CSS Button No Image Css3Menu.com

Baseball Prospectus home
  
  
Click here to log in Click here for forgotten password Click here to subscribe

<< Previous Article
Premium Article Changing Speeds: Soft ... (06/23)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Checking the Numbers: ... (06/22)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Checking the Numbers: ... (06/30)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Future Shock: Org Watc... (06/23)

June 23, 2010

Checking the Numbers

NolasCOMPS

by Eric Seidman

the archives are now free.

All Baseball Prospectus Premium and Fantasy articles more than a year old are now free as a thank you to the entire Internet for making our work possible.

Not a subscriber? Get exclusive content like this delivered hot to your inbox every weekday. Click here for more information on Baseball Prospectus subscriptions or use the buttons to the right to subscribe and get instant access to the best baseball content on the web.

Subscribe for $4.95 per month
Recurring subscription - cancel anytime.


a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Purchase a $39.95 gift subscription
a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Already a subscriber? Click here and use the blue login bar to log in.

Have you ever recommended a movie, television show, or book to a friend, only to find out the party receiving the recommendation really didn’t find that the form of entertainment fit their taste? It’s an odd feeling. On one hand, it matters very little in the grand scheme of things—I know Houseguest is a fantastic movie regardless of what my future mother-in-law thinks. On the other hand, it sort of feels as though you let the friend down, that your credibility in whatever subject is lessened, and that his opinion of you will be reduced in the coming days. Well, if we insert me as the main character in a live-action reenactment of this type of scenario, substitute fantasy fans that take what I say to heart for the recommendees, and replace movies, books, or television shows with Ricky Nolasco, then I’m sorry and hope we can still be friends.

Being a good analyst is not necessarily easy, as it really requires a lot of hard work and research as well as a growing knowledge of what to look for in certain situations. However, no matter how much extra effort I could have put in, nor research skills or knowledge developed, everything would have led me to the same conclusion that Nolasco was going to have a bounce-back season. How could he not? I mean, the guy literally posted the exact same 4.43 K/BB ratio in 2009 that he did in his great 2008 campaign, and added 1.6 strikeouts per nine to boot.

His HR/9 rate actually decreased, and his rate of inducing grounders remained stable as well. The HR/FB mark, usually used as a sign of things to come, stayed practically at the league average as it had the year before, and it was not as if he suddenly lost five miles per hour off his fastball or decided to scrap secondary offerings to stick with the heater. Topping things off—and while it should be known I am growing ever so tired of seeing articles that simply say “BABIP high, pitcher get worse” sprout up—his batting average on balls in play increased by over 50 points; no way that was not going to come down, even if just by half of the uptick.

The fact that everything normally deemed to be within his control was more than solid, while the run prevention marks refused to follow suit, suggested that he would improve markedly. After all, controllable skills earned their moniker based on year-to-year stability; it was far more likely that Nolasco would whiff batters, be stingy with regards to walk, and serve up home runs at a rate in line with the league given his individual frequencies of allowing balls to be put in play and, as a subset of that larger group, into the air.

Through his first 14 starts of the current season, Nolasco has done basically everything he could to make my research look silly. His ERA rests at 4.90, slightly down from last year, but by no means less enough to matter. His K/BB ratio is still impressive at 3.53, but the drop is caused by a rather severe downturn in strikeouts; after striking out around 8.5 batters per nine in 2008-09, Nolasco’s rate has dropped to a meager 6.5 per nine. To make matters worse, his HR/9 has skyrocketed, relatively speaking, to 1.6 after respective marks of 1.2 and 1.1, and despite the rate increase, his HR/FB has not ballooned all that much and is still fairly close to the league average.

Again, he is not throwing the ball slower nor allocating his repertoire much differently, and a couple of other numbers used to predict luck in either direction are improved from a year ago; his LOB%—the rate at which runners that reach base are stranded—is at a league average 71.3 percent after a no-way-this-doesn’t-regress 61 percent last season; and his BABIP has dropped from .336 to .321. Still, in spite of everything, Nolasco is not having a very good season from a results point of view, and while I usually bet on controllable skills to win out, I am having a very hard time evaluating those characteristics when we now have one-and-a-half seasons suggesting something abnormal is occurring.

What really bugs me with regards to his numbers not translating into better performance is the perceived rarity of the situation. One does not need access to a database to feel that a pitcher with a 3.5 or better K/BB ratio who also struck plenty of batters out—unlike those latter Greg Maddux seasons in which he would post a 4.0 K/9 and a 1.0 BB/9—while pitching over the course of a full season would post a solid earned run average. The numbers suggest that fewer batters are reaching via the walk and, since fewer balls are being put into play given the propensity for strikeouts, fewer have a chance of turning into a hit, let alone one plating baserunners.

Since 1954, there have been 314 pitchers to, in a single season, meet the criteria alluded to above: a 3.5 or better K/UBB ratio, 120 or more innings pitched, and a K/9 of at least 6.5. If that seems low, keep in mind that a 3.5 K/UBB ratio is really good and not easily achievable for a starting pitcher, especially one who misses an above-average number of bats. The averages for the group were: 3.00 ERA, 4.57 K/UBB, 8.1 K/9. Only 42 of the 314 pitchers saw their ERAs in the particular season match, or rise above, the 4.00 threshold. Nolasco’s 5.06 ERA from 2009 ranks as the fourth-highest, and were his 4.90 ERA from the current season to qualify, it would rank fifth, right behind himself. Here are the 10 highest from 1954-2009:

NAME

YEAR

K/9

K/UBB

ERA

Andy Sonnanstine

2007

6.68

4.04

5.86

Mark Hendrickson

2007

6.75

3.68

5.21

Carl Pavano

2009

6.64

3.87

5.10

Ricky Nolasco

2009

9.49

5.27

5.06

Eric Milton

2000

7.20

3.64

4.86

Mark Clark

1998

6.78

3.66

4.84

Glendon Rusch

2001

7.84

3.81

4.63

Pedro Ramos

1964

6.92

5.95

4.59

John Burkett

1997

6.61

4.79

4.56

Jon Lieber

1997

7.65

3.72

4.49

Of the 42 pitchers with the 4.00-plus ERAs, Nolasco has four contemporaries in terms of appearing twice or more: Glendon Rusch (2000, 2001), David Wells (1993, 2000), Javier Vazquez (shocker, 2000, 2005), and Jon Lieber (1997, 1998, 1999, 2000). Yes, Lieber managed to fit the criteria in four consecutive seasons, though his ERAs were nowhere near as high as Nolasco’s. In fact, none of these pitchers came close to Nolasco. Then again, I could cherry-pick and make it so Nolasco sports the highest ERA of the bunch, but what would be the point? The fact remains that nobody in the last 50 or so years has ever produced back-to-back seasons of such solid peripherals yet such poor run prevention.

The pitcher that stands out the most as a comparable in this regard is Vazquez. In fact, when asked what I think is going on with Nolasco, it is hard to muster a response different than he is suffering from a case of Javy Vazquez-itis, an illness that affects the event sequencing of a pitcher. While the numbers look great sans context, the order in which they occur allows for such solid peripherals yet a much higher than expected ERA.

 Then again, something else is happening to Nolasco this year, as he simply isn’t missing as many bats. He has suffered from elbow injuries in the past but a recurrence of that ailment does not seem to be the case, either. There is still plenty of season left, and after a brutal start to last season, he did rebound to produce a 3.82 ERA and 5.0-plus K/UBB ratio from June 7 until the end of the season. He could very well be warming up for an encore of that second-half performance, or he could just be mired in the midst of a hard-to-explain slump where expectations just do not match up with the actuality. Hopefully, Nolasco does not turn into a cautionary tale of making loud proclamations and swallowing pride to admit a mistake—which I’ll gladly do if it ends up that way—but for those who follow the Marlins, is he doing anything noticeably different?  

Eric Seidman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Eric's other articles. You can contact Eric by clicking here

Related Content:  Ricky Nolasco

21 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

surfdent48

Nolasco simply throws too many pitches right over the middle of the plate. Yes the BABIP has gone down to .321 but that is still pretty high. Striking out 1 or 2 more batters per 9 isnt that big of a deal---its way over-rated and runs up pitch counts. A 5 pitch K or a 2 pitch 6-3 groundout? Also 15 home runs in 14 starts is a big problem---actually many of these have been solo shots so things could be worse. And since he's such a flyball pitcher the defense hasn't hurt him nearly as much as it has for, say, Volstad a groundball guy. Nolasco does have a great repertoire and is smart or things would be even worse.

Jun 23, 2010 08:33 AM
rating: -1
 
Christopher Towers

His fastball velocity seems down a bit, and pitchFX bears this out, as he's down an average of 1 MPH on his fastball, while his slider is a MPH faster. The smaller difference between the two might be part of the reason, though one would think that if the slider is closer to the FB in speed, it might be even more deceptive. He could be losing effectiveness on the Slider with the increase in speed.

But it looks like the split/changeup he throws may be the culprit. He's throwing it 3% more often, but it's been far less effective as an out pitch than last year.

I'd like to see him use the curveball more often, as that is a true out pitch that he's gotten away from since 2008.

Jun 23, 2010 10:35 AM
rating: 3
 
evo34
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

Exactly..

I have no idea how the author can write, "Again, he is not throwing the ball slower nor allocating his repertoire much differently"

10 seconds of research shows a significant decline in FB velocity this season.

Jun 23, 2010 11:20 AM
rating: -5
 
BP staff member Eric Seidman
BP staff

Bob -- why has it been less effective in your estimation?

Jun 23, 2010 17:15 PM
 
BP staff member Eric Seidman
BP staff

1.0 mph in velocity does not constitute a material decrease, and throwing 2.5% more splitters does not constitute a material uptick.

Jun 23, 2010 11:23 AM
 
evo34
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

Surely you are not this illiterate with regard to the current research on velocity changes and pitching:

http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/lose-a-tick-gain-a-tick/

A 1.0 mph change between seasons is certainly significant. It's estimated to be worth 0.28 additional runs allowed per nine innings.

Jun 23, 2010 14:10 PM
rating: -5
 
BP staff member Eric Seidman
BP staff

0.28 runs per nine innings is not material when we're talking about someone expected to be in the low-mid 3's but who is actually at around 5.00. Do you have anything to offer aside from insults?

Jun 23, 2010 17:11 PM
 
evo34
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

Why don't you look up the value of 0.28 runs per game for a starting pitcher in terms of MORP and then decide if it is "material" or not?

Or does actual research not have a place in this columm?

You went out of your way to state that Nolasco is *not* throwing any slower this season, even using italics to emphasize the point. This is dead wrong. Now you are defensively swinging from the corner you backed yourself into. I feel like this column is a true outlier almost every week in that it fails to measure up to the analytic rigor of most of the other columns at BP.

I do not know you or care to know you. My only interest is in accuracy and coherent analysis. If you continue to be this lazy in your research, I will continue to alert others to the massive flaws in your arguments.

Jun 23, 2010 20:11 PM
rating: -5
 
philliesnation

The claim that "a dropoff from a 92 mph fastball to a 91 mph fastball is significant" in regards to this article is completely misguided.

Even if a 1.0mph dropoff is equivalent to 0.28 runs/9, that in no way explains a pitcher such as Nolasco compiling an ERA two points higher than it should be.

Matt Cain's FB velocity dropped a point from 2007 to 2008 and his strikeout rate increased. AJ Burnett's FB velocity decreased a point from 07 to 08 as well, and his K rate remained stable.

While these pitchers are by no means clones of Nolasco, I guarantee that if one were to examine the FB velocity and K-rate, as well as the relation to ERA, of pitchers similar to Nolasco, one would find that a midseason dropoff of 1.0mph is completely insignificant when looking at a pitcher performing well below his projection.

Jun 24, 2010 14:44 PM
rating: 1
 
evo34

By all means, do a study with a sample size of two....or look at the work of people who have analyzed the entire league.

Apr 23, 2011 00:08 AM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

Out of curiosity, wouldn't SIERA be a good tool to use in this kind of comparison? Isn't that kind of what it's designed for?

Jun 23, 2010 12:40 PM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Eric Seidman
BP staff

Yep -- and SIERA pegged Nolasco at 3.06 last season. All of the estimators suggested he would improve markedly this season.

Jun 23, 2010 17:09 PM
 
Richard Bergstrom

How do the SIERAs on that "highest from 1954-2009" compare?

Jun 23, 2010 19:27 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Eric Seidman
BP staff

We can't really do that because batted ball data is needed and it isn't reliable prior to 2003 (and if you ask Colin Wyers and I, it's barely that reliable now).

Jun 23, 2010 19:28 PM
 
Richard Bergstrom

Ok so um... how about comparing Nolasco's SIERA to Pavano's 2009, Sonnastine's 2007 and Hendrickson's 2007?

I guess what I'm getting at is if we're saying Nolasco is underperforming based on factors independent of defense, etc. and SIERA is based on similar factors independent of defense, then the SIERAs of Pavano's 2009 and Sonnastine and Hendrickson's 2007 should either be similar, or the differences could be somewhat instructive on the degree and reasons why they are underperforming.

Jun 24, 2010 16:39 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Eric Seidman
BP staff

Pavano was included in the article Matt and I wrote about big ERA-SIERA disconnects, and his ERA this year is very close to what SIERA suggested.

Hendrickson was at 3.90 and Sonny at 3.95. All three of them were of the high ERA but lower SIERA mold, though neither pitched a full season, per se, at around 125-130 innings. Ideally, we could find several comps and find similarities, but it really boils down to Vazquez-itis for me, where the sequence of events is not helpful to run prevention, while the actual events, sans-context, suggest performance should be better -- as in, if they are capable of generating the events at these rates, the sequences should even out. Occasionally, they don't, as with Vazquez.

The problem I'm having is that I'd have to really reduce the ERA threshold to find a bunch of more comparable seasons, and nobody has ever been around 4.90+ for two straight years despite meeting the criteria in the article. It's annoying -- as if I feel part of my career relies on friggin' Ricky Nolasco!

Jun 24, 2010 17:51 PM
 
Richard Bergstrom

Aw, you should thank Nolasco. Statistical oddities like that are great test cases for validating formulas and inspiring article topics.

Jun 25, 2010 16:14 PM
rating: 0
 
abcjr2

1 mph difference is "massive"? Nolasco's fastball per fangraphs has averaged 91.5, 89, 91.2, 91.5 and 90.5 over the past five years. A 1.0 drop seems to be within the normal variance.

Jun 24, 2010 11:56 AM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

I'll repeat the comment I've heard a few times over about that data: invest great faith in it at your peril. You've got pitchers saying that they're being evaluated for the effectiveness of pitches they don't even throw, and front-office types with sabermetric backgrounds who will say the data's junk and the algorithms involved merely entertaining, not prescriptive.

This isn't to say we should discard it outright. Speaking for myself, I put this sort of data in the same pile as the variety of defensive metrics: suggestive, but far from conclusive.

Jun 24, 2010 20:09 PM
 
evo34

You might want to look more closely...

In 2007, (the "89" mph season), he pitched 21 innings, so the sample is too small. Also, not surprisingly, his ERA that season was terrible at 5.48.

So his avg. FB velocity in full seasons was:

2006: 91.5
2008: 91.2
2009: 91.5

Hardly a lot of variance. Yes, within that context, 1 mph is "significant," as I stated. Never said the difference was "massive."

Again, read up on the subject at http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/lose-a-tick-gain-a-tick/

Apr 23, 2011 00:20 AM
rating: 0
 
philliesnation

The claim that "a dropoff from a 92 mph fastball to a 91 mph fastball is significant" in regards to this article is completely misguided.

Even if a 1.0mph dropoff is equivalent to 0.28 runs/9, that in no way explains a pitcher such as Nolasco compiling an ERA two points higher than it should be.

Matt Cain's FB velocity dropped a point from 2007 to 2008 and his strikeout rate increased. AJ Burnett's FB velocity decreased a point from 07 to 08 as well, and his K rate remained stable.

While these pitchers are by no means clones of Nolasco, I guarantee that if one were to examine the FB velocity and K-rate, as well as the relation to ERA, of pitchers similar to Nolasco, one would find that a midseason dropoff of 1.0mph is completely insignificant when looking at a pitcher performing well below his projection.

Jun 24, 2010 14:43 PM
rating: 1
 
You must be a Premium subscriber to post a comment.
Not a subscriber? Sign up today!
<< Previous Article
Premium Article Changing Speeds: Soft ... (06/23)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Checking the Numbers: ... (06/22)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Checking the Numbers: ... (06/30)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Future Shock: Org Watc... (06/23)

RECENTLY AT BASEBALL PROSPECTUS
Premium Article The Prospectus Hit List: July 1, 2015
Fantasy Rounders: The Slump Buster
Premium Article What Scouts Are Saying: July 1, 2015
Premium Article Going Yard: Futures Game: USA Bats
Premium Article Minor League Update: Games of Tuesday, June ...
Premium Article What You Need to Know: July 1, 2015
Premium Article Notes from the Field: July 1, 2015

MORE FROM JUNE 23, 2010
Premium Article Prospectus Hit and Run: Consider The K
Premium Article Transaction Action: Shuffling Seniors
Premium Article Under The Knife: Beltran's Clock Ready to Ti...
Premium Article Future Shock: Org Watch: Yankees, Red Sox, B...
Premium Article Changing Speeds: Soft in the Middle
Manufactured Runs: Batted Balls
Premium Article On the Beat: Wednesday Update

MORE BY ERIC SEIDMAN
2010-07-07 - Premium Article Checking the Numbers: Weaver's Soaring Strik...
2010-07-01 - Premium Article Contractual Matters: Optional Waivers
2010-06-30 - Premium Article Checking the Numbers: A No-No
2010-06-23 - Premium Article Checking the Numbers: NolasCOMPS
2010-06-22 - Premium Article Checking the Numbers: No Longer the Maine Ma...
2010-06-18 - Premium Article Seidnotes: Wait, WHO has 18 Home Runs?
2010-06-16 - Checking the Numbers: Where in the World is ...
More...

MORE CHECKING THE NUMBERS
2010-07-16 - Premium Article Checking the Numbers: Where Will Oswalt Go?
2010-07-07 - Premium Article Checking the Numbers: Weaver's Soaring Strik...
2010-06-30 - Premium Article Checking the Numbers: A No-No
2010-06-23 - Premium Article Checking the Numbers: NolasCOMPS
2010-06-22 - Premium Article Checking the Numbers: No Longer the Maine Ma...
2010-06-16 - Checking the Numbers: Where in the World is ...
2010-06-09 - Premium Article Checking the Numbers: The Baby-faced Assassi...
More...

INCOMING ARTICLE LINKS
2010-06-30 - Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: SIERA Darlings