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  • Ricky Nolasco and the Declining Strikeout Rate

    The Minnesota Twins’ starting pitching shortage of strikeouts has continued into 2014.

    That’s not anything new but it makes you wonder if the fumes from the garbage burner are causing pitchers to simply lob the ball into the strike zone. As of Tuesday, the Twins were owners of the bottom three strikeout rates in the American League.


    While Kevin Correia and Kyle Gibson are thought of as contact-oriented pitchers, it is Ricky Nolasco’s inclusion on the list which is a bit surprising. After all, Nolasco held a 19% strikeout rate over his career. Though a drop in the strikeout rate is expected during the switch in leagues and pitchers have to face a designated hitter instead of a car antenna-swinging pitcher, the drop from 20% in 2013 to 11% so far in 2014 has been curious.

    Nolasco has been able to get to a two-strike count regularly, however, he has failed to put hitters away at an expected pace. According to ESPN/TruMedia, Nolasco leads all qualified starters with a .295 batting average in two-strike situations (he also owns a .333 average in 0-2 counts this year!!!)(!!!!!!).



    What is happening?

    The most notable difference between last year and this year is his reliance on the fastball instead of either of his breaking balls. After throwing 35%/65% fastball/secondary split in two-strike counts in 2013, he’s throwing at a 44%/56% split this year – and his fastball has been hammered. When he throws the fastball in two-strike situations, opponents are hitting .429 (9-for-21 with 3 doubles).

    Another interesting aspect to this strikeout drop-off is his curveball usage. More than the usage, it is the effectiveness which is more cause for concern. Last year he posted a 25% swing-and-miss rate, that’s down to 7% this year.

    Who knows where this change is coming from – coaching staff, catcher or Nolasco himself. As he mentioned in spring training, Nolasco knows he has the final say to what is thrown in what situation. As of now, he has not been effective in what should be put-away situations.

    At the very least, it probably is time to reconsider what he is tossing in two-strike counts.

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    Comments 27 Comments
    1. DJL44's Avatar
      DJL44 -
      Nolasco can't hit his spots. It makes sense that he falls back to fastball when he can't control his breaking pitches.
    1. Dantes929's Avatar
      Dantes929 -
      Quote Originally Posted by DJL44 View Post
      Nolasco can't hit his spots. It makes sense that he falls back to fastball when he can't control his breaking pitches.
      Its true and it is a good analysis. Personally I don't care if Gibson strikes out another guy all year if he keeps his ERA at 3.5. I don't care if Nolasco strikes out 20 guys per 9 innings if his ERA stays at 5.82.
    1. darin617's Avatar
      darin617 -
      Maybe he is just doing what the Twins want him to do. Stop trying to strike hitters out and pitch to contact and let the great defense take care of the outs...
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      What is the typical decline in Ks in moving from the NL to the AL?
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      If Nolasco and Gibson continue to hit bats instead of occasionally missing them, whatever feel-good sentiment I once had for Rick Anderson will be completely gone.

      Or maybe it's already gone. I can't find anything good to say about him anymore.
    1. deanlambrecht's Avatar
      deanlambrecht -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      If Nolasco and Gibson continue to hit bats instead of occasionally missing them, whatever feel-good sentiment I once had for Rick Anderson will be completely gone.

      Or maybe it's already gone. I can't find anything good to say about him anymore.
      This. Exactly.
    1. jmlease1's Avatar
      jmlease1 -
      I'm not going to worry about Gibson's K rate as much if he can the ground ball rate high and the walks don't get out of control. So far the walks are a bit higher than I'd like, but he's keeping the ball in the park and keeping the balls on the ground, so I'm not terribly worried about him. The ERA+ is good, the FIP is good, Kyle Gibson is looking like what we hoped he might be.

      Nolasco needs to get more K's to be successful, however. Maybe his over-reliance on the fastball is a result of the cold weather and he'll be able to get a better feel for his breaking stuff with the weather warming up? He's got too much of a track record of success to be overly concerned, I think. If he's still 3 K's/9 below his career average at the end of May, then we need to start worrying...and Rick Anderson had better start updating his resume.

      Correia is who he is at this point; I'd say he's been a little unlucky so far this season: the ERA over 6 vs the FIP under 4 tends to reflect that. He's not going to get a ton of K's, but he should be a useful 5th starter this season and the team can cheerfully let him go at the end of the season having Meyer or May more than ready to take the job.
    1. Joe A. Preusser's Avatar
      Joe A. Preusser -
      Quote Originally Posted by DJL44 View Post
      Nolasco can't hit his spots. It makes sense that he falls back to fastball when he can't control his breaking pitches.
      This.
    1. Joe A. Preusser's Avatar
      Joe A. Preusser -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      If Nolasco and Gibson continue to hit bats instead of occasionally missing them, whatever feel-good sentiment I once had for Rick Anderson will be completely gone.

      Or maybe it's already gone. I can't find anything good to say about him anymore.
      Not this.
    1. stringer bell's Avatar
      stringer bell -
      Huh? I remember at least one start, and I think a couple of others, where Nolasco couldn't get his fastball over. He had better luck with breaking balls. For Nolasco to be effective, he needs at least two pitches to be working at some level.
    1. gil4's Avatar
      gil4 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Dantes929 View Post
      Its true and it is a good analysis. Personally I don't care if Gibson strikes out another guy all year if he keeps his ERA at 3.5. I don't care if Nolasco strikes out 20 guys per 9 innings if his ERA stays at 5.82.
      If he doesn't he won't and if he does it won't.
    1. Paul Pleiss's Avatar
      Paul Pleiss -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      What is the typical decline in Ks in moving from the NL to the AL?

      Looking at the K/9 rates for the AL/NL over the last seven years, it comes about to about .3 less strikeouts per game in the AL over the NL, but that's over all numbers, not looking at guys who have pitched NL vs Al or vice versa.

      Nolasco has never been a strikeout pitcher. I don't except him to put up 10K outings now. I don't expect that number to remain sub 5 K/9, but I don't expect him to push that back up towards his career high, 9.5 (2009). I'm more interested to see if Ricky can get anywhere near 200 innings this season. If he pitches 200 (unlikely) and strikes out 150 that puts him at 6.75 K/9, and that's a rate I'd be very happy to see from ANY Twins pitcher.
    1. Paul Pleiss's Avatar
      Paul Pleiss -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      I can't find anything good to say about him [Rick Anderson] anymore.
      I never could. I can't understand why Gardy loves him so much. I can't understand why the front office lets Gardy keep him for so long, and I can't understand why the Pohlads are happy with the front office keeping gardy keeping Rick Anderson.
    1. Linus's Avatar
      Linus -
      I can't wait until we get onto the next fad. Strikeouts are not the be all / end all. I think we all get that they are handy to get out of jams but many guys have been successful in this league with variety and excellent control. My bigger concern with both pitchers isn't the lack of strikeouts but with the lack of control. Gibson is close, however. He has thrown a bunch of pitches that have not missed by much.
    1. gil4's Avatar
      gil4 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Linus View Post
      I can't wait until we get onto the next fad. Strikeouts are not the be all / end all. I think we all get that they are handy to get out of jams but many guys have been successful in this league with variety and excellent control. My bigger concern with both pitchers isn't the lack of strikeouts but with the lack of control. Gibson is close, however. He has thrown a bunch of pitches that have not missed by much.
      Very few pitcher with low strikeout rates have long-term success. They are not quire the be all/end all, but they are close. K/BB and K% are the best predictors of future success.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by Paul Pleiss View Post
      I never could. I can't understand why Gardy loves him so much. I can't understand why the front office lets Gardy keep him for so long, and I can't understand why the Pohlads are happy with the front office keeping gardy keeping Rick Anderson.
      Well, for a long time Anderson was using a different form of MoneyBall, an efficient way to get production from not-very-talented or flawed players: avoid the walk at all costs.

      The problem is that he's no longer convincing his pitchers to avoid walks and they're still not striking people out.

      Back in the day, Anderson got solid seasons from some pretty terrible pitchers. In the past four years, nearly every pitcher on the staff has underperformed. Outside of Deduno, there isn't a single success story in the rotation.

      That makes it really hard to defend him, even for those of us who, while not Anderson "fans", didn't think he was awful.
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      Quote Originally Posted by Paul Pleiss View Post
      I never could. I can't understand why Gardy loves him so much. I can't understand why the front office lets Gardy keep him for so long, and I can't understand why the Pohlads are happy with the front office keeping gardy keeping Rick Anderson.
      Well he's been with the organization for decades and seems to be among Gardy's closest friends. It's much easier for us to look at the rational side of these issues, but I think it's actually pretty easy to understand why Gardy and company don't want to part with him.

      I don't agree with them, but I can empathize with them.
    1. tobi0040's Avatar
      tobi0040 -
      Quote Originally Posted by jmlease1 View Post
      I'm not going to worry about Gibson's K rate as much if he can the ground ball rate high and the walks don't get out of control. So far the walks are a bit higher than I'd like, but he's keeping the ball in the park and keeping the balls on the ground, so I'm not terribly worried about him. The ERA+ is good, the FIP is good, Kyle Gibson is looking like what we hoped he might be.

      Nolasco needs to get more K's to be successful, however. Maybe his over-reliance on the fastball is a result of the cold weather and he'll be able to get a better feel for his breaking stuff with the weather warming up? He's got too much of a track record of success to be overly concerned, I think. If he's still 3 K's/9 below his career average at the end of May, then we need to start worrying...and Rick Anderson had better start updating his resume.

      Correia is who he is at this point; I'd say he's been a little unlucky so far this season: the ERA over 6 vs the FIP under 4 tends to reflect that. He's not going to get a ton of K's, but he should be a useful 5th starter this season and the team can cheerfully let him go at the end of the season having Meyer or May more than ready to take the job.
      I think Gibson's ERA is a mirage at this point. His ground ball rate is 48.8%, below even last years 50.3%. If he is going to succeed in this league that number needs to be much higher. He is striking out 4 per 9 and walking 4 per 9. Neither of those are good. Given that 52% of the balls hit have been fly balls, his zero HR allowed seems a bit lucky, as does his low .273 BABIP.

      I am high on him in the long term, but he has not pitched anywhere near that ERA to this point. Closer to his xFIP of 5.06.

      http://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx...123&position=P

      Nolasco seems to be the victim of bad luck. His ground ball rate of 48% this year is quite a bit higher than his career 42%, yet his BABIP of .342 is quite a bit higher than his career .308 (odd). His xFIP of 4.60 is much closer to his career ERA than his current 5.82.
    1. tobi0040's Avatar
      tobi0040 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Paul Pleiss View Post
      I never could. I can't understand why Gardy loves him so much. I can't understand why the front office lets Gardy keep him for so long, and I can't understand why the Pohlads are happy with the front office keeping gardy keeping Rick Anderson.
      I think Rick's standing in the league has been benefitted from the Twins drafting and developing philosophy. For years I believe the niche we found was drafting pitchers with good control, because they were "undervalued" and would never command huge dollars, i.e. we could afford them. So Rick had staffs year in and year out that put up pretty decent numbers without many huge names.

      Ultimately, as many or more players have left and been more successful than have found more success here. Which is a way to evaluate a pitching coach in my opinion. I also think Anderson gets the credit for Johan, when it was Cueller who taught him the change up.
    1. Siehbiscuit's Avatar
      Siehbiscuit -
      Don't forget about the Suzuki Effect! There was a pre-season article here on TD about his propensity to call more fastballs than other catchers. He may be over-emphasizing the fastball for Nolasco, but it could be the reason Gibson and Hughes are having success. Just a thought.
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