Ivan Nova’s tenure with the White Sox began in shaky fashion, as he allowed five or more runs in four of his first six starts to the season. However, the former Yankees and Pirates righty has settled into a run of success and tells Doug Padilla of the Chicago Sun-Times that if the opportunity to return to the White Sox presents itself, he would take it.
There’s no guarantee that the Sox would make Nova an offer to return, but the 32-year-old’s performance with the club since a miserable start to the season has been rather solid. Nova’s past month has garnered plenty of attention, as the righty owns a pristine 0.49 ERA over his past 37 innings (including an improbable shutout of the Astros in his most recent trip to the hill). The right-hander attributes his hot streak to “controlling my command a little bit better and making a little bit better pitches that what I was making earlier in the year,” though a .186 average on balls in play and a nearly 92 percent strand rate have buoyed his production. To his credit, Nova’s walk rate has dropped over this current stretch, and his hard-hit rate has plummeted, so there’s clearly some truth to the fact that he’s refined his command.
Beyond that, Nova’s numbers have somewhat quietly been pretty solid over a larger sample dating back to mid-May. He’s only allowed more than four runs on two occasions in his past 16 starts, and one of those featured multiple unearned runs. Nova has averaged nearly 6 1/3 innings per start in that time and posted a 3.14 ERA along the way. His 5.1 K/9 mark is obviously nowhere near the league average in today’s strikeout-charged brand of ball, but he’s averaged just 1.9 BB/9 in that time and managed a reasonable (again, by 2019 standards) 1.26 HR/9. He’s also kept the ball on the ground at a 50.2 percent clip.
Whether those 100 1/3 inning generate enough interest from the White Sox remains to be seen. Nova has a 4.70 FIP even in that 16-start stretch, so there’s some reason to take the bottom-line numbers with a grain of salt. Still, the White Sox have minimal certainty with regard to next year’s rotation. Lucas Giolito will front the group, but Reynaldo Lopez has yet to establish himself as a viable big league starter. Dylan Cease is still looking for his first run of sustained MLB success. Michael Kopech will be returning from Tommy John surgery but has made only four MLB starts. Carlos Rodon isn’t likely to be a factor until the summer, as he also underwent Tommy John surgery back in May.
It’s easy to dream on that quintet, but it’s also not realistic to expect any group of up-and-coming pitchers to hit their stride in unison. There’s room for Nova to return to the staff if the Sox value him as a veteran leader who can provide some stability as a fifth starter. He’d very likely be looking at a cut from this season’s $8.5MM salary, but as a low-cost option who’s already familiar with the coaching staff and many of the team’s young players, Nova could have some appeal.
Then again, there’s an equal if not stronger argument that the team should be prepared to move on sooner rather than later. Nova’s recent success has surely been noted throughout the league, and it’s extremely difficult for teams to deepen their rosters at the moment. It’s possible that were Nova to hit outright waivers, another club would claim the remaining $1.95MM on this season’s salary and save the Sox that chunk of cash. Chicago could always try to re-sign Nova in the winter if desired, but with so many high-upside arms ticketed for rotation auditions, perhaps a low-ceiling veteran isn’t the type of winter addition the Sox will seek. The ChiSox have a mere $14MM in guaranteed salary on next year’s payroll, so they can afford to pursue any starting pitcher on the market as aggressively as they wish.