New York Yankees

Ivan Nova has had a shaky tenure with the New York Yankees but a return to form can be a difference maker for an even more shaky starting staff.

By Emmanuel Berbari

New York Yankees’ right-hander Ivan Nova has not been his ‘Super Nova’ self in quite some time. He found himself out of luck yet again this year when he was snubbed of a spot in the rotation.

Things work themselves out in baseball, however, and his recent entry into the starting staff may be the exact spark the Yanks have been waiting for.

Nova appeared poised to be a front-end starter after his 2011 campaign, one that saw him win 16 games against only four losses and go 8-0 with a 3.18 ERA in the second half. He added a stellar playoff start against the Detroit Tigers. He was the number two on a Yankee staff that was far more established at the time.

2012 proved to be a “sophomore slump” type of season for a guy with high expectations. He pitched to a 5.02 ERA and surrendered 28 homers in 28 starts. A sophomore slump is all it was. In 2013, he went 9-6 with an ERA just north of three (3.10) and featured impeccable control. In the midst of a season where he tossed three complete games, two being shutouts, his BB/9 rate was only 2.8.

The confidence in Nova was bolstered back up with that 2013 season, making him a front-end guy to start 2014. Struggling out the gate, the Yanks expected him to right the ship. However, he could not right the ship before he tore his ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, requiring Tommy John surgery.

The surgery sidelined him until June of 2015, and he has not found a rhythm since. A subpar 5.07 ERA in 17 starts last year moved him right back down the totem pole and made him a mere swingman to start 2016.

Nova’s four-seam fastball, particularly since the Tommy John, has marred his performance. According to Brooks Baseball, since he made a full return in 2015, opponents have hit .338 and slugged .625 on 326 Nova produced four-seamers.

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Clearly, Nova has done his homework and learned from his weaknesses. Nova had only thrown 24 four-seam fastballs heading into his most recent start and has leaned heavily on his sinker so far this year. His sinker, which has effective downward tilt, has held opponents to a less formidable .264 average and .260 BABIP. This means that opponents have not had nearly as much hard hit and line drive success on the sinker as they did the four-seamer. A lower batting average on balls in play means far more playable ground balls and fly balls.

That same sinker has produced a 68.2% ground ball rate early in 2016. The raw results have backed it up. He is 2-1 with a 3.70 ERA this season and is 1-0 with a 1.74 ERA since moving back into the starting rotation. Nova is clearly poised to stay.

Even when CC Sabathia returns, Luis Severino’s struggles and recent injury will keep Nova in the mix. With that being said, Nova can only help himself out if he puts together a nice run as he did in the 2011 and 2013 seasons.

The potential is there, the correct situation is there, and now the rest lies in Nova’s hands. The Yankees can only hope that they have a solid middle of the rotation guy waiting in their lap without having to budge. He has proven that he can be an asset in the past and this season’s question marks can provide him the same opportunity to prosper.

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