Nolasco finally pitching to his peripherals

This is a sight for sore eyes, at least when it comes to Ricky Nolasco.

Nolasco ERA FIP xFIP SIERA
2011 3.04 3.32 3.11 3.42
2010 4.51 3.86 3.37 3.33
2009 5.06 3.35 3.23 3.04
2009-2011 4.51 3.54 3.26 3.21

That first line, representing Nolasco’s 2011 season, contains the best matching between his peripherals and his ERA that he has displayed in a long time. For the past two seasons he has struggled mightily to make these numbers match despite pitching a very skillful game plan. The Marlins were clearly aware of the large gaps in on-field value and peripheral performance for Nolasco, given that they signed him to a lucrative three-year deal that will buy out his first free agent season.

What has made this season so different? Let’s look at the typical culprits.

Nolasco BABIP LOB%
2011 .290 78.4
2010 .316 71.6
2009 .317 61.0
2009-2011 .312 67.8

For Nolasco’s career, he has a .300 BABIP and a 69.5 percent LOB%, meaning that he has actually been just about league average for his career (about 30 percent of all balls in play land for hits and about 30 percent of runners on base score). In 2008, he posted a “lucky” BABIP of .271, which was part of the reason why he pitched so well that season, but since then his numbers have been so consistent in terms of peripherals and BABIP that I just sort of passively accepted many of his underlying statistics. The truth is likely that he has some room for regression in BABIP and plenty in stranding runners.

Speaking of stranding runners, there might be one more thing that we want to look at.

Nolasco, Runners on K% UIBB% FIP xFIP
2011 15.3 5.5 3.76 3.42
2010 20.1 6.3 3.76 3.67
2009 18.8 5.9 4.74 3.99
2009-2011 19.0 6.0 4.19 3.76

Has Nolasco actually pitched better or worse with runners on, as we might expect given his increased stranding of runners? Well, if you use FIP or xFIP as a measure of skill, it does not seem to be the case. He has walked fewer guys and struck out fewer batters as compared to his three-season averages. In return, he has added to his ground ball rate early this season with runners on, inducing a grounder on 48 percent of his balls in play with men on base. That differs from his typical lack of change in batted ball distribution between his runners on and bases empty splits.

The likely primary culprit, however, is most certainly his BABIP with runners on. For his career, he has allowed a hit on just 30.6 percent of balls in play with runners on, which sounds about normal. This year though, he’s allowed hits on just 20.2 percent of those balls in play, a clearly unsustainable rate for pitchers. So it seems that that inflated strand rate is not a result of an improvement on approach by Nolasco with runners on, something which we have discussed numerous times before in this blog. Instead, it just seems like he has lucked out a bit more with runners on than usual when it comes to balls in play, and that sort of performance just cannot be expected to continue. No, he may still have the same sort of problems that we saw in the past few seasons. It does not mean he cannot continue to be a strong starter, but right now that aspect of Nolasco’s game seems mostly unchanged.

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