The Royals are going into the 2021 season with several questions about their roster. They are flush with young, unproven pitchers in the high-minors and current rotation, while lacking much veteran presence or a true work-horse in the rotation.
Enter Iván Nova.
Nova, going into his age-34 season, is a perfect fit for the Kansas City Royals rotation. From 2016 to 2019, he average over 174 innings pitched per season, an ERA in the low 4s and about 2 WAR each season. His 2020 was terrible, but he made only four starts pitched 19 innings, so I don’t feel there’s much there to speculate on.
Nova has bounced around multiple teams over the last several seasons, and in his most recent full season pitched for the White Sox, going 11-12 with a 4.72 ERA in 187 innings. His best season was probably 2016, where between the Pirates and Yankees he pitched 162 innings of 4.17 ERA ball with 7.06 K/9 and 1.56 BB/9, good for 2.3 fWAR.
Nova features a full compliment of pitches, a four-seam fastball, a sinker, a slider, curve and change-up, and relies heavily on his sinker to induce ground balls. Nova was never really a big strike-out pitcher, posting an 8.08 K/9 in 2012 with the Yankees, his best strike-out number of his career. Nova does not suffer much from platoon splits, as he has been about as effective against left handed hitters as right handed hitters, giving up roughly the same wOBA (.344 vs .327) and almost the same number of home runs (95 vs 90) to opposite-handed pitchers.
Nova is a heavy ground ball pitcher, averaging near 50% of his balls in play on the ground in his career. If signed, Nova will fill the biggest needs the Royals have in the rotation, innings and depth. The Royals have numerous young starters in the high minors who could be ready at any point, but might not be ready this year. Nova allows you to only bring someone up if they earn it. It also serves to keep GMDM from trying to make a splash on a multi-year deal for another pitcher at a time when I do not want them handing out multi-year deals.
Nova is a right-handed innings eater in his mid-30s. Oddly, he is about the same age and has about similar stats from his last several seasons as another right-handed innings eater the Royals employed coming out of the rebuild in 2012/2013, Jeremy Guthrie. Nova is basically Guthrie but with more ground balls and a few more strike outs.
I know, I know. Jeremy Guthrie was bad. But he wasn’t really THAT bad. He gave the Royals 200+ innings at a time when the rotation was struggling, and wasn’t terrible. The problem with Guthrie was always his contract. Going into 2013, the Royals signed Guthrie to a three-year, $25 million deal. I’m not suggesting Nova be given anything like that.
Iván Nova can likely be had a one-year deal at a very minimal price. He signed with Detroit last season for $1.5 million, and likely could be had for even less. In fact, I anticipate the Royals may be one of the few teams to offer him a guaranteed contract, and he could likely be had for $1 million or even less. You slot Nova in as the #5 starter, and move Duffy to the bullpen where his stuff can play up.
Spending so little to fill out the rotation also leaves open the possibility of making a splash elsewhere, either with extensions or perhaps in the outfield, where there is definite need for some solidifying presence.