Tommy John surgery is a devastating procedure. Not only does it sideline the injured player for upwards of a season, but also that player is almost never fully up to speed when they return to a big league field. Pitchers often don’t regain their control until months after they’ve been activated from the disabled list. Some can thrive the moment they get back on the mound. Some are shaky but can pitch through it. Some are wild to the point of total ineffectiveness.
Ivan Nova is unfortunately a member of the third group. After struggling through start after start, the Yankees announced that Nova would move to the bullpen for the foreseeable future.
Yankees have removed Ivan Nova from the rotation. He will be available out of the bullpen.
— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) September 16, 2015
It’s a tough development but a necessary one as the Yankees chase a playoff spot and need every good start they can get. Since returning from the disabled list, Nova has thrown 75 2/3 innings of 5.11 ERA ball that includes a 1.40 WHIP and a whopping 10 home runs. His walk rate of 7.8 percent is the highest it’s been since 2011 and he’s been having trouble getting outs when he needs them. DRA says that his performance to date has been worthy of a 4.41 ERA, yet we’re dealing with a relatively small sample of work here and only 39.9 percent of his pitches have found the strike zone. That figure represents a career low for Nova.
The pitches that are in the zone are getting crushed. Watch below as a fastball that was supposed to be inside on Mookie Betts runs back over the plate and ends up over the Green Monster.
That’s the kind of mistake that Nova has been making over and over again. The mighty Blue Jays ran him out of his last start in the second inning. The high fastball to Cliff Pennington in this linked video is somewhat excusable because, you know, it’s Cliff Pennington. However, Nova is lucky that his hanger to Jose Bautista stayed in the park. He then badly misses his spot to Russell Martin.
Nova was already a mid-back of the rotation starter, and losing even more of his control to Tommy John is a nail in the coffin to his role as a starter. The Yankees are currently looking for a bit of stability in middle relief, so if Nova can make his new job in the bullpen work in the coming weeks, he’ll justify getting a playoff roster spot. If not, then it will truly cement the fact that he may not have a job with the team next year. The Yankees badly need more stability in their rotation, and if they land a big starter in free agency or in a trade over the winter, Nova is the first man out.
Currently, next year’s rotation probably stacks up as Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, Luis Severino, Nathan Eovaldi and CC Sabathia. Nova may already be in the bullpen as a swingman in that scenario, but he would likely step in to the rotation as those five names are chock full of injury concerns (not that a post-Tommy John Nova doesn’t have concerns of his own). With an embarrassment of riches hitting the market this winter, the Yankees will find a way to fit another arm or two into that group and Nova doesn’t seem to be long for his roster spot.
It’s a sad conclusion to one of the few homegrown starting careers that the Yankees have produced recently. Nova was never going to be anything truly special, yet now it looks like he’ll be fixing his problems in another organization come next spring. Teams such as the Pirates, White Sox, Cubs, Rays, Phillies, Braves and Padres could all feasibly be happy to take on Nova as a reclamation project. Depth is depth, after all, but the Yankees need depth that doesn’t come with an extensive medical history and an inability to throw effective strikes. More importantly, they need pitchers who can throw effective strikes right this moment. Ivan Nova does not fit that description at the moment, so to the bullpen he goes. In the meantime, the Yankees will hope that Adam Warren can quickly become effective once again as a starter and that CC Sabathia continues to pitch well. The Yankees sit three games behind Toronto in the AL East and will need every ounce of pitching they can scrounge up to catch the Jays, which means that a tough decision had to be made.
(Photo: Bob DeChiara-USA Today Sports)