With Spring Training getting under way very very soon, it means that it is time to have those fantasy baseball keepers close to figured out. Looking at one of my teams, one player that I am stuck on is Ricky Nolasco. I have been doing a lot of looking at Nolasco’s stats to help make my decision, and it seems that pretty much every year his ERA has been a much different story compared to his FIP.
In the sabermetric community, ERA does not offer much validation anymore and FIP is the go to stat with pitchers. It can help project what a pitcher is capable and whether or not a pitcher projects to regress or improve when comparing FIP to ERA. Well with Nolasco, the ERA has looked bad year after year despite a much better FIP.
Here is a look at Nolasco’s ERA vs FIP over the last 3 years:
Each year, he has been amongst the highest in the league in the difference between ERA and FIP (ERA-FIP). In 2009 he ranked 1st, and by a large margin as his difference was 0.60 points higher than second place. In 2010 he ranked 12th and in 2011 he ranked second. Over the course of those three years, his average E-F ranks first in the league. One would think that with Nolasco having this big of a difference between his ERA and FIP, he is sure to have a year where his ERA does in fact represent his FIP but that has yet to happen. I think that this difference is why each year people pick Nolasco as a breakout candidate.
I think the big reason that we are not seeing Nolasco post an ERA closer to his FIP is hits. Each of the past three years, he has allowed hits at a high rate. Last year he ranked second in the entire majors in hits with 244 allowed. Batters hit .295 off of him last year too which led the league. I think the reason that Nolasco has been giving up so many hits is because the ball is put into play off of him a lot more. He has a swing% against of 48.6% which is the 11th highest in the league. That means batters swing at a lot of his pitches and as a result more pitches are put into play and therefore there is a greater chance that they fall for hits. This explains his 2011 league high BABIP of .331 and why his BABIP has been high for most of his career.
You could argue that this high BABIP suggests Nolasco has just been unlucky and pitches put into play off of him are just finding the right spot in the field. But when looking at his LD% against, it was 23.8%, third highest in the league meaning that batters are making solid contact off of him. He might be leaving his pitches over the plate a lot more or that he isn’t as deceiving but either way, his combination of high swing% and high LD% help explain why he has a much higher BABIP and why he has more hits against. All of this contributes to the huge difference between his ERA and FIP.
Now could we ever see Nolasco’s ERA drop down closer to where his FIP stands? Possibly, but I think that would require some changes in how Nolasco pitches. He might have to try to eat away at the corners a little bit more. He has one of the lowest pitches per plate appearances in the league (3.59) suggesting that he is giving batters pitches in the zone that they jump on early in the count. If this happens, maybe we could see an improvement in his ERA. Nolasco should play a big role with the Marlins in 2012 with their new look roster.