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Ricky Nolasco and the Declining Strikeout Rate

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The Minnesota Twins’ starting pitching shortage of strikeouts has continued into 2014.

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That’s not anything new but it makes you wonder if the fumes from the garbage burner are causing pitchers to simply lob the ball into the strike zone. As of Tuesday, the Twins were owners of the bottom three strikeout rates in the American League.

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While Kevin Correia and Kyle Gibson are thought of as contact-oriented pitchers, it is Ricky Nolasco’s inclusion on that is which is a bit surprising. After all, Nolasco held a 19% strikeout rate over his career. Though a drop in the strikeout rate is expected during the switch in leagues and pitchers have to face a designated hitter instead of a car antenna-swinging pitcher, the drop from 20% in 2013 to 11% so far in 2014 has been curious.

Nolasco has been able to get to a two-strike count regularly, however, he has failed to put hitters away at an expected pace. According to ESPN/TruMedia, Nolasco leads all qualified starters with a .295 batting average in two-strike situations (he also owns a .333 average in 0-2 counts this year!!!)(!!!!!!).

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What is happening?

The most notable difference between last year and this year is his reliance on the fastball instead of either of his breaking balls. After throwing 35%/65% fastball/secondary split in two-strike counts in 2013, he’s throwing at a 44%/56% split this year – and his fastball has been hammered. When he throws the fastball in two-strike situations, opponents are hitting .429 (9-for-21 with 3 doubles).

Another interesting aspect to this strikeout drop-off is his curveball usage. More than the usage, it is the effectiveness which is more cause for concern. Last year he posted a 25% swing-and-miss rate, that’s down to 7% this year.
Who knows where this change is coming from – coaching staff, catcher or Nolasco himself. As he mentioned in spring training, Nolasco knows he has the final say to what is thrown in what situation. As of right now, he has not been effective in what should be put-away situations.

It probably is time to reconsider what he is tossing in two-strike counts.
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