Miami Marlins Season Preview: Ricky Nolasco

Feb 22, 2012; Jupiter, FL, USA; Miami Marlins pitcher Ricky Nolasco (47) during spring training drills at Roger Dean Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

Welcome to the Miami Marlins Season Preview! After this, check out the other previews:

02/24: Catcher
02/27: First base
02/28:
Second base
03/01:
Third base
03/05: Shortstop
03/06: Left Field
03/08:
Center Field
03/12: Right Field
03/14: #1 Starter
03/15: #2 Starter
03/19: #3 Starter

The Miami Marlins Season Previews continue to roll out, and we're picking up the pace here at Fish Stripes in preparation for Opening Day! We have hit three of the team's starters, and for the most part, we have a strong suspicion of those players' skills. Yes, there is uncertainty in the workload that Josh Johnson can take on, but the Marlins are fairly certain they know what they will get from these players.

One player the Marlins and their fans have never truly been certain about with regards to their expectations is Ricky Nolasco. Nolasco may be the biggest enigma in baseball today, and here at Fish Stripes, we have certainly explored that part of him before. Nolasco has puzzled many an analyst for the last three seasons, as he has not had a good season via ERA since 2008 and has also consistently posted strong peripheral numbers.

Rotation

1. Josh Johnson
2. Anibal Sanchez
3. Mark Buehrle
4. Ricky Nolasco

As mentioned in the previous articles, Nolasco has consistently posted strong peripherals and weak ERA numbers in the last three seasons. Since 2009, no qualified pitcher in the majors has had a larger split between his ERA and FIP than Nolasco. Of the 135 pitchers who qualified over the last three seasons, Nolasco's FIP is at 3.57, ranked 30th and next to pitchers like Anibal Sanchez, Doug Fister, and Hiroki Kuroda. However, Nolasco's ERA of 4.76 ranks 116th, next to pitchers like Derek Holland, Rich Harden, and A.J. Burnett. It is telling that two of those names are definitely on the way down in their careers.

We pinpointed that one of the reasons why Nolasco has struggled so much despite peripherals worthy of a top 30 starter is that he seems to struggle with runners on base. For whatever reason (and we have begun formulating some theories here and here), he pitches significantly worse with runners on, and not just in terms of BABIP. Nolasco's peripherals are significantly worse with runners on

Bases Empty, Year PA K% BB% GB% HR/FB% FIP
2011 494 18.4 3.4 44.7 14.2 3.28
2010 411 22.9 3.9 38.4 9.0 3.18
2009 465 29.0 3.9 40.6 13.8 2.63
2008 538 22.9 3.5 39.1 8.2 3.42
2008-2011 1908 23.2 3.7 40.9 11.4 3.13
Runners On, Year PA K% BB% GB% HR/FB% FIP
2011 397 14.4 6.8 45.6 5.0 3.87
2010 254 20.9 6.7 42.8 15.4 3.67
2009 320 18.8 8.1 36.6 10.0 3.99
2008 330 19.1 7.0 38.0 11.4 4.09
2008-2011 1301 17.9 7.1 41.0 9.5 3.92

As you see from the tables, he is almost 0.8 runs worse in terms of defense-independent statistics with runners on, and that presumes a normal run value based on the average situation and not necessarily the average situation with runners on or bases empty. Needless to say, with Nolasco pitching so much worse with runners on, he is certainly costing his team more than 0.8 runs every nine innings.

Not only do we have a disparity when it comes to play with runners on, but we also do have some disparity in strikeout rates. Over the last three years, Nolasco has fluctuated between a strikeout rate as low as 16.6 percent and as high as 24.8 percent. However, overall his three-year rate is at 20.9 percent, and there is reason to suspect that we should not see much of a difference from that.

Nolasco, Season Swing% O-Swing% Contact% O-Contact%
2011 48.9 37.0 81.6 68.2
2010 48.1 33.4 78.0 61.2
2007-2011 (Pitch F/X era) 47.3 33.2 79.1 61.2

As you can see, Nolasco has not greatly differed in terms of his plate discipline numbers. Over the years, he has continued to pound the zone, and the differences in his 2011 numbers are not so drastic that we could not expect some regression in that regard. His increased rate of contact on balls out of the zone is a little troubling, but with everything remaining mostly static, I suspect we could see a return to a strikeout rate equal to his three-year mark.

So what can we expect from Nolasco? Will he continue his underperforming ways?

Nolasco, Proj IP K% BB% ERA FIP
ZiPS 181 2/3 19.7 5.1 4.21 3.55
Steamer 184 17.7 5.6 3.97 3.79
PECOTA 182 2/3 19.7 5.1 4.00 3.63
Fans 194 20.2 4.7 4.08 3.58

With Nolasco, we have to be extra careful not to weigh his FIP as heavily as with the other projections. I chose to not weight Nolasco's ERA at 65 percent of the total average, overweighing the ERA to favor the higher projections. This yielded a projected ERA of 3.92.

Projection: 185 2/3 IP, 2.6 WAR

This puts Nolasco at a projection very similar to that of Mark Buehrle's. Buehrle projected as a slightly worse pitcher, but Nolasco is expected to miss at least two starts versus Buehrle's likely perfect record of health. But the question, as always, is whether Nolasco can even get close to the 4.00 ERA mark. His closest season after 2008 was in 2010, at 4.40, meaning he has not gotten particularly close in any of the last three seasons. It is hard to bet on a pitcher who lacks the track record for run prevention success, even if his peripherals all point to another capable season. This is part of the reason why the Marlins decided to pursue starting pitching this year; they just did not know what to expect from Nolasco, and neither do I. But at this point, a 2.5 WAR season would be a hopeful result for the team.

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