When you look at Ricky Nolasco's statistics, you have to wonder why his ERA remains so consistently high. The pitcher has a fantastic strikeout to walk ratio of the last three years (4.43, 4.43, 4.45) and that should lead to dominating pitching. And yet in those three seasons, his ERA tallies have come in at 3.52, 5.06 and 4.51. That is the puzzle that needs to be figured out after Nolasco was signed to a three year contract extension that will keep him in a Marlins uniform for quite some time.
Nolasco is 28 years old and should be coming into his best years. He missed five or six starts in 2010, but otherwise has been quite durable. He pounds the strike zone and is excellent at limiting walks. When most pitchers average around three walks per nine innings, Nolasco has put up figures of 1.8, 2.1 and 1.9 the last three years. And he strikes out eight to nine batters per nine innings. Those are all great numbers. But he has to figure out how to pound the strike zone and not allow so many hits and homers. We'll see if the hits are aided a bit by poor defense, but you can't defense a homer.
Nolasco's homer per nine rate sits at 1.2 for his career. Last year it jumped to 1.4. A full 12% of his fly balls land over the fence. Since he pitches in a home park that isn't conducive to homers, that number stands out even more. And it appears that his fastball is a culprit. Fangraphs has consistently rated his fastball in the negative value territory. He either needs to locate it better or find a way to get more movement on the pitch. His slider is rated highly.
Ricky Nolasco has a high hit rate per nine innings which also doesn't make sense for someone with his K/BB rates. He sits at 9.2 for his career and was at 9.6 last year. Part of that comes from his team's defense. Let's just say that it hasn't been stellar. The Marlins ranked 13th out of 16 teams in defensive efficiency in 2010 and next to last in fielding percentage. That certainly helps balls land safely when other teams would turn them into outs. His xFIP, which takes fielding and other factors out of his ERA was almost a full run less than his ERA last year and that figure has been lower than his actual ERA for several years.
Hanley Ramirez needs to have a better year in the field and Infante should be a clear fielding upgrade over Dan Uggla. That will help. But the questions of moving Coghlan to center along with other inexperienced outfielders on the corners may offset some of that improvement. Nolasco is more of a ground ball pitcher though and his infield defense will be key.
The Fan likes that the Marlins have tied up Nolasco. He really should be an elite pitcher with his stuff and durability. He still went 14-9 in 2010, but he really could put up superior numbers with better defense and if he can find a way to keep more of his fly balls landing inside the fences instead of over them.