Ivan Nova needs to the show the Yankees who he really is in 2014

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Ivan Nova‘s relatively short big league career has been a bit of a rollercoaster. He was okay during the first half of 2011 (4.12 ERA) and dominant in the second half (3.18 ERA). The 2012 season was atrocious from start to finish (5.02 ERA), and that carried over into early 2013 (5.16 ERA in April and May). But, after returning from a brief DL stint and a trip to the minors, he was again dominant and arguably the best pitcher on the staff the rest of the season (2.70 ERA). This graph tells the story:

Ivan Nova ERA

Yeah, these last three years have been pretty up and down for Nova, but that’s okay. Not every young guy comes into the league and dominates right away like Jose Fernandez and Matt Harvey. Most young pitchers take their lumps before learning what works for them and how to make the necessary adjustments. Heck, some guys never learn that stuff. It’s just the way it goes. Pitching is hard.

To his credit, Nova has already shown the ability to make some adjustments. That excellent second half in 2011 came after he started using his slider more often. When he was demoted to Triple-A last season, he focused on his curveball and rode that pitch to a successful second half. I don’t think anyone would question the quality of Nova’s stuff — he shows some nasty, nasty stuff when he’s on — but learning how the command it well and get by on days when one or two pitches aren’t working has been a challenge. Again, that’s part of the learning process.

Now, that said, Nova turned 27 earlier this month and he’s about to enter his fourth full season with the Yankees. He’s also earning some decent money ($3.3M in 2014) now that he’s gone through arbitration for the first time as well. The learning process never stops, but Nova is at the point where that rollercoaster ride should end and he puts together a consistent and productive season, from Opening Day through Game 162. The days of posting an ugly first half and going to Triple-A for a wake-up call before finding success down the stretch should be in the past. They have to be — Nova is out of minor league options and can’t go to Triple-A without passing through waivers.

(Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
(Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

“When I got hurt and went to Tampa [for rehabilitation], I really thought about what I want to do and what I want to be. I forgot about the past and focused on doing what I have to do,” said Nova to Ken Davidoff last September, after his complete-game shutout against the Orioles. It certainly appeared as though the figurative light bulb had turned on late last year, but I felt the same way in the second half of 2011. Maybe I’m being overly harsh, but Nova has given me some reason to doubt whether that success last year will carry over into this coming season.

At this point, three full years into his big league career, we still don’t know what Nova is. Is he the guy who’s slung to a 3.00 ERA for a half-season on two occasions? Or the guy with a 5.something ERA for the season and a half in between? Reality is probably somewhere in the middle and that’s fine. He has shown he can get ground balls and strikeouts, two skills that are a pretty good recipe for success. Chris Moran took an in-depth look at why Nova might be ready to emerge as a steady rotation presence earlier this winter, but we need to see that emergence actually happen.

The Yankees spend a boatload of money to make Masahiro Tanaka the centerpiece of their rotation going forward, and now they need Nova to shed the “enigma” label and become Tanaka’s running mate as CC Sabathia declines. I wouldn’t call this a make-or-break year, but the time has come for Nova to stop being an interesting young pitcher and become a reliable member of the rotation. This is the year for him to show the team he is a building block and not just more back-end fodder.

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Yankees announce additions to pro scouting staff
  • Delbert Grady

    I love Nova and I hope he takes the jump. Not having seen Tanaka pitch, I think Nova has the most impressive stuff out of any of our SP’s at the moment. If he harnesses it consistently, and I believe he can, he’ll be a beast. What I like about him is the organization kicked him around and sent him down and he never fell apart and fought to get back. He’s the anti-Hughes in my opinion. There were many times the Yankees should’ve sent Hughes down to go learn a new pitch and didn’t out of fear he’d crumble mentally. Nova’s got heart and talent. I’m pulling for him.

    • I’m One


    • nycsportzfan

      Yup, he def has some serious weapons, just gotta be a bit more consistent. I will agree, without seeing Tanaka, he has some of the best stuff of any of our starters at the moment.

  • The Great Gonzo

    Is this where we say he’s a mental midget and he can’t make the leap because he’s not mentally tough or some shit?

    Here’s to hoping he finds his stroke and makes himself a very successful man.

  • Matt

    Why are you using ERA as a measure for Nova’s success these 3 years? If you look at his FIP per game for 2013, some of his best games came in April/May while his worst games came in September.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

      I’m not sure single-game FIP tells us anything useful. I used ERA because it’s quick and easy. He allowed a lot of runs and that’s bad.

      • Matt

        I see. I agree with you Mike, this coming year is important for Nova. I see a lot of promise in him. Nova has been able to reduce his BB/9 every year since 2010. He’s been able to keep his GB% high while increasing his K/9. In 2012 he failed to keep the ball in the park (especially for a GB pitcher), but he rebounded nicely in 2013 in that department. Perhaps most promising is that his xFIP has gone down every year since his debut.

        Hopefully 2014 is a real breakout year for him where he solidifies himself as a legitimate #2 or #3 starter in the game. Health has always been the issue though, let’s see if he can stay on the field.

        • CS Yankee

          Good stuff, I didn’t know that his xFIP has been moving downward.

          I feel that they challenged him verus how they treated Hughes…I bet in the long run he’ll exceed Hughes (which isn’t hard to date) and that is something as he was never as herald as Hughes, Joba, IPK or even that guy (Noesi) that went with Montero.

          Could be a beast, I’m guessing on that “3rd” arm that does a low 4 ERA

  • TWTR

    I think that if Nova succeeds there may be knock-on effects, as it might make them more willing to show patience with subsequent starting pitching prospects.

    • The Great Gonzo

      If I wanted to put a pin in this argument, I would say that Ivan Nova wasn’t what one would call a high caliber prospect, its essentially apples and oranges.

      If you want a stronger barometer for how the Yankees will handle top prospects, look at the patience the exhibited for Joba and Hughes.

      • TWTR

        My point is that Nova’s success would vindicate a patient approach.

        As for Joba and Hughes, I think there were (at least) three external issues (iow, beyond whatever limitations existed within them) that were factors in their failed development here: 1) the shift to the pen because it impeded building up the arm strength needed to be a starter as well as being able to use all their pitches; 2) both would have benefited from extended time as a starter at AAA (Joba didn’t have many AA starts); and 3) particularly in Joba’s case (but to a less extend Hughes), the injuries.

        • The Great Gonzo

          The Yankees, I would argue, already have a patient approach. Guys that they view (THEY view, not we view…) as key players or pieces to the puzzle going forward are allotted many chances.

          Joba, after numerous injuries, and a DWI, was given chance after chance to earn his role in the bullpen. Hughes, with his inconsistency issues, was a mainstay. Shit, look at Melky’s first Cup O’ Coffee; If that was taken at face value he woulda been gone a long time ago.

          I think we are agreeing on the outcome, but I am saying I think they are already in a place where you think they need to get to.

          • TWTR

            Although I disagree, even if I grant your point for the sake of argument, what has that approach yielded: an ongoing need to commit massive dollars to pitchers for too long, something that Cashman himself said they would no longer have to do when the now little three were on the verge of the major leagues in 2007-08, as well as an almost annual scramble to find starting pitchers to fill out the rotation.

            Beyond that, I don’t think it’s reasonable to think that starters who had as little time in AAA as Hughes and Joba were ever really shown patience in the way that matters most in development.

        • Jorge Steinbrenner

          It’d vindicate a patient approach with Ivan Nova. I think every pitcher presents with a different set of considerations.

          Since they’re the popular two options to bring up, Hughes and Joba always gave you enough of a glimmer to justify patience as well. Folks will disagree as far as to whether it was worth it or not. I guess I would have sent Hughes’s ass to Minnesota for Johan then, but that’s real damn easy for me to say now.

  • Jorge Steinbrenner

    In a strange turn of events, he shows the Yankees who he really is by crossing the gender barrier in baseball as Ivana Nova. Minnie Mantlez be damned.

    • Tanuki Tanaka (Formerly Bob Buttons)

      Oh geez that’s something I’ve repressed and now it’s coming back.

    • jjyank

      I’d like to vote for Ivana Nova to the HOF right now.

  • RetroRob

    Nova has pitched well in two out of his three full seasons. If he can replicate those good seasons in 2014 and over 200 innings, then the Yankees have themselves a 3.5-4.0 WAR pitcher.

    I’m optimistic he’ll do that because, well, it’s January.

    • jjyank

      Cheers to that!

  • Tanuki Tanaka (Formerly Bob Buttons)

    I think that it would be nice to have a home grown starter contribute going forward this year and beyond, and Nova is my number one choice over Phelps and prospects.

  • Babe Ruth

    Sign Drew and Jimenez already!!!!
    #28 !!!!!!!!!!!

    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      If it were only that easy.

  • novymir


    Fangraphs posted a nice article showing Nova’s evolution. Against winning teams, not so good:

    Boston 2-2
    Detroit 0-2
    Texas 1-1
    Los Angeles 1-1
    Tampa Bay 1-1

    • pat

      .500 against everyone but Detroit? For a young guy that’s not too bad. Split against the good teams and take advantage of the bad ones. Sounds fine to me.

      • The Great Gonzo

        This. Sign me up for a young pitcher that goes .500 against the best offenses in the league, giving his offense a chance to keep him in a game, and dominates Houston & Minnesota.

        • Tanuki Tanaka (Formerly Bob Buttons)

          Especially when our offense was well…. offensive to our own fans.

  • JGYank

    At the time of the Pineda trade before Nova’s bad 2012, I pictured them both carrying the rotation year after year. I’m still hoping for that.

    Nova has put up good peripherals, and he is entering his prime so we should see better results this year.

  • Alkaline

    He’s a big X factor this year, I think. If he produces consistently throughout the year, it’s absolutely fantastic.

  • LarryM Fl

    Nova has the physical attributes that you want in a pitcher. When he’s on he’s on as we all know. But IMHO the making of a good pitcher is just not physical or mechanics. Its between the ears which give them the ability to put it all together to comprehend the coach’s instructions. As in life we learn at different speeds. So I’m hoping Mr. Nova is about to hit his curve and have a banner year. I sometimes have questioned his ability to deal with the limelight. Thus it entered into the scope of learning how to pitch or learn. You could say, “I’m talking out of the wrong end with no proof but its just observations of Nova when he has done well or got his brains beat.

  • http://riveravenueblues Mississippi doc

    Since he is out of options, what do they do with him if he continues the roller coaster ride? I believe that if they let him go, he will be another in the long line of young Yankee pitchers that have gone on to very successful careers elsewhere. I would not be surprised if that happens with Joba and Hughes.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      I don’t think that’s entirely accurate.

      Joba and Hughes reached major league free agency. They were with this team for the entirety of their team control. Perhaps they have better years somewhere else and perhaps they don’t, but it certainly won’t be because they didn’t get every chance to succeed here. At many points throughout their time here, they did, in fact, succeed.

      I also assume that line includes pitchers who were traded away as prospects for more established players. I don’t think the team necessarily thinks those guys are going to suck once they leave the team but, rather, that they value the immediate contribution of the player being received more. Yes, we can cite recent examples of where that didn’t work out, but it also has worked out for this franchise, and for every other franchise, before.

    • qwerty

      I wonder where they’ll send him when he has his annual meltdown.

  • LK

    Definitely one of the more important members of the 2014 team and beyond. They really need him to be both healthy and good, particularly with the 5th spot up in the air.

  • vicki

    this is where we’ll see brian mccann’s reported facility with pitchers in action.

  • Rolling Doughnut

    Best predictor of future performance is past performance right? Which, as Mike’s graph shows, has been all over the place. So, no prediction. But my money is on the Nova who’s in control of himself and his pitches, not the cocky kid who says “I pitch real good” after every shellacking.

  • CONservative governMENt

    I am hoping that Tanaka, Pineda and Nova pitch so well this year that Kuroda and Sabathia can be the grizzled 4th and 5th guys that get skipped when necessary to give them extra rest.

    • hogsmog

      I hope Pineda pitches, period. Then we’ll see about pitching in the MLB, and then see about pitching “so well”.

  • http://river panos

    his slider is best out pitch of staff. he needs to be more consistant with change. he dinately has top of rotation stuff.