Ivan Nova‘s last start was the very definition of “bending without breaking” as he put a lot of runners on base, but only three crossed the plate. While the results haven’t been terrible–a 4.50 ERA/4.29 FIP/4.64 xFIP–watching Nova’s starts can be infuriating. He doesn’t have pinpoint control, he doesn’t miss any bats, and it seems like he gives up hits on two strikes constantly (yeah that’s probably a bit of confirmation bias, but Nova does have a .568 OPS against when he gets two strikes on the batter, compared to a league OPS against of .523).
During and after his start on Friday night, I couldn’t help but think about Nova’s future. The one part of me thinks that Nova doesn’t have much of a future in the rotation. The lack of strikeouts, the lack of a true out-pitch, the inability to get through a lineup multiple times…all those things don’t bode well for Nova’s presence in the starting rotation. But, this will be Nova’s first full season as a starter in a Major League rotation. He should certainly be afforded time to develop and time to adjust.
What makes him suited to be a starter? Well, he has shown the physical ability to throw 100 itches. He may not be able to do it in an incredibly efficient manner all the time, but he can do it. He also has an absolutely fantastic groundball rate and has, predictably, done a good job of keeping the ball in the park. Those two things would also bode well for him as a reliever, as would his strong arm. We can also infer that he would see an uptick in his velocity if he was pitching in short spurts. A transfer to the bullpen could also clear up that unfortunate “times-through-the-lineup” split that Nova has.
I don’t love the idea of Nova starting because of the things I mentioned before and because I don’t think he has a ton of upside. But, he has the ability to start. He has the ability to pitch meaningful innings for the Yankees and as of now, he hasn’t pitch poorly enough that he should be permanently removed from the rotation…yet. If we get to the same point next year and there’s no improvement, then I think it will be time to reconsider.
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