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  • Postseason Review: Ricky Nolasco


    stringer bell

    Last year, Ricky Nolasco signed what is easily the largest free agent contract ever for the Twins. While not every Twins fan was happy, the consensus was that the Twins had opened their wallets wide to get a guy who would guarantee them innings and competitive starts. In other words, while Nolasco's ceiling wasn't thought to be that of an ace, his floor was thought to be competence or better.

    Image courtesy of Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

    For one season, at least, the Twins were totally wrong. They didn't get middle-of-the-rotation production from him. They didn't get bottom-of-the-rotation production. Mostly, the team got very poor performance for what is agreed to be a lot of money.

    What went wrong? There are some numbers and circumstances that tell the tale. First of all, Nolasco has always given up a lot of hits and hasn't been very good at stranding runners. The naysayers of the contract pointed that out from the beginning. Secondly, Nolasco had spent all his career in the National League, where, without a DH, it is thought to be easier for pitchers to put up good numbers.

    The last two factors--health and luck-- may or may not be supported by numbers. Nolasco pitched with forearm tightness from spring training until he was disabled in early July. He pitched to an awful 5.90 ERA prior to going on the DL, and post All-Star game yielded a more representative 4.39 ERA.

    Finally, Nolasco posted a 4.30 FIP, indicating that he suffered from bad luck and bad defense. In watching most of his starts, I would submit that he didn't get much help from his defence and that he suffered from a bunch of bloop hits and some bad hops. I also saw a lot of hard-hit balls with quite a few reaching the seats.

    What does the future hold? First of all, while the first year was a disaster, Nolasco's body of work suggests he'll bounce back. He's been pretty dependable and reliable for a long time. No, he won't be traded in a salary dump and I sincerely doubt that he'll be exchanged for another "bad" contract. He'll get a chance to come back for the Twins. Secondly, I don't see him in the top of Twins rotation next year or for the duration of his contract. The Twins signed him 10 days short of his 31st birthday, and it is doubtful he'll ever perform better than he has in his better years ('10, '12 and '13) and not close to his best year in '08.

    In looking at Ricky's season, I would classify eight starts as "good" or better, six as "meh" to average, and the remainder (13) qualify as poor. Certainly not good enough, but there were some decent outings. How much was health related? An open question. I think Nolasco has learned a bit about what he has to do to succeed and might minimize those poor starts. He showed a pretty good breaking ball to go with an OK fastball but he needs to mix his pitches effectively. Finally, the Twins need to improve their defense. Better defensive outfielders would likely disproportionately benefit this veteran hurler.

    Better defense, better luck and better health will most likely lead to better results. I doubt he will ever be regarded as a good signing, but I also doubt he'll be viewed as a total failure going forward. The Twins should have gotten better production for over $12M per year, I think they'll get closer to it for the rest of his contract. But much like Joe Mauer, people will expect more than he'll produce.

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    Pitcher A with KC outfield defense has two on and two out and gives up a deep fly ball on which Gordon or Cain make a fantastic catch.  Pitcher B with the Willingham or Young in left and Arcia in right gives up a not quite as deep fly ball but it lands for a bases clearing double.  Next guy gets a run scoring hit before the side is retired.   Pitcher B arguably pitched better but has a 27.00 ERA inning while pitcher A has a 0.00 ERA inning.     Pitching to contact works but you still need good stuff, good control and good defense.    KC had a good ERA but ranked 25th in the majors in strikeouts.   Give them the Twins outfield defense and give the Twins KC's outfield defense and I am guessing the Royals will still have a better ERA which speaks volumes, but the gap would be a LOT closer.

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    Nolasco definitely showed signs of being a serviceable AL pitcher after he got off the DL.  Not what I hoped for, but still an upgrade.  I expect he will be a solid 3-4 for a while.  I'm not in a rush to trade him.

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    Mark me as one that was disgusted with the middle of the barrel Nolasco signing from the get go.  All one can do now is hope that he provides relief from the 2014 horror in 2015 and makes himself valuable to the team on the field and as a trading chip.  He is good for a drinking game where one has to take a shot after every crotch grab.  You never get to see the end of the game though.

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    While I think it would be lucky if a team got into the playoffs with 5 low 4 ERA pitchers, it certainly is not a staff that could take you deep into the playoffs once you were lucky enough to get there.  But anything can happen, I guess, as long as you get in.... hence, the 2015 wild card world series.  You just have to get hot and perform once you get there, and a new manager won't have a 6-21 playoff record with the last win coming in 2004 weighing him down.

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    Nolasco post-DL: 6+ IP/GS, 7.0 K/9, 1.6 BB/9, 10.2% HR/FB, .331 BABIP, 3.71 xFIP

    Shields 2nd Half: 7- IP/GS, 6.5 K/9, 1.6 BB/9, 7.8% HR/FB, .268 BABIP, 3.62 xFIP

     

    Nolasco's BABIP is as much above average as Shields' is below. Luck? A comparison of the OF defenses? Both? Shields also had a much lower HR/FB% than his career norm (11.2%). I offer the 2nd half numbers because I think it's more fair to project Nolasco's 2015 performance based on a period of the season when we know he was healthy, and because Shields' 2nd half emphasizes how much his K% is in decline but also how much he benefits from otherworldly BABIP. Nolasco is younger and has much less mileage on his arm.

     

    Depending on where Shields signs and what the Twins do with their OF, I wouldn't be surprised if the difference between these 2 pitchers is pretty minimal in 2015. I will certainly expect to see the 2nd half Nolasco, who would easily be worth $12M over 30+ GS.

     

    Bottom line: if you hated the Nolasco signing, you probably wouldn't like Shields, either.

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    Hey Ricky you're so fine, you're so fine you blow my mind, hey Ricky.

     

    Let's hope Ricky Nolasco turns into Rick Vaughan, aka Wild Thing, and becomes the most dominate closer in Twins history, complete with the lines shaved into the side of his head and the black framed hipster glasses. MAJOR LEAGUE!

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    Finally, Nolasco posted a 4.30 FIP, indicating that he suffered from bad luck and bad defense. In watching most of his starts, I would submit that he didn't get much help from his defence and that he suffered from a bunch of bloop hits and some bad hops. I also saw a lot of hard-hit balls with quite a few reaching the seats.

    A couple notes:

     

    A 4.30 ERA in Target Field 2014 would have been like a 92 ERA+, still below league average for a starter.

     

    Entering 2014, Nolasco's career ERA underperformed his FIP by 0.61.  His ERA matched or beat his FIP only once (2008).

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    Nolasco post-DL: 6+ IP/GS, 7.0 K/9, 1.6 BB/9, 10.2% HR/FB, .331 BABIP, 3.71 xFIP

    Shields 2nd Half: 7- IP/GS, 6.5 K/9, 1.6 BB/9, 7.8% HR/FB, .268 BABIP, 3.62 xFIP

     

    Nolasco's BABIP is as much above average as Shields' is below. Luck? A comparison of the OF defenses? Both? Shields also had a much lower HR/FB% than his career norm (11.2%). I offer the 2nd half numbers because I think it's more fair to project Nolasco's 2015 performance based on a period of the season when we know he was healthy, and because Shields' 2nd half emphasizes how much his K% is in decline but also how much he benefits from otherworldly BABIP. Nolasco is younger and has much less mileage on his arm.

     

    Depending on where Shields signs and what the Twins do with their OF, I wouldn't be surprised if the difference between these 2 pitchers is pretty minimal in 2015. I will certainly expect to see the 2nd half Nolasco, who would easily be worth $12M over 30+ GS.

     

    Bottom line: if you hated the Nolasco signing, you probably wouldn't like Shields, either.

    You think it's appropriate to project Nolasco based on 9 starts and 55 IP?  Even if we fully believe that he was actually hurt prior to that, how well did projecting Pelfrey based on a small subset of his starts work in 2014?  Injuries, especially ones that go undetected/unreported for a long time, can linger, re-occur, and sometimes get even worse.

     

    And somehow, because some of his peripherals over these 55 IP were close to Shields' last 96 IP, we're supposed to expect similar run prevention marks from them going forward?  Despite the differences in career run prevention and Nolasco's established FIP underperformance?  These guys aren't some kind of unknowns, they've each got 9 MLB seasons under their belt, and 1500-2000 MLB IP, and they're only 12 months apart in age.

     

    You can be down on Shields' career trends (although they certainly haven't shown up in run prevention measures yet) and think he's a bad value on a big contract going forward, but for them to prevent runs at a roughly equal rate in 2015 would require a sudden massive collapse from Shields and/or a sudden massive improvement from Nolasco.  Either would by definition be very surprising.  Career 94 ERA+ pitchers coming off a 73 ERA+ season generally don't outperform career 110 ERA+ pitchers coming off a 124.

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    Nolasco is younger and has much less mileage on his arm.

    Hey, Pelfrey is younger than both of them, with less mileage on his arm too! :)  Pardon my snark, but on a micro level of comparing two players, 12 months of age is more or less meaningless, and generic "arm mileage" is almost certainly less significant than recent injury history (on which count, Nolasco would clearly lose).

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