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  • Nolasco Presents a Big Problem

    Beyond this season, the Minnesota Twins still owe Ricky Nolasco a total of $37 million over three years. That's something that needs to be kept in mind as we ponder what the best course of action is for the struggling starter.

    Ron Gardenhire sounded like he was just about ready to be done with Nolasco during a cranky post-game interview on Sunday, and it's hard to blame him.

    "It starts with him," Gardenhire said. "He's got to do a better job. Bottom line is he's got to figure out something because today wasn't any good at all. He didn’t do anything. He didn't locate anything. They were all over every pitch."
    Not exactly what you like to hear regarding a pitcher who was signed to be the stable leading force in the rotation, and paid accordingly, but Gardenhire's frustration is well warranted and the stats speak for themselves.

    Among qualified major-league pitchers, Nolasco's 5.90 ERA is the worst and nobody else is even close -- Justin Masterson is next at 5.16. Nolasco also ranks last in WHIP (1.62) and opponents' OPS (.902).

    I've been pretty bullish on the big righty, in part because I might be in denial -- I've liked him as a pitcher and was a fan of the signing -- and in part because there is some evidence that his horrendous results have been a little fluky.

    After all, he's not walking bunches of people, and his swing-and-miss percentage isn't far out of line with his career mark. Entering Sunday's game, he was averaging 6.4 K/9; over the past three seasons, he averaged 6.6.

    The difference now is that opponents are absolutely plastering Nolasco's pitches when they make contact and as the clunkers pile up it gets harder and harder to chalk that up to bad luck. On Sunday, he looked as ineffective as he's looked all year, failing to strike out a single batter while allowing eight of the 13 men he faced to reach base. It wasn't even a competitive outing, reminiscent of a Vance Worley performance in late March.

    Photo by Dan Hamilton, USA TODAY Sports

    Yes, American League lineups are better than those in the NL. But that doesn't come close to explaining the magnitude of Nolasco's struggles. What is going on, and how can it be fixed?

    No doubt the Twins' coaches and execs are racking their brains trying to find an answer. Options are somewhat limited when you're in Year One of a lucrative four-year contract. Gardenhire hinted at a possible demotion to the bullpen and Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press noted that the club could choose to push back Nolasco's next start back until after the All-Star break, saving him from having to pitch at Coors Field and giving him extra time to straighten things out.

    Those are as good ideas as any, I suppose. You can't really cut him or send him to the minors, and you can't very well keep sending him out there when he's going like this. But there's also this problem: the Twins lack viable replacements for Nolasco at the moment.

    Trevor May is out with an injury; Alex Meyer has been extremely inconsistent and also hasn't thrown more than 90 pitches in a game since early May. Neither is MLB-ready.

    I suppose the Twins could go with someone like Kris Johnson or Logan Darnell, but they've already got Yohan Pino plugged in and when you're looking at multiple Triple-A non-prospects filling the big-league rotation, you start to feel a nauseating sense of deja vu.

    Is this the last three years all over again? When is it going to change?

    The Twins went out and spent big on free agent pitching during the offseason, and yet they still can't seem to escape the same old outcome: eroded depth and a totally inadequate starting staff.
    Comments 93 Comments
    1. Hosken Bombo Disco's Avatar
      Hosken Bombo Disco -
      Part of me says just let him pitch through it. We're not going anywhere this year. Neither is Nolasco.

      Also, doghouse. He's lucky he got in while there's still room.
    1. Joe A. Preusser's Avatar
      Joe A. Preusser -
      Just remember, this is all Andy's fault. Hughes himself gets the credit for a good year, but any bad performance is on the pitching coach.
    1. Kirby_Waved_At_Me's Avatar
      Kirby_Waved_At_Me -
      I want to take this opportunity to apologize to the Twins defense by using them to make excuses for Nolasco back in May. The high BABIP that Nolasco has is not just bad luck, and it certainly isn't bad defense alone. He's giving up frozen ropes all over the field.

      I do think something needs to be done about his spot in the rotation. In a three year contract it may be early to dump him, but he doesn't need to start every fifth day if he's just going to have a terrible game that way.

      Skip his turn once, or demote him to bullpen duty, or something like that. Use that extra time to really focus on his location and see if there's something off about his mechanics that's making him lose velocity on his fastball.
    1. Buck Nasty's Avatar
      Buck Nasty -
      Find a reason to give him a short stint on the DL and give Meyer his start(s). It's 2015 audition time. I'm not sure I want to see Nolasco come rolling out of the pen right now with the way he's throwing. Give him a week or two to "get healthy" and maybe he comes back to salvage his season without being officially demoted.
    1. Gernzy's Avatar
      Gernzy -
      Quote Originally Posted by Joe A. Preusser View Post
      Just remember, this is all Andy's fault. Hughes himself gets the credit for a good year, but any bad performance is on the pitching coach.
      I hope you're being sarcastic here...
      It is unfortunate that Nolasco has struggled so much. Hopefully its just an off year.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Why can't you option him? Or bullpen him? A terrible move by the front office.
    1. tobi0040's Avatar
      tobi0040 -
      With over 1,000 IP at a 4.37 under his belt prior to this year, I really hope this is an anomoly. I am guessing it is and he will normalize at some point to a slightly higher ERA than that.
    1. Todd_L's Avatar
      Todd_L -
      I have a perfect Twins Way solution...bring back Pelfrey so Nolasco doesn't seem so bad by comparison.
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      I wasn't a Nolasco fan, but I said at the time I was still thrilled that the front office finally had the courage to partake in free agency. I'm still glad they tried.

      I just hope that wasting good money in free agency teaches the front office that they were only wrong about what kind of pitcher to get doesn't actually scare them away from it altogether.
    1. Hosken Bombo Disco's Avatar
      Hosken Bombo Disco -
      Quote Originally Posted by Gernzy View Post
      I hope you're being sarcastic here...
      It is unfortunate that Nolasco has struggled so much. Hopefully its just an off year.
      I read it as sarcasm, but who knows, maybe there's truth in it?


      Posters on other Nolasco threads have suggested Nolasco might depend less on his low 90s fastball and work on really varying his pitch selection. And that Suzuki calls more fastballs than other catchers, which doesn't help. Conversely, on the radio this week Gardenhire said Nolasco had to set up his breaking ball by working on command of his fastball, and keeping his shoulder closed (maybe because that's how pitchers from Japan pitch) -- in other words, more fastballs. In other words, Gardy had no idea either. I have no idea what Nolasco's problem is, or what his pitch selection was Sunday, or if he busted out his Hideo Nomo delivery.


      I'm also hoping it's just an off year.
    1. diehardtwinsfan's Avatar
      diehardtwinsfan -
      Quote Originally Posted by nicksaviking View Post
      I wasn't a Nolasco fan, but I said at the time I was still thrilled that the front office finally had the courage to partake in free agency. I'm still glad they tried.

      I just hope that wasting good money in free agency teaches the front office that they were only wrong about what kind of pitcher to get doesn't actually scare them away from it altogether.
      I doubt it will discourage them. Hughes is looking like the Twins got the steal of the FA period and they have him for another 2 years at a cheap rate. That contract is going to be very very very valuable if he's doing the same thing next year at this time. At that point, the Twins should be thinking extension or trade if he's not planning on sticking around. They should have enough pitching in AAA to replace him.

      I suspect the Twins just have a very different philosophy. FA is used to find place holders when you are bad and plug a gaping hole when you are good. I'd like to see them target more upside type deals like the Cubs did with Feldman last year, but I think Kubel technically counts as that. I'm still scratching my head with Bartlett though.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Well, we've never seen TR plug a gaping hole via a legit FA when the team is good, so we don't KNOW that is his strategy in his return. I certainly hope it is.
    1. Kirby_Waved_At_Me's Avatar
      Kirby_Waved_At_Me -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      Well, we've never seen TR plug a gaping hole via a legit FA when the team is good, so we don't KNOW that is his strategy in his return. I certainly hope it is.
      Thome? I agree though, it's been rare that the Twins have been just one piece away, so it's hard to tell what the strategy might should that situation arise again...
    1. JB_Iowa's Avatar
      JB_Iowa -
      The Twins went out and spent big on free agent pitching during the offseason, and yet they still can't seem to escape the same old outcome: eroded depth and a totally inadequate starting staff.

      At what point do you look at the team's overall pitching philosophy? I'm not making excuses for Nolasco but Nolasco isn't the only problem here. We also have the Pelfrey signing. We have Meyer who has been inconsistent. We have May who was looking pretty good before injury but wasn't given a look-see. We see Worley go to Pittsburgh and have success.

      I know that many posters on TD are excited about the depth of pitching talent in the minors. I have concerns about whether that minor league depth will translate to good pitching in the majors.

      I'm not specifically blaming Rick Anderson (or anyone else in the organization) for Nolasco's troubles -- most of that falls on Nolasco's shoulders. In looking over the threads from when Nolasco was signed, TD posters were generally supportive but not overwhelmed by the Nolasco signing. He was seen mostly as a solid 3/4 -- an innings eater, not necessarily a staff leader. Obviously he hasn't even done that. There were a few posters who foresaw Nolasco's struggles so even this doesn't come as a complete surprise (and maybe someone with the Twins should have foreseen those struggles).

      The question is whether the Twins (1) are good at evaluating major league ready pitching talent; and (2) are capable of nurturing their minor league depth to turn into reliable major league pitchers.

      I don't have a very good feeling about the answers to either of those questions.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Quote Originally Posted by Kirby_Waved_At_Me View Post
      Thome? I agree though, it's been rare that the Twins have been just one piece away, so it's hard to tell what the strategy might should that situation arise again...
      They spent the entire first decade of this century a DH or LF away, and did nothing at all to add players in terms of FA. You can blame the dome, or you can blame the GM who once said he didn't sign Knoblauch to an extension because he thought salaries would drop the next year.......
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Given that they have signed NUMEROUS FA pitchers over the years, and only 1 has worked, you do have to question something about what is going on. Or, you can just accept that they have the jobs, therefore they deserve them, and we should never question them. Either one is a reasonable approach, imo.
    1. jharaldson's Avatar
      jharaldson -
      Quote Originally Posted by Hosken Bombo Disco View Post
      Posters on other Nolasco threads have suggested Nolasco might depend less on his low 90s fastball and work on really varying his pitch selection. And that Suzuki calls more fastballs than other catchers, which doesn't help.
      I just looked at Fangraphs at his pitch types and he is throwing 8.7% more fastballs this year than last year. That means in 2014 you are getting a mediocre fastball 57.8% of the time vs 2013 when it was only 49.1% of the time. In my mind Gardy, Suzuki, and Anderson need to take a hard look in the mirror and think about if they are truly utilizing the skillset Nolasco has or if their adjustment of his pitch selection is setting him up for failure.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      That is a 17% increase in a pitch that doesn't work well......some awesome strategy there.
    1. diehardtwinsfan's Avatar
      diehardtwinsfan -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      Well, we've never seen TR plug a gaping hole via a legit FA when the team is good, so we don't KNOW that is his strategy in his return. I certainly hope it is.
      Context. TR was always operating under a Metrodome budget when the team was good.
    1. diehardtwinsfan's Avatar
      diehardtwinsfan -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      That is a 17% increase in a pitch that doesn't work well......some awesome strategy there.
      I'd think this is on Suzuki primarily... Anderson/Gardy second. This to me is something that Anderson and Gardy need to work with Suzuki to have him adjust his approach with Nolasco.
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