When he was in the minor leagues, Ivan Nova was never considered much of a prospect. A few who had seen him pitch praised his poise and pitchablity, but mediocre numbers kept most from thinking he could be a star. It was hard to tell what the Yankees thought of him even as they seemed reluctant to include him in trades, but nearly lost him to the Padres in the Rule 5 draft before the 2009 season. However unlikely he got a chance to make the rotation in 2011 and grabbed hold of it and took full advantage.
EXPECTATIONS: Most people went into the 2011 season thinking that the Yankees rotation was going to be its weak point and that Ivan Nova’s presence in it was proof of that. Expectations were low.
BEFORE HIS JULY DEMOTION: Nova had a decent start to his rookie season. In his first 17 games he had a 4.12 ERA with just 51 strikeouts and 37 walks in in 91.2 innings. It wasn’t great, but it was somewhat impressive for a rookie. Still he was sent down after a July 1 start to make room in the rotation for Phil Hughes.
2ND HALF RESURGENCE: Nova was impressive in the first half of the season, but he was impressive for a rookie, not so much impressive on his own. However that changed in the second half. He went down to the minors for a month and refined his new slider and came back to pitch in a double header on July 30 and it was clear that day that the Yankees could not send him back down. After his call-up he had a 3.18 ERA, 47 strikeouts, and 20 walks in 73.2 innings over 11 games.
GROUNDBALL PITCHER: Nova generated groundballs 52.7 percent of the time in 2011. That was good for 12th in all of baseball. It’s what helps make him successful without striking out a ton of batters, although his K/9 was higher after he developed his slider.
VERDICT: Nova’s 2011 season was a complete success. Not just for his overall numbers, but for the improvement he showed during the season. His ability to adjust to hitters made him the Yankees second most effective pitcher down the stretch. It was quite a surprise and should go to show that you never really know what you are going to get from minor leaguers.
GOING FORWARD: It would be a little premature to say that Nova will be a fixture in the Yankees rotation for the next five years or so, but he has certainly earned a spot in the rotation next year and will probably be protected in trades for anybody but the best starting pitchers in baseball.