What Went Wrong: Ivan Nova

McGehee elects free agency; Yankees return Meyers to Nationals
Update: Rafael Soriano officially opts out of contract
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

I think it’s fair to say that the most positive development of the 2011 season was Ivan Nova‘s emergence as a legitimate MLB-caliber starter. The Yankees have had trouble developing starters in recent years and they needed a young, cheap arm to plug into the rotation, and Nova stepped forward to be that guy. He excelled in the second half and pitched well enough overall (3.70 ERA And 4.01 FIP in 165.1 innings) that expectations were fairly high coming into 2012. We wanted to see him take another step forward.

Instead, the 25-year-old Nova took a huge step backwards. It all started in Spring Training too, as Ivan quietly had a miserable showing in camp while everyone was focused on Michael Pineda‘s missing velocity. He allowed 21 runs and 34 baserunners in 22.1 Grapefruit League innings, a precursor of what was to come in the regular season. Nova opened the year with a solid start against the Orioles (two runs in seven innings) but struggled to keep the runs off the board after that. He pitched to a 5.60 ERA (4.90 FIP) through the end of May, allowing at least five runs in half of his first ten starts.

The month of June was much more kind to Nova, and in fact it was arguably his best month as a big leaguer. Four of his five June starts featured at least seven innings and no more than one run, including outings against the Rays, Braves, and Nationals. He closed out the first half with two nice starts, including a six-inning, two-run, ten-strikeout performance in Fenway Park immediately before the All-Star break. Nova carried a 3.92 ERA (4.19 FIP) into the break and was trending in the right direction.

That was pretty much the last time Nova was a reliable starter for the Yankees. He allowed six runs in six innings against the Angels in his first second half start, and ran off a seven-start stretch in which he allowed at six runs four times. After the White Sox tagged him for six runs in six innings on August 21st, the Yankees placed Nova on the DL after the right-hander felt a tug in his right shoulder. He was eventually diagnosed with rotator cuff inflammation that kept him on the shelf for three weeks.

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Shoulder injuries are never a good thing, but since Nova’s was minor I had some hope that it would explain his struggles. That appeared to be the case in his first start back, and he held the Rays to two runs in six innings with eight strikeouts on September 15th. It didn’t last though. Nova failed to complete three innings next time out and didn’t make it out of the fifth the start after that, when it was obvious Joe Girardi had a short hook given the division race. Rather than start Game 161 against the Red Sox, the Yankees instead gave the ball to David Phelps in what was then the most important game of the season.

One year after being the number two starter behind CC Sabathia in the playoffs, the Yankees didn’t even bother to carry Nova on either their ALDS or ALCS roster in 2012. He pitched to a 5.02 ERA (4.60 FIP) overall, allowing the most extra-base hits (87), the second most doubles (52), and 12th most homers (28) in all of baseball. When he made a mistake, he paid dearly. Opponents hit .288/.349/.511 off Nova this season, so he basically turned everyone into 2012 Albert Pujols (.285/.343/.516). Yikes. I know Pujols is declining, but that doesn’t exactly make it okay.

The story on Nova coming up through the minors was that he had pretty good stuff, but he lacked command and didn’t miss as many bats as expected because his delivery lacked deception. That sounds an awful lot like the guy he was in 2012, the guy who never seemed to get the hitter to foul off a mistake pitch off or have the ball hit right at some one. Opponents teed off against him whenever he missed a spot, driving the ball to (or over) the wall for big power production. He didn’t just lead the league with 87 extra-base hits allowed, he did it while only throwing 170.1 innings. Josh Beckett had a poor year by all accounts, and he only allowed 58 extra-base hits in those same 170.1 innings.

A year ago, it was easy to consider Nova a major part of the Yankees moving forward. He was their young and cheap starting pitcher who was exceeding expectations and was on his way to becoming a rotation mainstay. Rather than continue on that path this year, he took a huge step back and became a giant question mark. Maybe the shoulder injury was more serious than the team let on and a winter of rest will get him back to normal. Maybe it was just a sophomore slump. Whatever it was, the Yankees have to hope that Ivan’s disastrous second half is not an indication of his true talent level.

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McGehee elects free agency; Yankees return Meyers to Nationals
Update: Rafael Soriano officially opts out of contract
  • Luisergi

    More value as a trade bait or as a 5th starter?

    I’d say 5th starter, i don’t think he’d be 2012 bad next year.

    • Luisergi

      Hope you all northern east coast residents are all right by the way.
      That was some bigass storm, my brother made it out of Brooklin just in time.

    • Cris Pengiucci

      Agree, 5th starter. You can never have too much pitching.

      • Thunder Road Runner

        at this point? 5th starter, definitley

      • jjyank

        Absolutely. I think the Yanks owe it to themselves to give him a shot in 2013 if they want to get under $189 mil. I think he’s better than what we saw in 2012.

    • JLC 776

      Definitely keep the guy. I’d hate to give up on a home-grown, cheap starter so quickly. He’s shown flashes of being the kind of guy who can plug the three hole for years to come; let’s follow through for once.

  • http://none the mick

    i dont think the angels will give us haren for nova at this point; might have to throw in ramiro pena

    • Cris Pengiucci

      Maybe we can through in ARod

      /stuart a’d

  • Robinson Tilapia (Safe and sound)

    I think you’d be trading way low on him unless some team is looking past most recent performance.

    If a young guy’s shown success in the bigs, then I tend to believe they can overcome the adversity and do it again. My hope is, obviously, for a productive Ivan Nova in 2013.

  • ADam

    Cost Efficient, I keep Nova on the roster no matter what. If he stinks again they can throw him in the pen, and if he’s worse that that he still has options. You wont get the same value in return.

  • Knoxvillain

    Very disappointing year for Nova but I expect him to rebound in 2013. Assuming he’s in the rotation I think it’s fair to expect a 15-8, 4.20 season from him which is perfectly fine considering he will be our four or five starter. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was nothing more than a sophomore slump.

  • King of Fruitless Hypotheticals

    Sophomore slump, injury, lots of innings, my hope is he matured a lot during this process, and an off-season of rest and recovery will help him regain most of the ’11 form that he had and that he can carry it all year.

  • Bo Knows

    There are some things I agree with you on, but others that I don’t. In your own prospect profile on Nova, you mentioned his knack for staying down in the zone with his pitches, he hardly did that at all this year, he couldn’t keep his pitches down, they were almost always up around the middle.

    That said his delivery would be an issue, but it has been noted (Yankeeanalysts did a great article a while back on it) that Nova has been opening up his shoulder early for some strange reason, which has led to his pitches flattening up….hence the meatball specials.

    Also XBH has never been part of his game, regardless of the level, so that combined with the fact that he was striking a lot of men out (and getting a good number of swings and misses while doing so)lends more credence to something being mechanically messed up about him.

    • LarryM., Fl.

      BO you took some of the words right out of my fingers. My thoughts on Nova are at this moment fifth starter at best. His location is so wild. He doesn’t know where the ball is going which indicates a lousy delivery that does not repeat.

      My thought is this can be fixed. He needs some time to make it work. I hope the Yanks just don’t give up with a lack of patience. Somebody in the organization should be able to help him. Also needs to go as hard as he can for as long as he can. He tries to save some gas and gets pounded. If the fixes are learned. He will build the stamina.

  • rondd5

    ….I also believe he was hurt..I will say this, I agree every mistake he made was hit and hit hard…reminded a lot of wang…when he got hurt…

    • awesomeo

      He just missed with his slider over the plate too much and people killed it when he did. If he is going to succeed in this league he cannot miss. He needs to take it one pitch at a time.

  • toad

    The story on Nova coming up through the minors was that he had pretty good stuff, but he lacked command and didn’t miss as many bats as expected because his delivery lacked deception.

    The interesting question to me about Nova and other young pitchers is how much is talent and how much is technique, and to what degree can technique be learned.

    Or, why can’t anyone with a strong throwing arm pitch? We know why lots of great athletes can’t hit. They don’t have the reflexes or the eyesight needed. What’s the barrier in pitching?