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2013 Marlins Season Review: Ricky Nolasco

The Miami Marlins knew Ricky Nolasco was not long for the team, but his half-season with the Fish was among his best stretches as a Marlin since 2008.

Steve Mitchell

The Miami Marlins may have gotten one of their best pitching seasons ever from Jose Fernandez, but it is easy to forget that the "ace" of the staff to start off the season was actually Ricky Nolasco. Everyone knew at the start of the year that Nolasco was merely being advertised for a midseason acquisition from a competing team, and the Fish had only a few months of his play before the final piece of the 2006 era team disappeared.

Those final few months were actually among the best for Nolasco in his Marlins career, and they are worth reviewing.

Marlins, 2013 IP K% BB% ERA FIP fWAR rWAR
Ricky Nolasco 112 1/3 19.2 5.3 3.85 3.49 1.6 1.4

Ricky Nolasco has always puzzled Marlins fans and analysts everywhere because he never performed as well as his typically strong peripheral stats. While his strikeout and walk numbers often times screamed "top-line starter," his ERA described the picture of a mediocre back-end starter. Since 2008, Nolasco's numbers have confused everyone, and the opinion on him finally began to coalesce that he was likely somewhere in between and leaning closer towards back-end player.

But in 2013, Nolasco put up a bit of a comeback by finally matching a lot of his peripheral numbers with his ERA. In the first 112 1/3 innings of 2013, Nolasco put up a 3.85 ERA and a 3.49 FIP. That FIP was the best he had put up since that spectacularly diverse 2009 season, but the ERA was far more important. It was the first time that Nolasco had gone that deeply into the season with an ERA below 4.00 since his "breakout" 2008. It was a major improvement for a player who had not seen truly, unequivocally average play in more than four years.

Nolasco accomplished this by meshing his newly-developed groundball game with his old roots in strikeouts. Previously, Nolasco's skill in strikeouts was falling as he turned to more two-seam fastballs. He maintained that approach this season, but the fastballs were more successful, as he induced more whiffs on both the four- and two-seam variety. The rest of his pitches were equally as effective as before, with the only changes overall being a decrease in ground balls. It remains a mystery how Nolasco changed his fastballs to miss more bats and get fewer grounders along the way, but it did a good job of merging both his new and old game.

The result was an increase in strikeouts, up to 19.2 percent with the Marlins. That was the highest strikeout rate he has posted since 2010. It came with a natural increase in overall swinging strikes, as he was one of 23 pitchers who threw more than 10 percent of his pitches for whiffs. Nolasco did this a long time ago from 2008 to 2010, but h had a two-year hiatus from whiff dominance.

Meanwhile, the rest of Nolasco's work remained similar. His walk rate was within reach of his career average, and he got the lowest home run rate of his career this year despite the decrease in home runs. His BABIP was not the least bit fluky, even though it dropped to a career best. By all accounts, it was his best season since 2008, and the Marlins could not have hoped for any more of a success from him.

Then the team traded him as expected, but for an odd price. The Los Angeles Dodgers acquired Nolasco in early June, but for a surprisingly meager price. Most Marlins fans knew they would not get much for the half-season of Nolasco, especially if the Marlins were not planning on paying for any of his remaining salary. But the Fish acquired two minor-league relievers with low upside and one pitcher with questionable prospect status, all in order to avoid paying any of his salary. The team's low return would be expected given Nolasco's questionable play and his significant salary, but the team's refusal to pay for anything sunk a chance at getting the most for a player who was at his highest value.

And with that trade, the 2006 era ended quietly, with a bang (Nolasco's 1000th strikeout) then a whimper (the trade to the Dodgers). But as disappointing as the return may have been, the Marlins had to be happy with that first half from one of their most tenured players in team history.