24 June 2016

Why The Orioles Should Trade For Nolasco

The Orioles rotation is not having a very good year. Despite the Orioles having a 41-30 record, the rotation is only 23-23 with a 4.93 ERA (4th worst in the majors). More advanced statistics treat them more favorably, as they have only the 8th lowest FIP and somehow rank 18th in fWAR. While Chris Tillman is having an excellent year, the only other starters with an ERA under 5.00 are Kevin Gausman with a 0-5 record and a 4.37 ERA and Tyler Wilson with a 3-5 record and a 4.57 ERA. An upgrade probably wouldn’t hurt for the rotation.

The challenge is that the Orioles have already spent significant resources building their rotation. They signed two free agent starters, Jimenez and Gallardo, which are earning significant cash. Likewise, Tillman is arbitration-eligible and is also making a decent sum. The Orioles may not be willing to splurge on another starting pitching asset, especially given how poorly Jimenez and Gallardo have performed. In addition, there is little quality projected to be on the market this deadline. Despite the fact that there are nine teams at least eight games below .500, there is minimal quality pitching to be found. The Orioles need to decide whether they want to deplete their few remaining sources on a gamble.

Except, there’s one pitcher, Ricky Nolasco, that will probably be available for cheap. It’s for good reason, this is his first year out of the last three where his ERA has been below 5.00, and he’s flirting with the 5.00 mark this year also. In addition, he’ll cost a pro-rated portion of $12M this year, he’s under contract for $12M in 2017 and he’s got a shot of triggering a vesting option for $13M in 2018. For this post, the data is from ESPN Stats and Information.

On first glance, he looks like a pretty awful rotation piece. However, a closer look suggests he’s a viable option for the rotation. The first hint that he may have some potential is the fact that he has a 4.95 ERA but a 3.69 FIP. The second is that he pitches for a team that plays poor defense. The Twins defense ranks 27th from 2013-2016 and has been worth -114 runs. Is bad defense causing him problems?

This year, a quick glimpse of his stats shows that has BABIP is .336. But, more importantly, his BABIP in 2015 was .392 and in 2014 was .354. It seems fair to propose that his defense is hurting him. In addition, his walk rate went from 8.1% in 2015 to 4.7% in 2016. This improvement has come mostly against left handed batters, as he had an 11.1% walk rate vs them in 2015 and just a 4% rate against them this year. His walk rate against righties is well-within career norms. The table below shows his overall performance.

Batters seem to have hit him hard on pitches put into play, regardless of whether the pitches have been in the strike zone or not. Batters have a .403 wOBA against pitches hit in the strike zone and a .390 wOBA (.400/.394/.500) against pitches hit outside the strike zone this year. Batters usually don’t do well when they swing at pitches out of the strike zone, and it’s not like they’re hammering home runs against him. Out of the 97 qualified pitchers, that’s the 10th worst result, although Nationals’ aces Strasburg and Scherzer are allowing a .404 and .406 wOBA against those types of pitches this year. This problem can probably be attributed to bad luck or bad defense. He ranks 32nd out of 97 against pitches put into play that are in the strike zone. This isn’t good, but does suggest that we can expect a slight bit of improvement from him. The table below shows his performance in these situations.

In addition, he’s having dreadful luck with men on base. When the bases are empty, batters have a .327 wOBA against him with a .296 BABIP, which is a bit lower than his results in previous years. With one runner on base, opposing batters have a .347 wOBA against him with a .397 BABIP. These results are slightly better than they’ve been in past years. With two runners on base, batters have a .410 wOBA against him with a .370 BABIP. In addition, Nolasco only has a 10.3% K% and a 15.4% BB%. This is far worse than his results in other seasons with the exception of 2015. With bases loaded, opposing batters have a .440 wOBA against him (.571/.444/.714) and he has gotten 2 non-sacrifice outs in play, 1 strikeout, 2 sacrifice flies, 3 singles and a double. Simply put, batters are killing him in the clutch. Nolasco historically does struggle more with runners on base than without runners on base, but it seems that he’s gotten some bad breaks to start this season.

As discussed previously, one area where Nolasco has improved is walks against lefties. The reason for this is because he’s throwing fewer balls. 35.2% of his pitches against lefties have been called balls in 2016, compared to 43% in 2015 and roughly 38% from 2012-2014. Meanwhile, his called strike rate is around career norms and his swinging strike, fouled balls and balls put into play right are above his averages. As a result, he has allowed significantly fewer walks. See the chart below.

Part of the reason for this is that he figured out how to throw his splitter again. Last year, he couldn’t throw his splitter for a strike and batters simply didn’t swing at the pitch. Nearly three-fourths of his splitters last year against lefties resulted in a ball and only 12% resulted in either a called or swinging strike. This year, 40% of his splitters result in a called ball while 22% result in a strike. He’s fixed his splitter and that’s helped him be successful. See the chart below.

In addition, he’s gotten lucky with the curve and slider. He’s throwing the same amount in the zone as he has in previous year, but lefty batters are swinging at 56.6% of them as opposed to roughly 40-45% in previous years. Therefore 27.5% of these pitches have been called balls while 31% have been either called or swinging strikes. This either means that his curve/slider have become significantly better at fooling batters or that Nolasco has gotten lucky.

My opinion is that Nolasco probably isn’t as good as his FIP suggests, but I think he’s gotten more bad luck than good luck. Going forward, I’d expect him to have an ERA in the low 4s. I also think that being behind a good defense will help him significantly. He’s under contract for only one more year after this one, so trading for him wouldn’t be a huge risk.

I don’t think it would take so much to acquire him. He does have a limited no-trade clause, but the three teams on it are the Red Sox, Yankees and Blue Jays. The Orioles probably wouldn’t be willing to take on Nolasco’s entire salary, so the first piece in a deal would have to be either Jimenez or Gallardo. The Orioles seem to be more down on Jimenez than Gallardo, so it makes sense to try to build the deal around Jimenez.

The first thing the Orioles would need to include is enough cash to pay the difference between the two players’ salaries. This will only be a few million, but every little bit counts. In addition, the Orioles will likely need to add a few prospects. Nolasco hasn’t had good results for the past few years, so they won’t be expecting much in return. This is the quintessential case of buying low on a player. I think that offering Mancini and Scott would be enough to get a deal done. However, the Twins would likely prefer one of Bundy, Wright or Wilson in a deal as opposed to Mancini being as they already have Mauer and Park. I would think that the Twins would need to add another piece, or take on some more cash to get one of those pitchers.

This trade would be a risk, but perhaps not overly much. If Nolasco doesn’t pan out, well Jimenez is already in the bullpen. Furthermore, Mancini isn’t likely to be able to hit well enough to become a DH while Scott is at best a reliever. These may be some of the Orioles’ best prospects, but they have limited value. And if the Orioles are going to make a deal, something like this is the best they can hope to pull off.


Roger said...

You guys are nuts. Nolasco at 33 is a done deal. It is all downhill from here. He never beat his FIP even when he was young with Florida. This seems to be a big gap in statistical analysis right now - why guys either beat or don't beat their FIPs - and when statistical gurus can't explain it, it becomes the magic God of Luck. You only mention hard contact once. Don't you have statistics on that? Seems pretty dismissive to say "oh, well, he has the same wOBA as Strasburg and Scherzer" when you know that those two have better stuff than Nolasco. Maybe the Twins fielding would be better if Nolasco didn't give up so damn many hard hit balls. Further, Nolasco is just another righty. We have a few of those already. Also, trading Jimenez is not worth much as the Orioles are on the verge of releasing him anyway.

The O's have the right idea to target Pomeranz. He is cheap and just emerging. He could be a long term piece. I would trade Jimenez, Wilson, Wright, and Walker for Pomeranz and pay Jimenez's salary to boot (even in this deal the Padres are likely to just release Jimenez). That's four major league ready players and cash for one decent lefty with some future potential. He's only 27 and a lot cheaper than Chen is/was. With so few good options on the market, he may be the Orioles best shot. This would also open two roster spots - one for Pomeranz and, hopefully, the other one for Drake. It might even be worthy to build a deal around Bundy. Pomeranz has a lower ceiling but probably a higher floor and he's a lefty.

Matt Perez said...

It's not "You guys are nuts." It should be "You're nuts." Just because I make an argument doesn't mean that anyone else on this blog agrees with me.

I did explain why his FIP is better than his ERA. He's getting hammered when there are two runners on base and when the bases are loaded. In addition, batters are crushing pitches out of the strike zone.

Batters aren't hammering pitches out of the strike zone either. They're hitting 59% GB, 22% FB and 19% LDs. Those are roughly the same as Arrieta's numbers. The problem is that they're hitting .326/.395/.721 on ground balls for a .326 BABIP. 12 singles, a double and a triple. They're not hitting the ball hard in those situations. If they did, they wouldn't be hitting so many singles. By the by, are you familiar with wOBA?

The idea of trading Jimenez is to make salaries match up. Teams may not want to just eat $12M. But by trading one contract for another, you can make the money work out. That's why trading Jimenez makes sense for someone like Nolasco or Cashner but less so for Pomeranz. It's about the money.

Pomeranz is interesting but has a limited track record. Even still, I don't think they trade him for Wilson, Wright and Walker. That's quantity but not much quality. I'd want someone better in return for him especially with so little available at the deadline.

Matt Perez said...

Just to clarify, I made a mistake in my previous comment. Batters have a .326 OBP, .395 SLG and .721 OPS against Nolasco on ground balls. Not a .326 BA, .395 OBP and .721 SLG.

My fault.

Roger said...

Matt, I am beginning to believe that getting someone with no track record is better than getting someone with a meh track record. Jimenez, Gallardo, Nolasco..... what does that really buy? Just to note that Gallardo is getting crushed again tonight and his FB is back to 88-89mph. He might be better with 30 days between starts. I understand your argument that Nolasco's peripherals hold out hope for better performance than Jimenez but I think you should not have to throw in any prospects to get him. Give them Jimenez and throw in a few bucks. No way is he worth Mancini and/or Scott. It would be much better to throw everything at the wall for Pomeranz and see what sticks. What you do know with Pomeranz is that he can pitch well in the bigs - you don't have to go through the "breaking in" period. Also, he is a lefty which the O's need. And he is cheap with lots of control left - would put the O's in a better position for next year when all the salary structure goes cuckoo.

How is Nolasco just so much more meat? How many wins does he buy?

And just an idle question. Would you rather have a pitcher who consistently outperforms his peripherals or one that consistently under-performs his peripherals?

Pip said...

Matt, why would the Twins want Jiminez? He's worse than Nolasco and more expensive.
I think getting Nolasco is far more doable than getting Pomeranz or Hellickson or Hill, but the Twins wouldn't be accomplishing anything by taking on Jiminez in a trade. They want prospects. Kurt Suzuki is declining so maybe a catcher, and one semi
Major pitching prospect( don't know who that would be) or Wright and Garcia, two hard-throwing candidates for a change of scenery. And we'd have to take on Nolasco's contract. We just don't have the prospects to make a deal without taking on his contract.
But Jiminez?
Why would they be the least bit interested in unloading one terrible contract just to take on another that is worse?

Roger said...

Pip, first, Nolasco is useless. His entire value is based upon Matt's assumption that the O's defense can bail him out. Elsewise, he's just another Jimenez. If we take Nolasco's contract on without getting rid of Jimenez's then that's just two bums for the price of three. I think there's enough risk with Pomeranz that other clubs will not make their best attempts to get him. He could slip through the cracks. If the O's try to go after him hard and early then we might be able to squeeze a deal out. Both Hellickson and Hill are RH so there's less incentive to get them. Hellickson hasn't been any good for three years and is older than Pomeranz. Hill is on the DL so there's no telling. The other LHP the O's are linked to is Liriano which is just another disaster waiting to happen. I don't think I could stand to watch another pitcher throw as many walks as Jimenez. Pomeranz is the one with the good risk/reward analysis. Even if we give up a top prospect for Pomeranz there is enough potential and control there that it might just be worth it. How about a Pomeranz for Bundy trade? Both have team control; both have risky injury histories. Bundy may have more upside (he could be competing with Arrieta in a couple of years) but Pomeranz has more value now.

Roger said...

Sorry, I guess Hill is LH but he's still on the DL and old. Current value but no future value.

Roger said...

How about Brad Hand? He's another that the Padres picked up off the waiver wire with a lot of potential. He's been successfully relieving this year. He's young (26). And he has a history of starting. The O's could use him as a LOOGY this year and make him a starter next year. He might not cost as much as Pomeranz.

Pip said...

Roger, Nolasco's FIP is low. His BB rate is about 20% of Jiminez's.
Nolasco is not the Risen Savior(and we couldn't afford one even if one were available) but he is absolutely better than Jiminez, which is obvious just by looking at FIP, and BB and K rates.
He's not a ground ball pitcher, and would probably be a bit homer-prone, but he'd be a big improvement on Jiminez or Wright. Dan has emptied the farm system, so there's nothing to offer for anyone else.
Interestingly, in an interview published yesterday, Dan admitted he doesn't care about the future, he only cares about right now, which explains his treatment of draft picks, slot money and prospects-for-rental trades.
IMO, that's an appalling attitude and it's even worse that he admits it so casually.
Things are going to be far worse in 2018, but they are undeniably bad now, and someone like Nolasco is probably as good as we can get.

Roger said...

Pip, the argument that Nolasco's FIP is good is not enough. I do not believe in luck. To the extent that it's sustainable, there is something real behind it. If he was underperfoming his FIP just with the Twins then I would be more likely to believe Matt's argument that defense might make a difference. But Nolasco has underperformed his FIP throughout his entire career with multiple teams. There could be a hundred different little things - not holding runners, pitching inside when he's supposed to pitch outside, pitching fastballs to fastball hitters, whatever. There is NO REASON to expect him to suddenly perform to his FIP regardless of what statistics you use. His actual results over the last three years have been every bit as bad as Jimenez. I believe there is enough in the O's farm system to make a deal for Pomeranz. The O's must try and settling for Nolasco does not put us any closer to a WS. Ariel Miranda might be better than that.

Pip said...

Oh I agree we'd prefer Pomeranz, but I don't think we can afford him.
Regarding Nolasco, FIP is unaffected by defense. I find it extremely curious that his FIP is always better than his ERA, and I don't know what quality of defense he had behind him before he went to the Twins, but it is certain that the Oriole defense is superior to that of the Twins.
Regardless, I politely stand by my assertion that Nolasco is better than either Jiminez or Wright and would improve the Orioles, albeit expensively.

Matt Perez said...

#1: The Twins wouldn't want Jimenez. However, neither the Orioles or Twins will be willing to eat Nolasco's entire salary. Therefore, the Orioles include Jimenez in the deal to balance the salaries so that neither team ends up eating a lot of cash. The Os will likely include cash to further balance salaries.

#2: The Twins will likely want something to give up on Nolasco. Mancini and Scott may be some of the Orioles top prospects, but neither are very good.

#3: Pomeranz has shown he can throw well in San Diego and Oakland. How does that transfer to the rest of the league? In addition, he's shown only half a season of success. Is that luck or skill? Finally, you're buying high on Pomeranz. He'd cost more than Nolasco.

#4: "Would I rather have a pitcher who consistently outperforms his peripherals or one that consistently under-performs his peripherals?"

I'd be cautious of both. I'd also say that it would depend on cost. I'd be looking for the one that I can get at a 20% discount.

#5: My philosophy is that there are three types of pitchers. Ones that are good, ones that are lucky and ones that no longer belong in the majors. Of course, luck can be either good or bad. But a guy like Matusz will get crushed in the majors pretty much regardless of luck. It's my opinion that Nolasco is in the lucky category and that he's been decisively unlucky this year. Could be that he's on pace for some good luck.

Pip said...

Thank you for your reply. I still daily to understand why the Twins would take in Jiminez under any circumstance. If the Orioles tried to force him into the Twins, they'd just shrug their shoulders and listen to what the Rangers have to offer.
Jiminez is untradeable, with the bad performance and bad contract.
Nolasco is better than Ubaldo or Wright, even if he's not excellent in isolation. And he's better than Cashner or Weaver or many another washed-up flinger.
But he's more easily attainable than Hellickson, Pomeranz, or one of the Rays pitchers, and a worthwhile package might get him.

Matt Perez said...

At this point, no one is going to take Nolasco unless the Twins cover most of his salary. How they eat that salary is up to them. They can take another player with a similar salary or they can pay a lot of the contract.

Jimenez is tradeable. If the Os offer him straight up for Fielder with no money changing hands, the Rangers will jump on the deal.

Roger said...

Why not just pick up Mat Latos off of waivers and release Jimenez? Or at least get him on a minor league contract. That problem may be easier to solve than Jimenez especially at a younger age. I still think if the O's try to get Pomeranz and settle for Brad Hand then we'd be ahead of the curve.

Matt Perez said...

There's no reason to release Jimenez in order to sign Latos. Latos is only getting a minor league contract. But he has a bad rep as a troublemaker and he isn't pitching well. His offspeed stuff simply isn't good enough anymore. Seems unlikely someone will give him a chance and try to remake his mechanics.

Robert said...

What about Bundy to the Rotation once O'day gets healthy? Given the crap heap/ money we are talking about this could be a viable alternative.

Matt Perez said...

If the Os think that Bundy is stretched out enough, then that could happen. But the plan is to bring him along slowly to try and avoid further injuries. I wouldn't be surprised to see him start in September with expanded rosters so that he can get extra rest. Instead of starting on four days rest, he might start on six.

Anonymous said...

be nice if there was a way to get Pomeranz without having to give up Wilson. even if he is a little light in prior stats he's one of the best starters out there this year and i'm sure he'd enjoy playing on a team with a winning record. the padres are doing so poorly they'd set him out for the wolves if they got something good in return.

i dont see why anyone would want Jiminez or the price tag on him. he seems untradeable.

Matt Perez said...

Pomeranz is under control for another two years. The Padres don't have to trade him and if they do will want something good in return. On the other hand, he's getting an awful lot of foul balls. Maybe that's a skill, but if not his strike out and walk rates are going to go down.

You'd be buying high on him. Maybe the Padres would listen to something like Sisco, Wright and Wilson. I think they'd try to get more.

steve j said...

15+ teams are looking to improve the SP. There is 0 chance that the Dumpster Diver wins a Pomeranz auction. Matt did a good thing - found a pitcher no one else would bid on.

Roger said...

Brad Hand was throwing 96 today at the O's.......

Anonymous said...

O's Should go after Matt Moore