Ivan Nova Needs to Pick Up Where He Left Off

Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

Editorial: Ivan Nova was very good for the Pittsburgh Pirates last season. The Bucs need him to replicate his success last season in order for them to bounce back in 2017.

Last off-season, many fans were upset when the Pittsburgh Pirates chose to deal for Jon Niese and let J.A. Happ sign in Toronto.  Happ was coming off a stellar two-month stretch with the Bucs, and earned himself a thee year contract worth $36 million.  This was a number that many fans thought was doable for the Pirates, and a signing that needed to happen.  As it turns out, the move did bite the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Jon Niese was abysmal in black and gold, while Happ went on to have the best season of his career.  Many thought the same would happen to Ivan Nova this past off-season.

This off-season, the Bucs seemed to make it a priority to not make that mistake again.  Ivan Nova was very good in his two months as a Pittsburgh Pirates starter.  After being acquired for prospects Tito Polo and Stephen Tarpley, many fans did not have high expectations.  However, Nova performed a complete flip in his performance after leaving pinstripes and joining the Pittsburgh Pirates. He accumulated a 3.06 ERA to go along with a 2.62 FIP.  These numbers really gave the Bucs starting staff a boost in August and September.

In New York, Nova left with 4.90 ERA and a 5.10 FIP, numbers that caused many fans to roll their eyes when the Bucs acquired him.  Also, Nova had a 4.5 percent home run rate with the Yankees.  Once he moved out of the AL East and joined the National League, Nova saw his home run percent drop to 1.5 percent.

Entering the 2016 off-season, many fans wanted to see the Bucs bring back the successful Nova.  In the past, this has not been the case.  Players like Edinson Volquez and J.A. Happ ended up elsewhere after their short, but successful, stints with the Pittsburgh Pirates.  However, this time, the Bucs were able to retain their reclamation project.  Nova re-signed on a modest three-year deal worth $26 million, that included a $2 million bonus.

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The Bucs need Ivan Nova to be their third best starter to start the year.  In front of Nova are Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon.  It is expected that those two will be number one and number two for at least the next three years.  Outside of those two, it leaves Nova, Kuhl, and whoever wins the fifth spot this Spring.  Kuhl had a decent rookie campaign, but he still needs to prove he can be effective against lefties.  Meanwhile, the fifth spot is a complete question mark at this point.  Nova needs to pick up where he left off last season to ensure some stability to the rotation.  If he cannot, the Pittsburgh Pirates will have a very similar situation as they did in last year’s rotation.

The biggest issue for Nova in New York was he gave up too much hard contact and too many home runs.  When he came to Pittsburgh he cut down on those numbers and learned to pitch more efficiently.   Yesterday, Nova made his first appearance of the Spring.  He saw six batters and retired all six in order.  He did not record any strikeouts, however, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.  During Spring Training, it is more important to pound the strike zone than to work on the edge when ahead in the count.

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The best case scenario for the Pittsburgh Pirates is for Nova to continue to pitch effectively and efficiently, as he so often did last season in Pittsburgh. Pitch to contact, and get strikeouts as they come.  If the first start of his Spring is any indication, it seems that Nova will do that once again.  If he does that, the modest off-season contract will look like an absolute bargain.

*Numbers from baseball-reference