This has been a season to forget for veteran right-hander Ivan Nova, whom the White Sox acquired from the Pirates last winter to competently soak up innings. It wasn’t an unreasonable expectation on Chicago’s part that Nova would provide its rotation with some much-needed stability. After all, Nova was coming off three straight seasons in which he amassed 160-plus frames and recorded an ERA in the low fours. That type of production would’ve been welcome for this year’s White Sox, who have gotten very little from any starter except Lucas Giolito. That includes the 32-year-old Nova, their leader in starts (21) and innings (119 2/3).
Even after firing a one-run complete game against the Marlins on Monday, Nova has only managed a 5.49 ERA/5.34 FIP this season. And yet, despite the immense difficulties Nova has encountered in 2019, he seems to be garnering interest from elsewhere with the trade deadline a week away. “Many scouts” have been “looking at” the struggling Nova, according to Joe Frisaro of MLB.com, while Daryl Van Schouwen of the Chicago Sun-Times also identifies him as a potential trade chip.
When it comes to starters, pitchers the caliber of Madison Bumgarner, Trevor Bauer and Marcus Stroman tend to monopolize the headlines at this time of year. Back-end innings eaters do have value to teams pushing for playoff spots, though, which could make Nova movable for the White Sox. The problem is that the 2019 version of Nova hasn’t fit the bill. Even looking past Nova’s shoddy run prevention, there isn’t much to like aside from a low walk rate (2.33 BB/9) and a solid groundball percentage (47.0). His home run-to-fly ball rate, 19.5, ranks fifth worst among 75 qualified starters. His strikeout rate, 5.79 per nine, sits third from the bottom. Furthermore, just 14 starters have posted a worse swinging-strike rate (9.0 percent).
Statcast doesn’t care for the Chicago iteration of Nova, either. In fact, he doesn’t check in any better than the majors’ 37th percentile in mean fastball velocity (92.3 mph), strikeout percentage, exit velocity, hard-hit rate against, expected batting average, expected slugging percentage or expected weighted on-base average. While Nova’s .357 xwOBA is better than the J.D. Martinez-esque .370 real wOBA that hitters have pummeled him for, it’s not by much.
Based on what Nova has done this year, the soon-to-be free agent doesn’t appear capable of boosting anyone’s rotation down the stretch. But could he aid a team in a relief role? It doesn’t look like it. Batters have smacked Nova for a .361 wOBA the first time through the order, with righties (.367) and lefties (.365) abusing him to near-matching degrees. Nova also isn’t cheap – he’s making $8.5MM, roughly $3MM of which is still on the way – so Chicago will likely have to eat most or all of his salary to have any hope of dealing him. Even if the White Sox do that, they may have trouble finding a taker.