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If you take a glance at the career statistics of Ivan Nova, there's really nothing to get excited about. He has a 4.30 career ERA and 1.36 WHIP with a 6.75 K/9. On numerous occasions in the history of baseball, we have seen a change of scenery really benefit a player. One of the better examples of this phenomenon was Nova's move to Pittsburgh last season.
Nova began last season with the Yankees and started the season in the bullpen before moving into the starting rotation in May. In 97.1 innings with the Yankees, Nova went 7-6 with a 4.90 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, a 75:25 K:BB ratio and allowed 19 home runs. He appeared in 21 games, including 15 starts.
The Yankees traded him to Pittsburgh and Nova transformed into a completely different pitcher. Nova started 11 games for the Pirates and went 5-2 with a 3.06 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and a 52:3 K:BB ratio in 64.2 innings. Yes, that is not a typo; he walked just three batters and allowed only four home runs over that span.
Nova was a free agent and returned to the Pirates on a three-year, $26 million contract. What changed in Pittsburgh? Usually, pitchers moving from the American League to the National League get better. Nova clearly moved from a homer-friendly park to one where the home runs didn't go out as much and it's reflected in the HR/9.
There's also a different mentality when it comes to throwing strikes. The Pirates and Ray Searage emphasized minimizing walks and Nova was able to keep the ball over the plate. He also mentioned how he changed his arm angle on his curveball. Nova threw first-pitch strikes 58 percent of the time with the Yankees in 2016, which increased to 67 percent with the Pirates. Nova also induced more ground balls when he was in Pittsburgh. His ground ball rate increased from 49.4 percent to 56.6 percent.
Getting ahead in the count changes the mentality of a pitcher. It gives him confidence and allows him to mix pitches effectively. You are more apt to pound the strike zone in a park like Pittsburgh than Yankee Stadium, especially for a right-handed pitcher with the short right field porch in New York.
It's a small sample to buy all in on Nova, but the Pirates have a track record of taking struggling pitchers and turning them around. They did it with Francisco Liriano, J.A. Happ, A.J. Burnett and Edinson Volquez. Clearly, Nova won't have the gaudy walk and home run rates in the 11 games he did with the Pirates last season. Still, he clearly changed and is in a much better environment. Nova is extremely cheap in drafts. He's going anywhere from rounds 17-20 in 15-team mixed leagues. I am all in on Nova at that cost and I wouldn't hesitate to draft him earlier.