With Hiroki Kuroda and Masahiro Tanaka added to the rotation, the expectations for Ivan Nova have already been lowered. Most of baseball will watch to see how CC Sabathia rebounds from 2013, if Kuroda can maintain his dominance in his age 39 season, and how well Tanaka translates to the MLB. But despite his placement in the rotation, Nova could end up being the Yankees' best starter in 2014.
When Ivan Nova was handed a spot in the rotation in 2011, the starter was adequate in the first half of the year, posting a 4.12 ERA before a demotion to the minor leagues.When he was called back up at the end of July, Nova showed a devastating new slider that powered his way to a 3.18 ERA in the second half of 2011. Nova's new pitch wasn't as fortunate in 2012, and although his strikeout rates spiked, he was far too hittable. After posting a 5.02 ERA throughout 2012, the Yankees had Nova dump the slider for his curveball and work on a sinker. After an injury in April and some minor league starts in June, Nova returned to the Yankees on June 23rd with a much more impressive curveball and a sinker-heavy approach. From his return on June 23rd to the end of the season, Nova pitched 116.2 innings with a 2.70 ERA with a 2.6 BB/9 and a 7.1 K/9.
Nova finds himself in a similar situation to where he was in 2012. He's coming off a remarkable second-half of a season, but he needs to prove to the Yankees that he can contribute in a full season. Not only does he have to prove that he can stay on the field, but that the league won't adjust to his changed repertoire. Nova will have to compete with quite a few other pitchers to keep his spot, especially with Michael Pineda and Manny Banuelos returning from their respective injuries. We've seen Nova go off on quite a few very successful tears, but 2014 will be his big opportunity to put it all together.
In 2014, Nova looks to continue his moderately high strikeout rates and groundball approach. Unfortunately, his infield defense could be rather awful. Kelly Johnson has just 12 games started at third base, Derek Jeter is a 40 year old who had his own defensive inadequacies before his major leg injuries, and Brian Roberts is decent when he's actually playing. For this reason, I believe Nova will underperform his FIP.
Assuming he maintains the sinker and curveball heavy approach, I see Nova putting up a 3.70 FIP with a 3.90 ERA. It won't be a top of the rotation season for Nova, but it'll be a step in the right direction for one of the Yankees' few young and cost controlled players. The right-hander represents a lot for the Yankees' future, so he'll be a very important player to watch this season.