One of the biggest disappointments for the 2017 Pittsburgh Pirates was starting pitcher Ivan Nova crashing back to Earth.
This shouldn’t have come as too much as a surprise to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Nova is who he is. But after signing a three-year. $26 million dollar deal prior to the season and looking like a CY Young candidate during April, expectations became a little higher for Nova.
However, Nova got knocked around like a pinball for much of the rest of the season, leaving many to wonder if the Bucs can once again find what worked for Nova in the early going.
After a very impressive 64.2 inning audition for the Bucs in 2016 after the trade deadline, the Pirates gave Nova a contract and didn’t get their money’s worth.
What they got was an 11-14 record and 4.14 ERA.
Always known as a strike thrower and a guy that pitches to contact, Nova lost his command. He wasn’t walking guys necessarily but he was missing his spots bad enough where pitches that would result in ground balls in April became doubles off the wall the rest of the season.
He allowed more than a hit per inning (203 hits in 187 inning pitched), which is never good when you don’t have top-notch stuff.
If you take an impressive April out of the equation in which Nova was named National League Pitcher of the Month, he finished with a 4.77 ERA the rest of the way.
He went from looking like a top of the rotation starter to the Pirates worst pitcher in the rotation in the blink of an eye.
The biggest indicator of Nova’s struggles was his FIP.
His first four months as a Pirate, dating back to 2016 saw him post FIP’s of 3.18, 2.10, 2.79 and 3.64. That ballooned to 5.22, 5.60, 5.33 and 4.89 the last four months.
Then there is the ground ball.
Nova’s first four months in a Pittsburgh Pirates uniform produced ground ball rates of 47.9, 56.6, 51.0 and 49.7 percent. In the four months that followed, Nova’s ground ball rates dipped to 43.2, 46.2, 40.2 and 45.2 percent. The results turned into a lot more fly balls and a lot more balls leaving the ball park.
Speaking of balls leaving the ballpark, Nova gave up 29 homers on the season. Twenty-four of them came after May.
Throwing Gasoline on a Fire
Nova finished April with a 1.50 ERA in 36 innings, with two complete games and 22 strikeouts to one walk.
Things slowly started to get worse after that.
In 18 starts prior to the All-Star break, he was dependable, giving the Bucs at least six innings 17 times and had a 3.21 ERA.
However the second half of the season Nova was 2-8 with a 5.83 ERA and allowed an opposing OPS of .917.
Nova also went less than six innings in eight of his final 12 starts.
He posted ERA’s of 4.17 in May, 3.48 in June, 6.28 in July, 5.63 in August and 4.42 in September.
Needless to say Nova wasn’t fooling anyone, especially left-handed batters, who posted a .309/.342/.516 line on the season.
Nova finished in the National League’s top 10 worst pitchers in home runs, hits allowed, 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 Pirates’ starting pitchers this season.
All of the mistakes he made in his first four months that weren’t crushed have now caught up with him.
His 21.7 percent line drive rate and 32.7 percent hard contact rate along with allowing contact on 81 percent of his pitches thrown is a recipe for disaster.
I wasn’t excited about the Pirates signing Nova prior to last season and although he made me eat my words in April, I believe having Nova in the rotation going forward is going to be a problem.
He doesn’t have much trade value so the Bucs are stuck with him.
Hopefully he can somehow regain what worked for him early on and rebound from a poor 2017 campaign.
Overall Grade- D
Image credit – Daniel Decker Photography