MLB.com suggests that the Baltimore Orioles should take a look at a former Chicago White Sox pitcher in free agency this winter.
Welcome to the Hot Stove season! For the Baltimore Orioles, it’s sure to be another quiet offseason. ‘Tis the nature of a complete rebuild. Let’s just hope this year’s free agent additions prove to be more valuable than Nate Karns and Dan Straily. The bar is set about as low as physically possible, so that shouldn’t be difficult.
We know that the Orioles are going to prioritize bringing in a veteran middle infield option (whether that’s to replace Jonathan Villar or serve as a depth piece is TBD) and low-cost starting pitchers to compete for a rotation spot in spring training and, ideally, log 150-175 innings once the regular season arrives and help bridge the gap to better days.
We looked over the current class of middle infield free agents and discussed three possible options here. We have also profiled potential pitching fits, including Robbie Erlin (read here), Trevor Cahill (read here), and Jhoulys Chacin (read here).
Let’s add another profile to the catalog, but this one comes at the suggestion of MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand. Last Friday, Mark published a piece (which you can find here) where he lists one potential free agent target for each MLB team.
Feinsand has RHP Ivan Nova as his potential target of the Baltimore Orioles this offseason,
Baltimore doesn’t figure to be in the mix for any high-profile free agents this offseason, but GM Mike Elias will need to add some arms to eat innings in 2020. Nova’s numbers weren’t always pretty, but he’s a ground-ball pitcher (his 46.1 percent ground-ball rate ranked eighth in the AL) and he tied a career high with 187 innings pitched.
I’m not too sure if I like Nova as an option, but let’s dive into the numbers a bit more and see what there is to like and not like about adding Ivan Nova to the mix.
Take the MLB Trade Rumors Top 50 Free Agent Prediction piece for what it’s worth, but they have Ivan Nova as the 48th best free agent in this year’s class and signing with the New York Mets for one year and $6 million.
MASN’s Roch Kubatko cited Nova’s projected $6 million price tag as a reason the Orioles may likely pass, obviously a frustrating statement for some fans when even a pitcher of Nova’s quality may be a reach.
To Nova’s credit, he produces consistent results on the mound. Unfortunately, those results aren’t always positive, but there are a few aspects of his game that could be attractive to the Orioles.
Only three Orioles pitchers logged more than 100 innings last season, with Dylan Bundy leading the way with 161.2. Starters routinely failed to go deep, the bullpen was taxed very early in the season, and manager Brandon Hyde was forced to use his bullpen pieces in unfavorable situations. More innings from the rotation could have a much-needed domino effect on the rest of the staff.
Nova has thrown 162, 161, and 187 (twice) innings over the last four seasons, averaging just a tick under six full innings per start across his 10-year career. If you’re looking for an innings-eater, Nova certainly fits that profile.
He’s good at something else most pitchers on this Orioles staff struggle with, limiting walks. Nova has walked just 6.3% of hitters in his career, averaging less than two walks per game in three of the last four seasons. Among all Orioles pitchers who tossed at least 50 innings, only John Means, Gabriel Ynoa, and Richard Bleier averaged less than three walks per game in 2019.
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With the White Sox last season, Nova went 11-12 with a 4.72 ERA and 1.45 WHIP. That ERA is right on par with what he has produced over the last four years (4.17, 4.14, and 4.19). The same can be said for his 2.0 Wins Above Replacement in 2019. In his previous three seasons, Nova was worth 2.3, 2.2, and 1.3 fWAR during his time with the New York Yankees and Pittsburgh Pirates.
While Nova can limit the walks and keep the ball on the ground, his strikeout rate has steadily declined since 2016. He fanned 18.6% of hitters with the Pirates and Yankees in 2016, 16.7% in 2017 and 2018 with the Pirates, and just 14.1% in 2019 with the White Sox.
Declining strikeouts means more balls in play and the Orioles defense isn’t exactly going to bail their pitcher out of very many jams or help improve a pitcher’s numbers. Nova is also prone to giving up the long ball. We know how well that plays at Camden Yards. He’s given up 86 home runs over the last three seasons.
Nova is very familiar with Camden Yards, having made 10 appearances there in his career for a total of 58 innings. The only other three ballparks where he has more experience are Yankee Stadium, PNC Park, and US Cellular Field, the three ballparks he has called home.
He is 3-2 with a 6.36 ERA and 1.57 WHIP, giving up 15 home runs and 72 hits across 58 innings in his career at OPACY.
For a playoff-caliber team in need of a fifth starter, Nova isn’t a terrible option, especially if that team plays in a pitcher-friendly park. As for providing value to a rebuilding team like the Orioles, I can see why he would be attractive. However, the decreasing strikeout totals and high number of home runs are concerning.
If Nova is going to command a multi-million dollar deal, I’ll have to go with a hard pass on the Baltimore Orioles pursuing. Sorry, Mark.