Neal Huntington has made a lot of strong moves as the general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, however, the contract he gave Ivan Nova this past offseason was not one of these strong moves
At the trade deadline last summer the Pittsburgh Pirates acquired starting pitcher Ivan Nova from the New York Yankees. This was a trade that at the time seemed very foolish due to his career numbers with the Yankees. However, Nova went on to have a strong August and September for the Pirates.
These two strong months led to Nova be awarded a 3-year, 26 million dollar contract from the Pirates in the offseason. While Nova’s results in August and September of last year were strong, it was obvious that his results were not sustainable. This combined with his career in New York made re-signing Nova very foolish.
What made Ivan Nova’s 3.06 ERA and 2.92 FIP with the Pirates last summer unsustainable was his contact rates. He owned a 32.7 percent hard contact rate, 21.2 percent line drive rate, and he generated soft contact at just a 17.1 percent rate. He also benefitted from an unsustainably low walk rate of 0.42 BB/9.
Whenever a pitcher is allowing that much hard contact, if something does not change, then sooner or later they are going to start to struggle. It is especially likely with a pitcher like Nova who had a poor first six and a half seasons in his Major League career.
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In 729 career innings pitched between his Major League debut in May 2010 and being traded to the Pirates at the end of July 2016, Nova owned a 4.41 ERA, a 4.40 FIP, and he averaged 1.14 HR/9. Opposing hitters also hit rockets off of him allowing hard contact 31.7 percent of the time. There is a reason he was no longer in the Yankee rotation when the Pirates traded for him.
After winning National League Pitcher of the month in April, the clock finally struck midnight on Ivan Nova. His carriage has turned back into a pumpkin, and Nova is once again pitching like the below average starting pitcher he was his entire career.
In 21 starts since the start of May Ivan Nova has been the team’s worst starting pitcher. In 129 2/3 innings pitched he has allowed 154 hits, 23 home runs (1.60 HR/9), he is averaging just 6.04 K/9, and he owns a 4.65 ERA and a 4.83 FIP. During this stretch his fWAR is -0.4.
Hitters have continued to hit rockets off Ivan Nova during this stretch. In fact, it has reached a new career worse for him. In his last 21 starts he has allowed hard contact 35.6 percent of the time and line drives 25.2 percent of the time. Both of these numbers are alarmingly high.
One of the worst parts about Nova’s contract is that the Pirates have a plethora of young starting pitchers who have much better stuff than Nova that could be rotation options in 2018. Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon are anchored into the Pirate rotation, and since entering the rotation in early May Trevor Williams (3.95 FIP in 111 innings pitched) has done nothing to warrant losing a rotation spot next season.
When you add Ivan Nova to the mix, that leaves one rotation spot for next season. Nick Kingham is out of options, must make the team out of Spring Training next season, and has been dominant at Triple-A lately. Tyler Glasnow has earned another shot in the Major Leagues, and Clay Holmes is pitching his way into being a top pitching prospect once again. All of this goes without mentioning Chad Kuhl, who has been better than Nova this season.
Furthermore, it would behoove the Pirates to add a starting pitcher this offseason. However, doing that, making a rotation spot for Nick Kingham, and figuring out what to do with pitchers like Tyler Glasnow and Chad Kuhl all becomes much more complicated with the dead weight anchor that is Ivan Nova’s contract clinging to the Pirates.
Re-signing Ivan Nova was a huge mistake by Neal Huntington. While the month of April made it seem like this contract may pan out, it has been nothing short of a disaster since then. When you combine Nova’s poor career results with the way he has pitched the past four months there is little reason to expect him to be better in 2018.
This offseason, the Pirates need to find a way to trade Ivan Nova and get out of his contract. Having on under contract and anchored to the rotation will do the team nothing but harm. Nova’s contract is quickly becoming a disaster, hopefully, the Pirates will find a team who is interested in having a bad pitcher under contract the next two seasons and they can dump his contract on someone else this offseason.