see it,” said pitching coach Larry Rothschild earlier this week. “I thought that last year early, we scored some runs for him and I think it helped him get some wins and then he got some confidence from that. Then you saw him pitch the way that he’s capable of.”

Those two bullpen sessions are important because as you remember, Nova finished last season injured. After climbing the minor league ladder with zero arm issues, a strained flexor in his elbow forced him from Game Five of the ALDS after just two innings. As Joba Chamberlain, Ben Sheets, and Stephen Strasburg can attest, strained flexors have a tendency to result in Tommy John surgery. Nova appears to have avoided the same fate.

“It’s perfect, 100%” he said after a winter of rest. “I was worried a little bit, but they said ‘you’re going to be fine.’”

Sabathia is the unquestioned and ultra-reliable ace, but both Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda will have answer some questions about transitioning to the AL East. Phil Hughes and Freddy Garcia have their own thing going on, and Nova has stood by idly. His spot in the rotation is all but guaranteed following a strong second half thanks to an improved slider, and if you ask him, he doesn’t care were he slots in.

“I just want to be in the rotation and I want to win games.” said Nova. “I don’t mind if I’m number one, two, three, four, five.”

This all nothing new to Nova, who’s flown under the radar his entire career. He never got the kind of prospect love that Hughes or Joba or Manny Banuelos or even David Phelps has received, was left unprotected in the Rule 5 Draft a few years ago, and didn’t get his first crack at the big league rotation until Javy Vazquez and Dustin Moseley had exhausted all opportunities. I hesitate to call it a lack of respect, but Nova sure has had to earn everything he’s gotten in baseball.

I don’t know how the rotation will shake out come Opening Day, but the rotation order is only important at the end of the season, not the beginning. Along with Sabathia, Nova is going to be counted on for stability every fifth day as Pineda and Kuroda get their AL East feet wet and the fifth starter does fifth starter things. Looking ahead even further, the Yankees are going to need him to provide cheap, quality innings if they seriously intend to get under that $189M luxury tax threshold in 2014. Nova’s flying under the radar at the moment, but make no mistake, he’s a very important part of the rotation and the team.

Breaking down the payroll, part four
Optimism running high in Yankees' camp
  • Mykey

    God I hope last season wasn’t a fluke. His role is really important. Plus, he seems like the man.

  • statboy yankopherson

    over/under 13 wins 4.50 era 4.15 fip

    • PaulF

      Over, Under, Over

    • CountryClub

      Over; Under; Under

      16 wins with a matching ERA/fip of around 4.10.

    • RetroRob

      Under. Under. Under.

      I’m a believer in Nova. The wins and FIP numbers could be close. An ERA, though, of 4.5 in 2012 would be extremely high.

      • RetroRob


        Over. Under. Under.

    • Jesse

      Over, under, under.

      Trying to be optimistic.

    • GardnergoesYardner

      Over under under. He’ll get lots of wins by virtue of playing for the Yanks. 4.50 ERA is extremely high considering what he did last year. He won’t regress that much, I think he’s learned a lot in his time in the majors.

      How bout this? 15 wins, 4.00 ERA, 4.10 FIP. Something around there.

    • CJ

      I’d sign for 13 4.5 right now. I only project 14 4.1, so I expect a little better but I’d take the 13 4.5 to protect against downside.

    • Bo Knows


      I see 14-15 wins

      Nothing about his performance screamed “fluke” I don’t recall a whisper when I watch him (honestly I always think of Andy when I watch Nova), I saw true improvement out of him.

      Nova’s first half wasn’t flukey and the tangible strides he made in the 2nd were not flukey either. I see an era around 3.5-3.75. The way he gets whiffs on that slider, and the manner it complements and improves his other pitches, I feel he’ll have a fip under 4.

  • JoeyA

    It still amazes me with the countless analytics, scouts, videos, etc throughout baseball, how guys like this fly under the radar through AAA and have this success in the big leagues.

    Here’s to hoping he builds on the success of last year and becomes a mainstay in the Yankees rotation

    CC/Pineda/Nova/Hughes/Banuelos for 2013!

    And who said we dont have homegrown talent.

    • Jaremy

      I think the answer is that ultimately pure “talent” is just one piece of major league success – perhaps sometimes you never know whether someone will be a star until you see them doing it. Just ask Jeremy Lin.

      • Sweet Dick Willie

        I agree.

        Attitude, desire, willingness to work/learn, and many other traits are difficult if not impossible to quantify, and yet play an equally important role as talent in determining the ultimate success of an athlete.

    • Steve (different one)

      Didn’t Nova add a lot of velocity in 2009 or 2010?

      I think when it comes to Nova, we are simply looking at a different pitcher than he was during most of his time as a prospect. I guess you could argue that the experts should be able to project this, but I’m not sure how easy that is.

      • STONE COLD Austin Romine

        Nova always had the velocity , he always had repeatable mechanics. When he came to the states in 2006 (he was signed in 2004) he already had a good feel for pitcher. His main problem was “throwing too many pitches for strikes”.

        As silly and ridiculous as that sounds I can recall Nardi Contreras mentioning this during a interview with pinstripesplus a few years back when Nova was still pitching with the Tampa Yankees.

        Anyway… I believe the slider put him over the top cause ‘the stuff’ was evidently there.

        Just think he could’ve been the one who got away for NOTHING after he was selected by the Friars a few years back in the Rule V draft.

      • Ted Nelson

        Yeah, in projecting the future we can’t expect perfection. So many “intangible” factors involved. Better player at a certain age and level may or may not be better down the line.

  • Knoxvillian


    Wouldn’t surprise me in the least.

    • Jesse

      How many innings?

      • Thomas Cassidy


        • Jesse

          Hmmm, that’s a 6.98 K/9 rate then… Not too shabby, at least for him, to say the least.

  • Gonzo

    Is he the lynchpin to the 2014 austerity plan?

    • CountryClub

      I think the Yanks are hoping/praying that Pineda, Nova and Banuelos are all fixtures in the rotation for that year.

      “Fixture” for Banuelos is a little strong; but if things go right this yr in AAA, 2014 could be his 3rd yr in rotation.

      • jsbrendog

        you mean second year? he won’t be in the rotation this yr barring catastrophe and then he goes in in 13 and then 14…hopefully.

        • CountryClub

          Yes, you’re right. Second yr.

      • Gonzo

        The big difference I see from Nova and Manny is that Nova is with the big league club. I don’t think they are counting on Manny as much as Nova.

        I wouldn’t think they consider Manny a “lock” considering he disappointed* them already and only has 34.1 ip above AA.

        *Maybe a harsh word, but they are on record saying that they expected him to force his way to the bigs last year.

        • Jim Is Bored

          Wouldn’t forcing your way to the bigs mean that you were going against expectations? Basically, the team expects you to be somewhere but you pitch so well they can’t hold you back any longer?

          Sounds to me like they hoped he exceeded expectations, but I don’t think last year caused them to lose those high hopes.

    • Steve (different one)

      He’s a big piece, but I think the “lynchpin” is Pineda. If he has a big year, the yanks may be able to stay out of the FA pitching market next winter. All of a sudden you are one cheap OFer away from making it realistic.

      I agree that Nova is important, as is ManBan.

      • Gonzo

        You know it’s acceptable to spell it with a “y” right.

        I figure they are pretty high on Pineda (considering they dealt Montero) and expect him to be very productive. One bad year from Pineda probably won’t change their mind on Pineda. IMO.

        • Steve (different one)

          The quotes had nothing to do with your spelling, never even crossed my mind….

          • Gonzo

            Disregard then.

    • CJ

      Good point. Nova Pineda Robertson have to be as good or better in 2012,2013 or $189 is a fantasy.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    I hope for GREAT things for Nova in 2012, including giving us tons of arguments as to who the “front of the rotation” guys are because they’re all so great.

    I also hope they can bring in his cousin, Eric Roberts, on a MiLB deal.

    • Jesse

      “giving us tons of arguments as to who the ‘front of the rotation’ guys are because they’re all so great.”

      That’s the best argument to have, and I hope there will be many arguments about that all year long.

    • Gonzo

      I want the Yankees to field a minor league team with the same names as actors over 50.

      Burt Reynolds at 2b, Eric Roberts SP, Jon Voight 1b, Sean Penn CF, etc…

      • Robinson Tilapia

        LH DH Joe Don Baker.

        • Dale Mohorcic

          Joe Don “home run” Baker

  • David Ortiz’s Dealer

    The non-Bonus babies tend to get there chances late and get fewer of them, that said I think he’ll have a solid season #2 numbers if you will reguardless of how many days are between CC’s and his starts.

    • Gonzo

      Is Nova our Jeremy Lin? LOL

      • Bo Knows

        If Nova was our Jeremy Lin, Nova would be putting up numbers that would rival CC’s and have us questioning who the ace of the staff actually is.

        I wouldn’t mind if that happened one bit

    • STONE COLD Austin Romine

      “The non-Bonus babies tend to get there chances late and get fewer of them”

      Sad but true.

      • Steve (different one)

        This may be true, but does it really apply here? I’m looking at Nova’s minor league numbers and the reality is simply that before 2010, his career was fairly nondescript. He was good in AA in 2009, but struggled in AAA. He didn’t really force the issue until 2010, the year he made it to the bigs.

  • BK2ATL

    I’ve been a fan of Nova since his 2010 AAA success, then his entrance into MLB by intentionally and repeatedly backing Jose Bautista out of the box with heat, up and in. Showed me that the kid had nuts, to go with his nerves.

    He improved drastically last year, esp. when he was recalled in the 2nd half, even though I still don’t think that it was he (Nova) who should’ve been removed from the rotation in the 1st half at that point.

    I think he’ll have another strong year, maybe even better than last, now that he realizes that he has the stuff to get hitters out.

    If he pitches to a sub-4 to 4 ERA, 1.2ish WHIP, makes 30 starts, averages 6 innings, I think the rest of the numbers will play out very well for him and the Yanks. I think those numbers are well within reachable for him.

  • Chip

    Want to see somebody really go out on a limb?

    Ivan Nova: 22 wins, 3.2 ERA, finishes third for the Cy Young

    • Mike HC

      Nova has exceeded expectations so far, so you may be on to something. He may continue to exceed expectations (you obviously took it to the extreme).

    • AndrewYF

      Old Hoss Radbourn would have retired in shame after that kind of season.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      I’ll drink to that!

  • Mike HC

    My favorite part about Nova is his demeanor on the mound. From his very first start you can just tell the guy means business when he is out there, complete focus.

    • DM

      Yep, and he competes. Noesi had that too. I wish Hughes had more of it. It helps — esp pitching in NY.

  • Jeff

    Pitching confidence level high. Offense, no so much.