Charlie Saponara had a great post yesterday on his Fantasy Baseball 365 site about his love/hate relationship with Ricky Nolasco of the Miami Marlins. The read itself spurred some curiosity from this Fan about Nolasco, who has always seemed like a bit of an underachiever. It was great to have a little chat about Nolasco on Twitter with Saponara after reading his post. The post, the chat and looking at Nolasco's numbers reminded the Fan about another seeming underachiever, Matt Garza. So his numbers were checked as well. Amazingly, the two pitchers, both of whom threw for Florida-based clubs, have very similar comps.
Before getting into the similarities, we should get their differences out of the way. Garza is a full year younger than Nolasco. Garza has a bigger fastball that's three MPH faster than Nolasco. Garza was the more touted prospect and was a former first round draft pick. Nolasco was drafted in the fourth round. Garza was drafted out of college and Nolasco right after high school. Nolasco toiled in the minors for several years before getting the call to the majors. Garza was pitching in the bigs the year after his draft. Garza is slightly taller and thinner. Those are the differences.
There are far more similarities. Both are California dudes. Garza was born in Selma, a western-California city in central California. Nolasco is from Corona, with is also a western-California community, though much further south. Nolasco has thrown 922.1 innings in the big leagues. Garza has pitched 923.1. Nolasco has struck out 7.67 batters per nine innings, Garza, 7.50. Garza's career FIP is 3.98. Nolasco's career FIP is 3.83. Nolasco has six complete games in his career and two shutouts. Garza has eight complete games and three shutouts. Nolasco has thrown a two-hitter. Garza has thrown a no-hitter. Nolasco's career WHIP is 1.289. Garza's career WHIP is 1.303.
Both pitchers have made an attempt to change their pitching style in the last year, which is serendipitous as well. In 2010, Ricky Nolasco threw a two-seam fastball only 5.6 percent of the time. Garza in 2010 threw his 10.5 percent of the time. But in 2011, Nolasco increased his use of that pitch to 14.9 percent while Garza increased his two-seam usage to 15.5 percent. As a result, both pitchers saw a jump in their ground ball rates. Thus, Nolasco's 45.1 percent ground ball rate in 2011 was the highest of his career. Garza's 46.3 percent ground ball rate was also the highest of his career. Both pitchers saw spikes in their line drive rate in 2011. Nolasco's was the highest of his career. Garza's was his highest since his rookie season.
Matt Garza has a clear edge on Nolasco in WPA with a career number of 2.42 compared to Nolasco's -0.67. But that is understandable considering that Garza pitched on a highly successful Tampa Bay Rays team in 2009 and 2010 while Nolasco's Marlins have muddled around a bit. Their "clutch" numbers are remarkably similar with Garza rated at -0.64 in his career compared to Nolasco's -0.69.
Baseball-reference.com and Fangraphs have widely divergent views of Nolasco's career value but agree pretty much on Matt Garza. Garza has compiled 12.7 rWAR compared to 14.6 fWAR. Nolasco, however, is only given 4.7 rWAR by B-R while Fangraphs is much more bullish at 15.4. Baseball Prospectus has Nolasco at 10.6 WARP and Garza at 10.1 WARP for their careers. Two of the three sites, then, rank the two pitchers remarkably similar in value.
What's the point of all this? Well, you could just take it at face value as a piece that simply compares two pitchers and their careers. Of course, you have to take into account park effects, defenses behind them (Nolasco has had awful defenses behind him), and competition. But on another level, you can see two pitchers that haven't been quite as good as they seem capable of being. For whatever reason, their careers have sputtered around. Garza's past season for the Cubs gives hope that he is starting to put it together as he posted the top ERA and FIPs of his career. Nolasco? Not so much. In many ways, the two pitchers have been the same pitcher for their big league careers. Garza now has shown a greater upside going forward.