The 2012 season was a rough one for Ivan Nova. After an impressive rookie campaign in 2011, Nova allowed at least four runs in 13 of his 28 starts on his way to a disappointing 5.02 ERA in his sophomore season. He looked particularly helpless late in 2012, posting an 8.06 ERA over his last eight starts. There’s no denying that Nova looked terrible at times last year, but his 3.84 SIERA indicated that his struggles were at least partly due to bad luck.
Nova got off to a rocky start in 2013 as well. After edging out David Phelps for the fifth starter spot in spring training, he struggled in his first four starts before a sore triceps took him out of action for a month. Upon returning, Nova made a couple of relief appearances with the Yanks before being optioned to Triple-A Scranton. At this point, it looked like the Yankees had just about run out of patience with Nova; but, after three strong starts in the minors, Nova returned to the rotation on June 23rd and never looked back. He proceeded to reel off 12 starts of 2.29 ERA ball before coming back to earth a bit in September when his triceps started bothering him again.
Luck was much kinder to Nova this year than in 2012, as seen in his 3.10 ERA vs. 3.66 SIERA, but he did make some adjustments to his approach that helped his cause. After he returned from the DL, Nova decided to scrap his slider and focus on his four-seam fastball, curveball, and his new-found sinker. He also began lean heavily on his curveball as his putout pitch — an approach that enabled him strike out a fair amount of opposing hitters. Despite his arm troubles, his stuff was better than ever — his fastball touched 97 MPH at times and averaged 93.2, higher than any other season.
Health shouldn’t be an issue for Nova going forward — his triceps strain isn’t something that should linger after an offseason of rest — but it’s still not clear if he can be effective over a full season. Nova was easily the Yankees’ best pitcher between his injuries, but as great as he looked, the sample is still far too small. Plenty of mediocre pitchers have posted gaudy numbers over two or three month spans. Still, Nova will be one to watch next year. Unless the Yankees’ brass decides to pony up for a top-tier pitcher, which seems unlikely, he will be the teams’ de facto ace in 2014. The jury’s still out on Ivan Nova, but its certainly not out of the question that he’ll shed the “de facto” part and post a 4+ WAR season in 2014.
(This post was originally published on Pinstriped Bible.)
By Keith Allison from Owings Mills, USA (Ivan Nova Uploaded by Muboshgu) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons