Don’t Sleep on Ricky Nolasco in 2010

by Jimmy Hascup

Each draft there are players fantasy leaguers go crazy for because of a breakout season the year prior. Often times the reasoning is unfounded because the player has never been nearly that good in his career. Most of the time he totally comes out of nowhere to become a fantasy force, only to come crashing down to reality in the next season. If you’re in a league with owners who have been fooled, then you can’t help but laugh to yourself. However, if you’re the owner who got tricked, well then…just ask the owners of Ricky Nolasco (who is better than his numbers represented) this season. After Nolasco’s terrific 2008 campaign, the general consensus was that he would continue to take the next step in developing into a top-tier major league starter. Though, this past season revealed just how baffling projecting baseball statistics can be:

13 Wins
185 Innings
5.06 ERA
1.25 WHIP
195 Strikeouts (9.49 K/9)
44 Walks (2.14 BB/9)
.336 BABIP

You don’t have to be a sabermetrician to realize that something went wrong–possibly out of Nolasco’s control, this year to lead to Nolasco’s disastrous season. I’m sure many of you are taking a look at those numbers and wish your favorite team had a pitcher with the rates Nolasco sported this past season. Disregarding the ERA (and high BABIP), all of those numbers are exceptional, which leads me to believe good fortunes are on the horizon for the 26-year-old righty.

I’d be remiss to state that Nolasco was usable this season because we all know that quite frankly, he wasn’t. You’d rather see your favorite major league team face a pitcher with an ERA like that of Nolasco’s, rather than have him on your fantasy team. The first two months of the season were pitiful, and each successive month was up-and-down. If you’re playing with inexperienced fantasy managers next year, then hopefully they take a look at that ERA and decide to pass on him in drafts. I don’t make many bold predictions, but I’m going to say that Nolasco’s ERA falls by a run next year. Let me show you all why he still has he potential to be an excellent option next season:

The reason the ERA was so high is primarily two-fold. By now the loyal readers of RP know the importance of utilizing a pitcher’s BABIP in determining his future prospects. Pitchers’ BABIP tend to hover around the .300 mark, Nolasco had one of .336, ranking third highest in baseball. During Nolasco’s breakout season in 2008, he had a BABIP of .284, so you can see just how much of a factor luck plays in a pitchers’ success.

Just take a look at the comparison of some of Nolasco’s rates from ’09 to ’08 (the number to the left is from ’09):

  • Innings thrown: 185 – 212.1
  • Strikeouts per nine innings: 9.49 – 7.88
  • Walks per nine innings:  2.14 – 1.78
  • Hits allowed: 188 – 192
  • ERA:  5.06 – 3.52
  • WHIP: 1.25 – 1.10

Nolasco has compiled a 1.25 WHIP in both the minors and majors (over 1000 combined innings), so it’s safe to assume that his WHIP probably won’t approach the one attained in 2008. The main problem I see that would prevent his WHIP from approaching the 1.10 rate from ’08 is how hittable he is. The aggregate totals from his minor and major league rates indicate that he will allow upwards of eight hits per game. When your pitches are this hittable, a very low WHIP will be nearly impossible to achieve.

Nolasco gave up a full hit per inning more last season than he did in ’08, so a number in the middle would be realistic to expect next season. Further, Nolasco’s K/9  of 7.9 the majors compared to his 8.8 K/9 in the minors shows that his strikeout totals should fall more in the middle of his ’08 and ’09 years. No matter what those are, they would be welcome sights for fantasy owners.

The most telling sign for optimism in 2010 has to be Nolasco’s “Fielding Independent Pitching” rate. Essentially, the metric calculates what a pitcher’s ERA would be without defense playing a factor. Nolasco’s 3.35 FIP indicates that an ERA of 3.35 would have been very realistic to expect based on his other hidden rates. He had the highest differential, 1.71, between actual ERA and FIP in the major leagues, truly showing how much bad luck he faced this past season.

Not only did Nolasco have the third highest BABIP in baseball and the biggest difference between his ERA and FIP, he also had the lowest strand-rate in the majors. His 61 percent rate was five percent lower than the second ranked pitcher, Carl Pavano, and ten percent away from the league average. To put this in perspective, Nolasco’s strand-rate in ’08 was 75.7 percent. If it wasn’t obvious early on, it’s apparent now; Nolasco had terrible luck this season, almost to the extent that it’s impossible to duplicate.

The moral of the Nolasco story is this: analyzing between the lines is crucial in determining a players worth in baseball. Nolasco is literally the same pitcher he was in 2008, so don’t let last year’s forgettable season deter you from drafting him in 2010. I’d expect him to be an excellent third option next year, with the potential to be a very good number two.

My projections:  14 W, 3.94 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 8.7 K/9

What do you guys think of Nolasco? Will better luck lead to a better 2010 season?


  1. Jeff says:

    I like Nolasco as much as the next guy, but you’re looking at BABIP in a vacuum. There are other factors, other than pure luck, that influence BABIP. First, by any metric, the Marlins’ defense was terrible in 2009, and will most likely still be bad in 2010. Second, Nolasco’s line drive rate in 2009 jumped 3 percentage points from 2008, to a very high 21.8%. I think your analysis is incomplete.

  2. Jimmy says:

    While I agree with the point about LD% increase, you look at Nolasco’s FIP, which doesn’t include defense, and there’s a whole lot of hope there, at least in my eyes. Plus with the slew of Marlins rumored to be dealt: Uggla/Ross (who was above average last year, below average this year)/Cantu, there’s hope right there that the defense can improve. Coghlan was a huge liability in the field, but hopefully as he becomes acclimated, he can improve slightly. And it’s not like every Marlins’ starter had a high BABIP. Hopefully the defense can resort to being average (which it was in ’08) next year.

  3. I love Nolasco for next season. Stats aside, the main reason for his disappointing season was a lack of command. In the second half of 08 he was hitting just about every spot on the corners. He left a ton of pitches over the plate in 09, but did improve toward the end of the season. I think he can figure it out once again in 2010 and be a very nice value pick on draft day.

  4. Jeff says:

    Yeah, you can use FIP, or even better, xFIP, as a better measure of true talent and performance. The problem is, fantasy stats are not independent of the defense. But, you’re right, if Uggla is dealt, Coghlan is moved to 2B, and the Marlins get more starts from guys like Maybin, Carroll, and Stanton in the OF instead of guys like Coghlan, Hermida, and Ross, the defense could be improved. Also, although pitchers can control GB%, it’s arguable whether LD% can be controlled. A 3% jump will most likely regress. Anyway, I hope you’re right about Nolasco – I own him in multiple keeper leagues – his PitchFX shows that his stuff is just as nasty as ever, and it’s hard to argue with a 4.43 K/BB (Command problems? I don’t think so). But, I do think that 2010 will be more complex than a simple luck correction.

  5. Dynasty Mine says:

    I agree with Jeff that LD% is arguable out of a pitchers control. The reason I am targting Nolasco as a value pick in 2010 (and for trade in my dynasty league) is not only because of the bad BABIP, but because the strand rate was awful too. The skill ratios (K/9, BB/9 and GB rate) are the best predictors of performance. His skills were actually BETTER in 2009. There were only 3 other starters in baseball that had K/BB ratios over 4.0 with K/9 ratios of 9.0 or better – Javier Vasquez, Justin Verlander, and Zach Greinke. Not even Tim Lincecum did it (he was just short of the 4.0 K/BB). That is truly elite company. I actually wrote an article on my own fledgling website on 3 pitching rebound candidates for 2010, and Nolasco was tops on the list. My only hesitation with Nolasco is his flyball tendencies,which add to his E.R.A. risk each year because he’ll probably always give up a healthy amount of HR’s.

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