It’s time we learn who the real Ivan Nova is. Nova has inked a three-year deal worth 26 million bucks to return to the Steel City, as he will step into the rotation for the Pittsburgh Pirates, which is the team he ended last year with. He was traded to the Pirates from the New York Yankees at the Trade Deadline last season, and it was at that point Nova took off.
Let me take a quick step back for a second. Pittsburgh is simply the place where pitchers go to revive their careers. I do not know what magic pitching coach Ray Searage uses, but there is something about his working with struggling pitchers that make them pull a total 180. Some of his past success stories include A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, Edison Volquez, J.A. Happ and last season, Ivan Nova.
Nova was once a former highly regarded prospect in the Yankees organization. He made his MLB debut back in 2010 and had spent his entire career in pinstripes prior to the trade. During his time in the Bronx, Nova never quite lived up to expectations. He is a ground ball pitcher but is susceptible to the long ball. A normal home run per fly ball ratio for a pitcher usually falls around 13 percent. Last season Nova’s homer to fly ball ratio sat at 16 percent, with an inflated first half where it sat at 20 percent.
As a 29-year-old who had yet to reach his potential, the start of the season for Nova last year did nothing to inspire the Yankees that he would ever amount to much while a member of the club. He was sporting a 4.90 ERA, a 1.356 WHIP and struck out 75 men in just over 97 innings pitched. That is when the team decided to sell him to the Pirates.
Upon his arrival in Pittsburgh, Searage did what he does best: turn mediocre arms into appealing ones who actually provide value. Nova would go on to pitch 64 and a third innings, pitched to a 3.06 ERA, 1.098 WHIP and struck out 52 men. Most importantly, Nova only walked three batters. The change of scenery paired with the magical pitching coach seemed to work wonders for Nova. And now he returns, and it is a deal that works perfectly for both sides.
For Nova, he gets to return to a place where he has some nice recent memories. When he left the Yankees, he was making the shift from the American League to the National League. He also shifted from an extremely homer-friendly ballpark to one that is more pitcher friendly. Those two factors alone helped in rejuvenating Nova’s career. Now the ground ball pitcher will get more time to work with Searage, and based on the small glimpse we got of him already in a Pirates uniform, I would imagine that will only help keep things moving in the right direction.
Now I do not expect Nova to become a Cy Young contender, but he certainly will be a solid number three for the club. He is not a super dominant pitcher, but his ground ball style should play well in the National League for a full season. The shift out of Yankee Stadium also helped alleviate some of his home run per fly ball ratio issues, and I would look for that trend to continue.
As for the Pirates, the team was searching for some pitching depth. Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon were the only two true locks for the club’s rotation. After them, it was essentially an open audition for three-fifths of the rotation. Now Nova gives them another locked in the slot. He provides someone they know well, and someone who clearly agreed with Searage’s philosophy. The team is also still in search of more rotation upgrades, with Jose Quintana a prime target, which tells you how rough of shape the club was in before this signing.
So when you look at this deal, it is pretty obvious this was a good move for everyone involved. Pittsburgh really agreed with Nova the first time around, so it is the best move for his career to return. As for the Pirates, they bring in an arm they already know at a price that is not all that high. A win-win for both parties, and one that will make the Pirates look good at the end of the season.