Thursday, June 27, 2013

Ricky Nolasco and Pitching With Runners on Base

One of the more obvious trade candidates for the 2013 trade deadline is Ricky Nolasco of the Miami Marlins, a free agent at year's end. Nolasco has performed well this year, and has been an above average starter for his career according to defensive independent metrics, with a 3.77 career kwERA. 

Much has been written (but usually from a statistical perspective and not a Pitch F/X perspective) on Nolasco's inability to live up to his DIPS, particularly because of poor numbers while pitching with runners on base, for his career. However, this year, his ERA is actually better than his FIP. I wanted to take a pitch F/X look, using location, velocity, and pitch selection, at how he is pitching with runners on base compared to when there is not.

Since we are only really concerned about what he is now, we will only look at this season. I broke down all the pitches he threw with a runner on base (if I am using Baseball Savant right) and compared it to his pitches for the year on a whole. I am calling the FT designation a sinker, for no good reason (there were also a handful of cutters, I combined them with the fastball because there simply weren't very many of them).

So here are his average locations, broken down by MLBAM type with the average velocities in parenthesis (with the average release point and the average of all pitches for perspective) as a whole for 2013 regardless of situation (you can get a better look at the pictures by clicking on them):

Here is Nolasco with runners on base:

As far as velocity goes, both his fastballs are actually slightly harder with runners on base, no real difference, which isn't a surprise. With location, there is a difference, as nearly every pitch (the changeup is the exception) is more arm side when runners are not on base. This would suggest, though there isn't a real difference in release point, that he may have some problems finishing his pitches when out of the stretch. This doesn't seem to be entirely unusual as the Marlins on a whole for 2013 (just looking at 4-seam fastballs) keep the ball slightly more arm side with runners on base. It isn't quite as dramatic as Nolasco's (The Marlins average about .05 more arm side with runners on base, while Nolasco's is .11 on all pitches and .22 on fastballs), but it doesn't seem to be an unusual trend. The important thing I think is that the height's are virtually the same (he is actually throwing the splitter lower with runners on base), which I think rules out anything really wrong with his delivery out of the stretch, though cutting down on his effectiveness to throw to both sides of the plate could be harmful.

As far as pitch selection goes, the only real difference is that he throws more sinkers (or moving fastballs, FT) with runners on base, throwing less 4-seamers. This makes some sense as he may be trying to induce double plays, and he has become more of a groundball pitcher in recent years. It is hard to see which pitch is better than the other, as statistically, neither his fastball or sinker have been plus, and they have flip flopped in effectiveness. The increased sinker usage is obviously going to give him less whiffs, but more groundballs. He is a high fastball pitcher, actually pretty extreme at throwing his fastball high, and his sinker actually is more in the middle of the plate, so I do like the 4-seamer more and think, that even with his lack of velocity, he should be more willing to give up flyballs, ideally getting more strikeouts. The latest round of rumors have him pitching for the Giants or Dodgers, two parks that are friendly for fly-balls, so throwing more 4-seamers would at least seem to be a good strategy.

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