Paul Zeise: Ivan Nova is becoming one of Neal Huntington's best acquisitions
April 18, 2017 12:01 PM
By Paul Zeise / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Ivan Nova was spectacular again Monday night, even though the Pirates lost, 2-1.
It isn’t a surprise, though. Nova has been good far more often than not since he joined the Pirates at last year’s trade deadline — so good, in fact, that he is slowly but surely turning into one of Neal Huntington’s best acquisitions.
Raise your hand if you’re one of the idiots who laughed at Huntington and complained that he signed another cheap journeyman.
My hand is in the air.
I ripped Huntington for trading for Nova and said what a waste of time the move was. I — and many others — couldn’t have been more wrong about Nova. He was 5-2 last season in 11 starts for the Pirates. He had a 1.1 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) with 52 strikeouts and three walks over 64⅔ innings.
Huntington receives plenty of criticism for the moves he doesn’t make or because he’s too conservative when it comes to pulling the trigger on a major deal. But we should talk an awful lot more about the savvy moves he makes to keep the team competitive despite a shoestring budget.
The trade for Nova at last season’s deadline and his subsequent re-signing in the offseason are great examples. Huntington and the Pirates scouts saw something in Nova that not a lot of other people did.
That includes the Yankees, who parted ways with him for very little in return.
Nova’s history with the Yankees suggested he was a solid — dare I say average — middle-of-the-rotation pitcher. He had a 4.40 ERA, and his advanced numbers were not good, either. His numbers after he had Tommy John ligament replacement surgery in 2014 were even worse. He returned from that injury in 2015, and in 199⅓ innings with the Yankees from 2015 until he was traded he had a 4.99 ERA. He was in the midst of a poor season when the Pirates acquired him, posting a 4.90 ERA and 19 home runs allowed in 97⅓ innings.
There was simply nothing at all about Nova that suggested he could become a reliable starter on a contending team.
Huntington insisted, however, that the Pirates had their eyes on Nova for years. Huntington said Nova had a few things mechanically he believed were easily fixed. He also said Nova should fare better in PNC Park and the National League than in Yankee Stadium and the American League East Division.
Nova’s contract is for three years and with a base value of $26 million that could swell to as much as $32 million with incentives. That means the Pirates will pay him somewhere between $8.5 and $10.6 million per year. That’s a bargain-basement price for a middle-of-the-rotation starter, even if he does earn all the incentives. The Cardinals, by comparison, are paying Mike Leake (who will start against the Pirates on Tuesday) $15 million this year, $17 million in 2018 and $16 million in 2019. Leake is a dependable starter, but he hasn’t been better than Nova since Nova joined the Pirates.
Nova is a hard-luck 1-2 in three starts this season, throwing 20 innings with a 0.95 WHIP, eight strikeouts, zero walks and five earned runs. He went eight innings Monday, allowing five hits and two earned runs. He threw only 78 pitches, and 56 of them were for strikes. At one point, he retired 12 consecutive batters, and he needed only 24 pitches to get through the fourth, fifth and sixth innings.
He has thrown a total of 84⅔ innings with the Pirates and has walked only three batters. That’s mind-boggling and a big part of Nova’s success. “I’m not afraid to throw strikes,” Nova said after Monday’s game as an explanation for why he so rarely issues walks.
It’s early, but Nova’s efficiency and willingness to attack hitters and throw strikes likely means what he’s doing is sustainable. The trade for Nova is already one of Huntington’s finest and it continues to climb the list to the very top every time he takes the mound.
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