The Pirates should trade Ivan Nova this offseason

ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 10: Ivan Nova /

Trading away the struggling Ivan Nova and his contract should be one of Neal Huntington’s top goals this offseason

Last offseason the Pittsburgh Pirates re-sign starting pitcher Ivan Nova to a three year $26 million contract. At the time, we here at Rum Bunter said this contract was a mistake by general manager Neal Huntington and the Pirates. Unfortunately, as expected, Nova was the team’s worst starting pitcher in 2017.

After a strong rookie campaign in 2011, Ivan Nova has become an average at best pitcher. In 2011 he posted a 4.01 FIP and a 2.3 fWAR in 27 starts. However, the past six seasons Nova’s inability to miss bats and the amount of hard contact he allows has been a huge problem.

During Nova’s Major League career – so including his strong rookie campaign six years ago – he owns a 4.30 FIP. This is below league average for FIP. Furthermore, his 1.15 HR/9 and 32.2 percent hard contact allowed rate are both worse than league average as well.

In 2017, Ivan Nova’s stats were worse than those of his career. He posted a 4.46 FIP while allowing hard contact 34.8 percent of the time. He also allowed 23 home runs and 203 hits in 187 innings pitched.

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During the 2017 campaign, Ivan Nova was in the top ten in the National League in home runs, hits, and hard contact allowed. His 4.46 FIP, 1.40 HR/9, 9.77 H/9, and 34.8 percent hard contact rate were all the worst among Pirate starting pitchers in 2017. His 1.9 fWAR was tied with Chad Kuhl for the lowest among Pirate starting pitchers. However, Kuhl, unlike Nova, improved as the season progressed.

The Pirates acquired Ivan Nova from the New York Yankees via trade on August 1, 2016. After coming to Pittsburgh Nova proceeded to post the best two-month stretch of his career.

This good stretch is what netted Nova his three-year contract that he now has with the Pirates. During this 11-start stretch Nova posted a sparkling 2.62 FIP. However, there were plenty of indications that his success was not sustainable.

First off, his 21.7 percent line drive rate and 32.7 percent hard contact rate in these starts were both above league average. No pitcher can maintain sucess longterm allowing that much hard contact. This combined with Nova’s career hard contact rates should have been a sign of a poor 2017 to come.

Secondly, his 9.6 percent swing-and-miss rate was just league average. A league average swing-and-miss rate combined with an above league average hard contact rate is a recipe for disaster – not success. Also, he allowed contact on 81 percent of his pitches which is above league average as well.

Unfortunately, as was covered above, all of this caught up with Nova in 2017 and led to him being the team’s worst starting pitcher.

The 30-year-old Nova is now under team control through 2019. However, Neal Huntington and the Pirates should do their best to change that this offseason. The roughly $18.2 million left on Ivan Nova’s contract can be spent better elsewhere, such as on a bullpen arm or third base help.

Another reason the Pirates should look to trade Ivan Nova this offseason is their logjam of young starting pitchers. Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, and Trevor Williams all appear to be locks for the Pirate rotation in 2018. This leaves pitches such as Nova, Chad Kuhl, and Steven Brault competing for the final spot.

First and foremost, Kuhl was better than Nova in 2017. Pair this with Kuhl being a young pitcher who keeps improving and has a higher ceiling than Nova, and he should be in the rotation over Nova in 2018.

There is also right-handed prospect Nick Kingham. The former top-100 prospect may or may not be out of options. If he is, he must make the team out of Spring Training in 2018. There is no way the Pirates will let a former top-100 prospect coming off a strong 2017 campaign at Triple-A to walk away without at least giving him a chance. Trading away Nova could help to make room in the rotation for Kingham.

Next: Three major offseason questions for the Pirates

Re-signing Ivan Nova was something Neal Huntington should never have done. Now, he needs to atone for his mistake this offseason. One of the top priorities for Huntington and the Pittsburgh Pirates this offseason should be to trade Nova. Hopefully, Huntington can find a suitor for the lackluster right-handed starting pitcher.