I’ll admit it: I have a mancrush on Ricky Nolasco.
How many people realize just how good he was this year? Or, more importantly, how good he’s likely to be next year? Chances are, most of the people in your fantasy league are either unaware of Nolasco, or don’t fully appreciate how good he is.
This year, Nolasco finished with a 3.52 ERA and 186 strikeouts in 212 innings pitched. That’s a very good season, but his overall numbers don’t reflect just how well Nolasco pitched for most of the season.
Going in to his start on June 15 against the Rays, Nolasco sported a 4.63 ERA, and had a 43/26 strikeout/walk ratio in 72 innings. However, on that fateful night in Tropicana Field, something changed. Perhaps it was a minor adjustment that paid major dividends, or the result of something Nolasco had been working on for years; either way, Nolasco was never the same after.
On June 15, Nolasco allowed two earned runs allowed in eight and two thirds innings, with one walk and 12 strikeouts. It was only the third time he had walked less than two batters (the second time was his previous start), and the first time he had struck out more than seven in a start.
After his start against the Rays, Nolasco had 19 more starts. He walked one or fewer batters in all but one of those starts. And he struck out seven or more batters in 10 of those starts. In fact, including his June 15 start, Nolasco finished the season by pitching 140 innings with a 2.95 ERA, striking out 143 and walking 16.
Think about that: 143 strikeouts and 16 walks.
For comparison, CC Sabathia pitched 130 innings with the Milwaukee Brewers this year, and had a K/BB ratio of 128/25. From June 15 on, Nolasco had a higher strikeout rate and a lower walk rate than Sabathia did in his time with the Brewers.
Of course, Nolasco may not be in the same class as CC Sabathia. Nolasco’s one weakness is that he is somewhat homer prone: he gave up 28 long balls this season, including 15 in his amazing 140-inning stretch to end the season. However, that is not an absurdly high total, and it is artificially enhanced by a rather high amount of balls in the air that became homers.
Nolasco allowed a homer on 10.6% of the fly balls hit against him. League average for a starter is somewhere around 11%. Furthermore, Nolasco plays in a spacious ballpark, suggesting that he should allow even fewer homers than average. Therefore, we can reasonably expect his homer rate to regress next year.
Nolasco had a 2.95 over his 140-inning stretch of dominance despite having a homer rate higher than it should have been.
Even if we assume that Nolasco can’t possibly be as dominant as he was from June 15 until the end of this season, we have every reason to expect that Ricky Nolasco is going to be one of the best pitchers in fantasy baseball next season. And he has the potential to be one of the biggest steals of draft day.
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