Where would Twins ace Ricky Nolasco be in other AL Central rotations?
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MINNEAPOLIS - The Twins made it official Tuesday. Ricky Nolasco will jump from the L.A. Dodgers to the top of the Twins rotation.
Is it a good move for the starting staff? It's certainly a sizable upgrade.
What does it mean for the Twins in the context of the American League Central? And how good of a pitcher can Twins fans expect?
First, a look at what they're getting:
Nolasco throws a two- and four-seam fastball, slider, curve and splitter. The split is to help keep left-handers off balance, he said, because the changeup he threw early in his career was ineffective.
Between the Marlins and Dodgers in 2013, Nolasco fell just two outs shy of 200 innings. He struck out 165 batters. Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey tied for the Twins team lead in strikeouts with 101. The next three pitchers on that list are relievers: Glen Perkins (77), Casey Fien (73) and Anthony Swarzak (69).
Pelfrey's rate of strikeouts per nine innings led regular starters at 5.95. So Nolasco's 2013 rate of 7.45 strikeouts per nine innings is an instant upgrade. (While it was a nice season for Nolasco, his career K/9 of 7.38 suggests he can do it again.) His 2013 walk rate, 2.08 walks per nine innings, is in line with his career 2.10 BB/9 rate.
Put those numbers together and Nolasco struck out more than 3 1/2 times more batters than he walked in 2013. The best mark on the Twins among pitchers with 50 or more innings in 2013 was Correia, who struck out almost 2 1/4 batters for each walk he issued.
Nolasco's WHIP (1.21) is good, not great. For the stat-heady, his fielding-independent pitching is 3.34, which projects favorably going forward for the 30-year-old. He stranded 70.9 percent of base runners in 2013 and his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of .299 shouldn't be expected to regress too much one way or the other. His line drive rate of 24.3 percent is high, but his career rate is 21.6, so that may come down again in 2014 and beyond. Then again, his pitches may not be as effective and hitters made more solid contact in 2013.
Another metric that tends to stabilize over time, home run to fly ball ratio, was below his career norm in 2013. For his career, 10.3 percent of his fly balls left the yard, whereas only 8.7 percent of fly balls turned into homers in 2013. That suggests he may give up more long balls this season, but probably not enough to where his overall numbers take a nosedive. Furthermore, he gets to pitch roughly half his games in the cavernous confines of Target Field, so it's possible his home run numbers will improve.
All that is to say, when it comes to striking out batters and not offering free passes, Nolasco is a bona fide upgrade to the starting staff. He also bumps each pitcher on the roster one spot down the chain. Essentially, the Twins are replacing a wretched fifth spot in the rotation with a quality pitcher.
But does that mean the Twins staff is saved? In a word: no.
Let's take a look at the other rotations in the division, as they're currently projected.
- Max Scherzer
- Justin Verlander
- Anibal Sanchez
- Rick Porcello
- Drew Smyly
The Detroit Tigers are the class of baseball in terms of elite rotation depth. Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, and Rick Porcello all are better pitchers than Nolasco. Had Detroit not traded Doug Fister to the Nationals, Nolasco might have struggled to crack the Tigers' starting staff.
Chicago White Sox
- Chris Sale
- Jose Quintana
- John Danks
- Hector Santiago
- Erik Johnson
Sale is one of the best pitchers in baseball and Quintana is comfortably better than Nolasco. The Twins' prized free agent would likely slot in third in the White Sox rotation, ahead of John Danks.
Kansas City Royals
- James Shields
- Jeremy Guthrie
- Jason Vargas
- Danny Duffy
- Wade Davis
This list is about accomplishments to date, so I have Nolasco as the second-best starter among these five. I'd take Shields over Nolasco without hesitation, but Nolasco would be a nice No. 2 on this staff.
- Justin Masterson
- Corey Kluber
- Danny Salazar
- Zach McAllister
- Josh Tomlin
The Indians rotation is the most difficult to assess where Nolasco would pitch. He had better stats at the end of the 2013 season than every pitcher but Masterson, so you could make the case to slate Nolasco second in Cleveland. If this list was about performance from 2014-17 - and possibly 2018 - I'd prefer Kluber and especially Salazar over Nolasco. Neither pitcher pitched a full season in 2013. For argument's sake, let's split the difference and say Nolasco would be a No. 3 starter with the Indians.
As the AL Central rotations stand now, current Twins ace Ricky Nolasco would be a No. 5 starter in Detroit, a No. 3 for the White Sox, Kansas City's No. 2 and a No. 3 if he pitched for the Indians. As I've said before, it's silly to ascribe these "numbers" to a pitcher to articulate his value, but it gives a sense of where the Twins rotation stands. Even after the richest free agent contract in team history.