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The Starter Bubble: Ricky Nolasco

I almost wince when I get my handy text messages from the variety of baseball-update services that I’ve subscribed to. The news on my pitching across fantasy baseball leagues has been so bad that I actually have a physical reaction to the little jingle my Samsung Galaxy makes when there’s a text incoming. Now what?

The referrals to Dr. James Andrews and other associated arm experts have been so frequent that it’s sent me to the waiver wire early and often, and in a couple situations, I’ve turned up golden. For instance, Ricky Nolasco has been quite successful through his six starts, and while I haven’t owned him for all of these outings, he was nonetheless free. Assuming I won’t be able to trade him, knowing he was free will make it easier to cut him. Cutting him might seem downright goofy, but I’m not sure I’m too comfortable starting him right now.

Nolasco has a sparkling 4-0 record, 2.72 ERA, and 1.11 WHIP. Yet the man who we were burned by in years past, waiting for him to catch up to his predicted results, is now well outpacing his predictors. Not mention some other fishy results.

Nolasco’s xFIP and SIERA are at 3.95 and 4.20, respectively, which would still represent pretty solid results – Ricky being Ricky. But the reasons to mistrust him are numerous. His strikeout rate is not only down, but it’s down significantly with the specter of a notable drop in fastball velocity:Nolasco never threw particularly hard, but an average fastball around 89 mph certainly lacks put-a-hitter-away zip and it’s starting to show. His fastball is about two and a half runs below average per 100 pitches whereas it’s historically been just a tick below league average in his career. His slider has far and away been his best pitch, but he already throws it roughly 25% of the time and without complimentary pitches, his bat-missing stuff is sorely lacking:

For anyone who is wed to K/9 (oh, how I love K/9), just check out his trends there – basically 9.5 to 8.4 to 6.5 to blech. It’s not as if strikeouts are important, it’s just that strikeouts are really friggin important, okay?

Next up are the typical luck factors which Nolasco always seems to be on the wrong side of, and here is experiencing the proverbial other side of the coin. His BABIP is .248 and based on his current hit trajectory, his xBABIP is .323. Even if he were somehow earning it though, it would be a massive departure from the Ricky Nolasco we’ve become accustomed to, and it’s well below the league average:

Lastly, is Nolasco’s strand rate, which is not only not Nolasco-like, but significantly better than what we’ve seen across the league in 2012:

Yes, the small sample size applies, but after roughly 40 innings pitched, Nolasco has a 3.56 FIP, which is still pretty good – but when you consider it’s almost exactly the same FIP he had in 2011, back when he threw harder, struck out more and walked fewer, the snap back to the old Nolasco could be difficult to stomach. Maybe it’s the baseball Gods finally smiling on him since he spend the better part of three full seasons pitching far worse than it seemed like he should have. But if you’re leaning on Nolasco in your rotation right now, I’d advise you to grab hold of something for stability.