Cue the cheesy theme song as it is time for everybody’s favorite game as today we will have a look at four different pitchers, three of whom have relatively similar stat sets and one who looks like he doesn’t quite measure up, without further ado let’s play ‘Can You Name That Player’?
At first glance my first thought is Player A could potentially be an old-timer from a different era when you look at the innings pitched, a whopping 318, not even the modern day ironman Roy Halladay could approach that lofty total without either his arm falling off or his pitching coach being arrested. If I didn’t already know the answer my guess for Player A would have been someone like Phil Niekro based on all evidence.
Here are some more clues:
Player B appears to have strong peripherals across the board but for some reason his ERA has not reflected his true talent level. Player C looks to be one of the better pitchers in the game and Player D is very obvious to me (I owned him in a few fantasy league’s and it’s hard to hide that ERA and amazing overall season from 2009).
Ok, now that you are on the edge of your seat I will reveal the pitchers identity in reverse order. I would hope most of you ascertained Player D is of course Zack Greinke (circa 2009), just look at that season and marvel, it’s almost mind boggling and he tops this foursome in ERA, HR/9 and FIP. Player C is none other than Anaheim Angel’s new toy Dan Haren (circa 2009) who had another fantastic season, leading this group in K/BB and WHIP.
Player B has some of the strongest overall peripherals in this all-star group of pitchers, a tidy 1.6 BB/9 and 5.6 K/BB, the highest strikeout rate (9.8 K/9), a phenomenal WHIP (1.06) and the second best mark in terms of suppressing the homerun (0.99 HR/9), however his ERA does not reflect what his peripherals suggest. That sentence might be written in his pitching obituary when he decides to hang them up and of course Player B is none other than Ricky Nolasco.
What would ‘Can You Name That Player’ be without a twist thrown into the mix? Player A and Player B are of course, the same pitcher, however Player B is actually Ricky Nolasco’s second half splits over the past three seasons while Player A encompasses the first half splits over the same time period. When glancing at the above charts Player B appears to be one of the best pitchers in baseball and even stacks up stat-for-stat with the pitcher/robot known as “Zack Greinke 2009”, while Player A looks like he doesn’t even belong in this group.
Nolasco (2nd half version) struck out more batter per nine innings, walked fewer and had a lower WHIP than “Super Greinke 2009” who had one of the finest seasons a pitcher has had in the past 10-15 years and produced an insane 9.4 WAR, let that sink in for a minute. Perhaps the Florida Marlins should extend Nolasco’s spring training each year, by about three months.
Nolasco has long been the poster boy for sabermetricians as he has consistently put up very impressive peripherals (K/9, BB/9, K/BB, FIP etc) but has seemingly underachieved in actual results (ERA, WHIP etc). We have all waited for the breakout season to come where his ends would match up to the means or he would at the very least put together one full season of consistent pitching without the 1st-half swoon and 2nd-half tear syndrome. Honestly, how does a pitchers best overall season when considering FIP, xFIP, K/9 and WAR also produce a 5.06 ERA?
Maybe there is something telling in his pitch profile, he is armed with a four pitch arsenal that he obviously commands extremely well, here is how often he throws each pitch:
|2008||51.6% (91.2)||15.8% (83.9)||26.8% (75.0)||4.5% (83.0)|
|2009||51.5% (91.5)||24.8% (83.7)||14.5% (75.4)||9.2% (84.5)|
|2010||49.0% (91.1)||23.1% (84.6)||16.0% (75.5)||11.9%(85.0)|
Here is the effectiveness of each pitch (Runs above average per 100 pitches thrown, a higher number means a more effective pitch:
The fastball velocity has remained extremely consistent and like most pitchers who don’t throw overly hard (or induce a lot of ground balls, career 39% GB rate) has shown a negative run value when using it and it is clear he merely shows the fastball to set-up his off-speed and breaking pitches to put hitters away. It is hard to say if there has been any coding errors (for pitch type) over the past three seasons when considering the slider and splitter as they both act similar and are thrown with nearly the same velocity.
The curveball was utilized 26.8% of the time in 2008 but it appears over the past two seasons Nolasco has preferred the slider as he has increased his usage of the slider by 8-9% and in terms of run value this pitch has been one of his most effective offerings. The curveball has been thrown 16.0% of the time in 2010 and has shown a very positive run value when he has used it over the past three seasons.
Nolasco’s usage of the split finger fastball has increased each season and in 2010 is being thrown 11.9% of the time and it has shown the biggest variance in terms of run value over the past three years. Early in 2010 (small sample size) it was easily his worst offering but as his season has started to come around (closer to his peripherals) so has the splitter become more effective. Perhaps there is a correlation between the success of his splitter and the overall success to his game. Last season the splitter was worth 1.95 runs above average per 100 pitches thrown and that is a career mark for any of his pitches, so maybe there is something there?
Let’s take a peek at some pitch f/x data for his latest dominating performance on August 17th, 2010 vs. the Pirates 109 pitches over 6 shutout innings including 9 strikeouts:
As you can see, it is probaby hard to get comfortable against Nolasco when standing in the batter’s box. His pitches have such differering movements that visually it must be a nightmare to pick up the baseball consistently. Nolasco has managed to get hitters to chase his out of zone offerings a solid 33.1% (o-zone %) and his contact rate of 78% and 10.6% swining rate are both solid marks.
Let’s take a look at the variance in speed combined with vertical and horizontal movement for his last start to further show the difficulties faced by opposing hitters, first velocity and vertical movement:
Now take a look at velocity combined with amount of horizontal movement:
Changing speeds has long been praised as an effective equalizer against opposing hitters and looking at the above graphs you can see the huge variance in not alone velocity and speed but also movement. Nolasco definitely fits the ‘nasty’ description when describing a tough pitcher to face. On this particular day Nolasco reached as high as 94 MPH with the four-seam fastball and was clocked as low as 72 MPH on his curveballs all while getting huge movement on most of his offerings.
For a multitude of reasons Ricky Nolasco has become one of the more over-analyzed and frustrating pitchers in the major leagues, he seemingly has all of the tools to be a superstar ace starter but has yet to put together that one breakout season we have been waiting for given the impressive peripherals he puts up year after year. Will we be comparing him to Javy Vazquez for the rest of his career or will the sieve like first half performances we have seen be something he can eventually overcome?
It would be intriguing to see because as we just learned ‘Second half’ Ricky Nolasco is one of the best pitchers in baseball, period.