What Went Right: Ivan Nova

Nova delivers a pitch during his first career complete game shutout. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Nova delivers a pitch during his first career complete game shutout. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Early in the 2013 season, it appeared that Ivan Nova would fall into the What Went Wrong category. Through his first three starts he allowed 10 runs in 14.2 IP and hadn’t recorded as much as a single out in the sixth inning. In the third inning of his fourth start, he exited with what appeared to be an elbow injury about fifteen seconds after trainer Steve Donohue came to check on him. His season had disaster written all over it.

Given how many young pitchers undergo the procedure every year, it would have surprised few if Nova required Tommy John surgery. Thankfully, that turned out not to be the case. The Yankees quickly assured us it was a triceps injury, abating some of the fear. About a month later he was back on the roster, pitching out of the bullpen. Apparently, something clicked for him between the injury and the return.

Able to air it out in shorter appearances, Nova let loose with fastballs that, for the only time in his career, consistently exceeded 95 mph. Even more impressive was how he kept the velocity up for a five-inning relief appearance against the Mets, allowing just one run while striking out six. Unfortunately, due to the returns of Mark Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis, the Yankees had to option Nova. It seemed like poor timing for the move, given his resurgence.

Nova didn’t let the demotion get him down, and his persistence paid off. After about two weeks in the minors he got the call again to make a spot start against the Rays. It went well enough, as did his follow-up appearance, a 5.2-inning mop-up job against the Orioles. That earned him a spot in the rotation, wherein he produced one of the best second halves in the majors.

In 87.1 post-ASB innings Nova produced a 2.78 ERA, seventh best in the American League and good enough to bring his season-long ERA down to 3.10. His velocity had dipped back to normal levels, and actually took a further hit in his final four starts. And his peripherals looked a lot like his career numbers. So we must ask the question, was Nova actually good or did he merely get lucky?

Part of the answer is that Nova’s second half peripherals are a bit deceiving, in that they’re arbitrary end points. If you look at his peripherals from the time of his return from the DL, a bit less arbitrary in nature, his peripherals look a bit better. Then there’s the issue of peripherals not being a true measure of a pitcher’s ability. Some pitchers are better at inducing poor contact, meaning they’ll out-perform their peripherals. Other issues play roles, including focus and recovery.

All of that is a long way of saying that it’s incredibly difficult to judge whether a pitcher is lucky or good based on a single season, never mind a portion of a season. Add in Nova’s inconsistent performances for the last few years, and he becomes even more of a mystery. We’ve seen him pitch like one of the best in the league, and we’ve seen him pitch like a guy who will scramble for minor league deals in his late 20s. How could we possibly know which Nova pitches for the Yankees in 2014?

We can leave that speculation for another time, when we’re bored in January and February. For now we can reflect on Nova’s 2013 and how his resurgence helped make the season enjoyable for that much longer. The pitching staff, considered a strength before the season, broke down as CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes got knocked around start after start. Nova stepped up mid-season and gave the Yankees quality innings every fifth day. Without him, they wouldn’t have remained in contention for as long as they had, and they could have been staring down their first losing season since 1992.

Instead Nova did answer the challenge, not only salvaging some respectability in 2013, but giving the team hope for 2014 and beyond. In a season when so many things went wrong, Nova was one of the bright spots.

Categories : Players
  • Robinson Tilapia

    What went right/wrong/right/wrong/right/wrong.

    It’s as if he’s got a little Pedro Martinez on one shoulder, and a little Daniel Cabrera on another.

    For our sake, I hope the former wins out.

  • Chris Widger

    Feinsand reports the Yankees are talking to the Redbirds about Freese. He’s youngish, and a year removed from a great season. Could do a lot worse.

    • King of Fruitless Hypotheticals

      hey man, we try to stick to the topic at hand; no need to say that at the end of each post’s comments…I’m sure they’ll address it.

      • Robinson Tilapia

        When you’re Chris Widger, you’re always fighting for attention.

      • Chris Widger

        *shrug* wasn’t sure if the thread had moved on or not. but fair enough.

  • gbyanks

    Garza 4 years 72 million.A overpay IMO but i think that would get him in pinstrips. add tanaka and the rotation would look like
    cc/garza/nova/tanaka/pineda. as far as payroll goes your basically giving garza kurodas money and tanaka pettites money. Thoughts?

    • Robinson Tilapia

      It’s certainly my Plan B to not having Kuroda.

      • Havok9120

        Which just goes to show how thin the free agent pitching market is.

    • Chris Widger

      I would not give that much money to a guy who hasn’t thrown over 160 innings since 2010. Let somebody else take that risk.

      • Chris Widger

        Sorry, 2011. Still a bit leery.

  • Havok9120

    Be nice if he could put it all together next season.

    Especially down here in the comments section. Just think: we’d have a whole new homegrown player to argue about whether or not to credit the Yankee’s for his success.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      He’d have come to the minors on Nardi’s watch, and now Nardi’s not here.

      Cashman failed.

    • WhittakerWalt

      Just imagine the possibilities!
      If he fails, we can blame Yankee personnel and say they don’t know how to develop a pitching prospect.
      If he succeeds, we can say it doesn’t really mean anything and it’s SSS and the Yankees don’t know how to develop a pitching prospect.

      • Havok9120

        It’s depressing that I’m almost certain that if he somehow posted a 3.00 ERA and won 20 games next season the Yankees wouldn’t get a lick of credit for any of it.

        • WhittakerWalt

          Of course! These are the same people who can’t acknowledge the existence of David Robertson.

          • I’m a looser baby so why don’t you kill me?

            Lulz. Who doesn’t acknowledge his existence?

            • WhittakerWalt

              Not literally. I just mean the people who say the Yankees can’t develop a pitching prospect. Selective memory.

  • Havok9120

    I am aghast that Joe used a picture in an article.

    I feel so betrayed.

  • Nathan

    Since nobody knows what Nova to expect, don’t set yourself up for disappointment by counting on him to be a #2 or #3 starter. Assume the worst and slot him in as the #5 starter.

  • Tom

    I really hope he starts using his changeup again. He can be dominant when he’s working his fastball down and his curve is on, but if either falters he’s prone to those inconsistent stretches. He pretty much abandoned it last year (I think he threw it about 3% of the time).

    Having a viable 3rd pitch would really help in turning him into a long term mid rotation guy (#3,maybe a #2?).