When Ivan Nova slowly rose through the Yankees' minor league ranks, he had numbers that didn’t jump out at you. He averaged only 6.5 strikeouts per nine innings during his minor league career and had the sort of stuff that didn’t wow scouts. If he was going to succeed at the major league level, he was going to have to locate well and keep his HR/9 rate near his 0.6 rate he had in the minors. And after a short stint with the team in 2010, he did just that in 2011 while en route to a campaign that featured 16 wins and a top-five finish in the Rookie of the Year voting.
In spite of his record, Nova’s 5.6 K/9 rate in '11 and lack of "stuff" had most analysts bearish on his prospects of repeating his 2011 success. But a strange thing happened before 2012. His velocity on his fastball and slider ticked upward slightly and his changeup became much harder to hit (to the tune of a .166 average against in, ’12, down from .223 in ’11). This new Nova came with a caveat, however: his home run rate doubled, and his BABIP against rose nearly 50 percentage points. He had managed to strike out many more batters while becoming eminently more hittable. His 5.02 ERA would attest to this.
Nova’s struggles, accompanied with the rise of David Phelps, looked like it might spell the end for Nova’s starting career. Phelps now represented the role of the consistent, unremarkable pitcher that Nova had himself been in 2011. But as bad as Nova had been, he may have actually made himself more appealing to the team than ever. Pitchers that can strike out batters at a high rate get more chances to succeed than those that don’t, and Nova should get another chance at retaining his spot in 2013.
As we are all aware, Nova has continued his up and down performance of 2012 in 2013. For better or worse, it seems the Ivan Nova of 2006-2011 is gone forever. But, despite being injured, spending more time in the minors and demoted to the bullpen, Nova is still in the mix to remain a starter for the New York Yankees. If history is any indication, Nova will follow up his virtuoso 11 strikeout performance with a real dud. Still, even with Michael Pineda returning and Phil Hughes and David Phelps still on the roster, Nova will probably show just enough to never be out of the Yankees plans permanently.