Later tonight, Ivan Nova will make his 2011 debut against the Minnesota Twins. The 2010 version of Nova showed some good flashes and gave us something to be at least mildly excited for in 2011. In ten games, seven starts, Nova tossed 42.0 innings of 4.50 ERA/4.36 FIP ball. He didn’t strike a lot of guys out (5.57 per nine) and didn’t exactly demonstrate super command (3.64 BB/9), but he got the job done, more or less, and kept the ball in the park (0.86 HR/9). That’s essentially all we can ask of a pitcher towards the back of the rotation: don’t walk the entire lineup and don’t let the ball leave the park too often.
I haven’t exactly been Nova’s biggest backer over the last few months, but I can’t help but feel pretty pumped for him as he readies himself for his start tonight. Moshe and I discussed this with friend of the blog Steve H. Any time a young/homegrown guy is joining the rotation full time for the first time, we’re going to get excited. The fact that Nova had a good Spring Training helps add to the anticipation.
There’s also a bit of that butterfly feeling we get from not knowing what’s coming next, that familiar nervous excitement. I think that stems from this new slider that Nova flashed at the end of Spring Training. If that’s for real, then the Nova equation is definitely changed, as are the expectations.
Right now, I don’t expect very much of Ivan Nova. All I want out of him is 150 innings of what he did last year: an ERA/FIP around the 4.40-4.50 range. I’m expecting him to end up towards the higher end of that mini-spectrum. If he can do that, I think 2011 will be a success for him and the team. Obviously, the year won’t hinge on Nova’s performance but any performance he can contribute will be helpful. Basically, at best, I think he can be a league average starter in 2011. Going forward, my expectations definitely depend on this mystery slider.
If Nova can show in 2011 that he can use that pitch effectively and miss a bat or a bat and a half more per nine innings, then his ceiling definitely changes. As of right now, I think a league average pitcher with flashes of groundball inducing brilliance is his ceiling. If the slider develops into a real pitch, I think he’s got number two starter ceiling The only thing left to do now is see if he can do it. Good luck tonight, Ivan.