If you’ve tracked what I’ve written this year, you’d probably know that for the majority of this season, I haven’t been a huge Ivan Nova fan. I thought he didn’t miss enough bats and didn’t display good enough control to be consistently effective at the major league level. Well, to this point, Nova’s proven me a bit wrong, hasn’t he? His entire season does not paint a picture of dominance (he’s got a 97 ERA-, a 100 FIP-, and a 101 xFIP-), however, he’s been getting gradually better as 2011 has rolled on, and he’s been pretty damn good for the last month after returning a roster-crunch fueled trip to scenic Scranton to help that city’s mayor win another election.
Before the demotion, Nova was giving up a line of .269/.340/.398/.738. That’s basically what Derek Jeter (.743 OPS) has done the entire year. That’s not bad at all, but it’s not super praiseworthy either. Since returning from the minors, though, Nova’s line against is sparking at .255/.288(!!)/.389/.677 (essentially the 2011 version of Juan Pierre). He’s improved his strikeout rate from 5.03 per nine to 6.75. He’s dropped his walk rate from 3.65 to 1.89 and also cut his HR/9 from 0.88 to 0.675. As for missing bats, he’s upped his swing strike percentage (per BR) from 5% to 9%, which we can thank his slider for. That pitch has seen a 28.1% whiff rate since the return to the big leagues. For comparison’s sake, his curveball, which had 9.5% whiff rate, was his best swing and miss pitch before his stint in AAA.
As we like to see with young pitchers, each month has gotten better in some regard for Nova. His K/9 has increased gradually from 4.98 in April to 6.55 in August, peaking at 6.75 in July. His walk rate has steadily dropped from 4.57 in April to 1.91 in August, with no month being higher than the one before it. Predictably, his K/BB has gone from 1.09 in April to a robust 3.43 in August. His FIP started off good at 3.70 after April, but May/June saw FIPs of 4.99 and 4.73 from Nova. In July (just 12 IP), that dropped to 3.35 and is at 2.98 in August. His xFIP marks have also shown a general downward trend.
Ivan Nova has shown that given the “sink-or-swim” test, he can swim. I won’t let this season get me wild with new found excitement for Nova and his ceiling, but he’s certainly shown that he can be a solid starting pitcher. He doesn’t necessarily need to be a number two for the Yankees, either. If he can keep his strikeout rate where it has been since returning to the Majors–and keep up his absolutely stellar ground ball rate (55%; 5th in the AL among SP w/at least 130 IP)–then he can be a number two. But even if the strikeout rate drops a bit, the groundball rate and relative lack of home runs can make him a number three starter for the Yankees for the next few years. Given how little money he’s going to make in that stretch, I’d sign up for that in a heartbeat.
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