I’ve been trying to avoid the whole “the Dodgers are after Ricky Nolasco” story, but it’s popped up in enough places from enough different people that I suppose we need to talk about it, especially when things like this are coming out:
— MLB Network Radio (@MLBNetworkRadio) June 27, 2013
We’ve been getting a lot of that over the last few days, though it’s often not backed up by anything other than “sources”. (I particularly liked the Mark Saxon piece from yesterday that basically contradicted itself in paragraph three by saying “There have been interesting discussions. Hard to know if anything’s close right now,” the source said.” Oh. Well then.)
So while I don’t think anything is imminent, I do think there’s enough smoke to take this seriously. Nolasco, 31 in December, was for years the poster child for “under-performing your FIP”. What I mean by that is that he’d regularly do things like he did in 2009, when he’d have a nice 9.49/2.14 K/BB over 185 innings, giving him a 3.35 FIP… and a 5.06 ERA. He underperformed every single year from 2009-12 by at least half a run, and no one ever really got to the bottom of why. Yes, he was homer-prone, yes, his BABIP was a bit high, but it’s not like he suddenly fell apart with runners in scoring position. Over a long enough period of time to eliminate small sample size concerns, Nolasco was consistently never as good as the peripherals said he should be.
Worse, the peripherals stopped saying he was any good. Sure, he struck out 9.49 per nine in 2009. But then it was 8.39, then 6.47, and then all the way to 5.89 last year. He limited the damage by being very stingy with the walks, and even in his lousy season last year he was still worth 2.5 WAR, but the trend was worrisome.
But this year seems different. He’s kicked that strikeout rate up to 6.91 per nine, still not great but at least more than one full whiff per nine better than last year. He’s for once putting up an ERA (3.68) that’s close to his FIP (3.55), and while I’d love to go into all the reasons why he’s different now, I don’t need to. Jeff Sullivan did a wonderful job of it at FanGraphs just yesterday, going deeply into release points and rubber positioning — Nolasco appears to now be hard onto the first-base side of the rubber, changing the viewpoint — and ended up with a surprisingly positive perception:
This all got very complicated, on the way to supporting that Ricky Nolasco is a fine starting pitcher who could continue to be a fine starting pitcher on a different team for a few months. He’s rebounded, possibly thanks to a mechanical adjustment, and even if he doesn’t prevent runs quite as well as his peripherals might suggest, he’s a mid-rotation starter and those guys are valuable, even if they’re unsexy. Nolasco’s unlikely to cost much in terms of prospects, and he’s a rental, reducing the risk. He’s healthy, which is never sustainable for pitchers, but which bodes well for the short-term.
Last year, with Ricky Nolasco, it was buyer beware. Now, he’s a guy worth getting, because he’s a better starter than at least one guy in virtually every big-league rotation. Every little gain helps. There are some mighty tight divisions.
So while he’s not a sexy pickup like Cliff Lee or Matt Garza, it does appear that our general perception of Nolasco underrates what he can be. Remember, this is a Dodger rotation that has Stephen Fife and Chris Capuano in it, and while you love those guys as depth, when your depth is being used, well, it’s only been like ten minutes since we were wondering if Capuano on short rest was better than Matt Palmer, wasn’t it?
Many will then say “yes but Zach Lee,” and I get that. Lee’s made strides this year as one of the younger players in the Southern League, and I’m higher on him now than I was a year ago. He’s also 21 and hardly doing Yasiel Puig things down there, by which I mean, he’s having a good season but not exactly making the team look foolish for having him still in Chattanooga. We’ve seen more highly touted prospects come up this year and struggle — looking at you, Kevin Gausman, and you, Gerrit Cole‘s strikeout rate — so while I think Lee could hold his own, I don’t really see it as any slap in the face to acquire someone instead.
So if you’re asking me if Nolasco would come and be one of the five best starters the Dodgers have, yes, so that alone makes him a reasonable target. The issue, as always, is cost. Nolasco’s a free agent at the end of the year and has something like $6 million still coming to him. The money won’t bother the Dodgers (Buster Olney reported that the Marlins claim they have suitors willing to eat all of it), but as always, the prospect cost is uncertain and troubling.
Miami is actually pretty deep in young outfielders, from Giancarlo Stanton & Marcell Ozuna to Jake Marisnick & Christian Yelich, so this might be one situation where Joc Pederson doesn’t fit. I cannot imagine that Corey Seager is even being discussed for a guy like Nolasco — via TrueBlueLA, FishStripes blogger Michael Jong said that he thinks it’s a win if they even get a Top-20 organizational prospect — so if it’s for a lesser prospect, I can’t complain.
If it’s Garrett Gould, fine. Chris Withrow, fine. Even Jesmuel Valentin, fine, or James Baldwin or Blake Smith. Not Ross Stripling or Onelki Garcia or Zachary Bird, I hope, but the problem is that the starting pitching market is incredibly thin this summer, and every other team in the NL West except maybe Arizona can be expected to be looking around as well.
All in all, after looking into Nolasco I dislike the idea a whole lot less than I thought I would. Let’s just not overpay for three months of a #4 starter, please, okay?