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Scouting Pitchers: Ricky Nolasco

James Benkard

James Benkard writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

(Statistics as of 9/7/08)

Let's look at one of the NL's biggest surprises. If you said this spring that come September Ricky Nolasco would have the fourth-best ERA (3.56) of NL East starters, you would have raised some eyebrows. Nolasco leads the Marlins in ERA, wins (13) and strikeouts (159). He ranks 11th in the NL in innings (184.2) and 13th in strikeouts. Among all MLB starters, his 19 quality starts are tied for eleventh, and he has the sixth-best strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.18). Not bad for someone coming off elbow trouble who started the year in the bullpen.

I scout these pitchers personally, recording their velocity, pitch selection and motions by watching their games. I use the standard 20-80 scouting scale to rate pitchers. These velocities are suggestive and not determinant of a pitch's rating. For example, a 75 MPH curveball might rank as a 60 because of its movement and/or deception. Please feel free to post your thoughts below on the pitcher or the column.

80 Outstanding (96+ MPH fastball, 88+ MPH slider, 82 MPH curveball)
70 Well above average (94-95 FB, 86-87 MPH SL, 80-81 MPH CB)
60 Above average (92-93 MPH FB, 84-85 MPH SL, 78-79 MPH CB)
50 Average (89-91 MPH FB, 82-84 MPH SL, 75-77 MPH CB)
40 Below average (86-88 MPH FB, 79-81 MPH SL, 73-75 MPH CB)
30 Well below average (83-85 MPH FB, 76-78 MPH SL, 71-72 MPH CB)
20 Poor (80-82 MPH FB, 71-75 MPH SL, 69-70 MPH CB)

The Cubs signed the right-handed Nolasco (6-2, 220, Born 12/13/1982) out of a California high school with a fourth-round pick in 2001. He dominated Rookie ball in 2002 (7-2, 2.48 ERA) and in 2003 skipped Low-A to go 11-5, 2.96 in 26 Florida State League starts. Nolasco spent most of 2004 at Double-A (6-4, 3.70 in 107 innings), but Chicago unfortunately gave him nine Triple-A starts (2-3, 9.30). They showed some patience in 2005 as they returned him to the Southern League and let him go 14-3, 2.89 with 173 strikeouts in 162 innings. The Marlins used Juan Pierre as trade bait to acquire Nolasco that December.

Nolasco broke camp with Florida in 2006 as a swingman and moved into the rotation on May 17. He posted quality starts in eight of his ten outings in June and July and stood at 9-6, 3.94 at the end of the month. He limped to the finish with a 6.60 ERA and was removed from the rotation. Elbow pain sabotaged Nolasco's 2007 season, as he worked just 55 innings between Miami and the minors. He did not require surgery and threw well in the Arizona Fall League. This year, Nolasco shook off a rough two first starts and has been very steady, with an ERA of under 4.00 in each month.

Ricky Nolasco: (G/F 0.91)

		Rating:  %Thrown:
Fastball	55		45
Curveball	55		25
Slider		60		25
Changeup	50		5
Control	75
Delivery	45
Composure	70

Command is Nolasco's calling card. He works his 89-94 MPH fastball in and out and he relies heavily on his breaking pitches. Nolasco's fastball is fairly straight, and although he has learned a splitter and a cutter this year, he doesn't throw them nearly as much as his 70-76 MPH curve and 82-86 MPH slider. Nolasco frustrates hitters by tantalizing them with his breaking pitches on the corners and then inducing pop-ups by busting them inside with his fastball. Nolasco's command is quite something. In his September 5 start, he threw six 3-2 pitches to Ryan Ludwick, finally getting him to fly out. Each one was a strike and they weren't all fastballs. That's the mark of a confident pitcher.

Nolasco likes to get ahead of hitters with his slow curveball, which he locates at will. His slider has some of the same action, and he throws all his pitches from the same arm angle. Nolasco has a decent changeup but doesn't throw it much. Using it more could give hitters a different look than his breaking stuff and generate more ground balls. The Marlins have turned just 10 double plays behind Nolasco. Fielders love to play behind pitchers like him, because he works quickly and throws strikes. The Florida defense is erratic but athletic, and they seem to make plays when he's on the mound.

Nolasco drops his arm behind him while staying upright through his delivery. As the season has worn on, he has started to throw more across his body. This starts his breaking balls' action earlier on the way to the plate, allowing the hitter more time to adjust. Nolasco's fastball also hasn't been as crisp recently as it was earlier in the year, when he regularly hit 93-94 MPH. He can have a 60 fastball, but right now it's a 55. Quietly intense, Nolasco wasn't regarded as a top prospect in the minors. He is a good but not great athlete who doesn't beat himself.

Nolasco has prospered despite being pushed to the majors in 2006. He skipped Triple-A that year and clearly tired at the stretch, costing him 2007. Nolasco has surpassed his career high in innings in 2008 and is showing the effects. He doesn't have the type of mechanics that profile to 200 innings every year. That said, it's fun to watch Nolasco pitch, as he moves the game along and doesn't back down from anyone. He could become the next Paul Byrd or Bronson Arroyo - a throwback, "little guy makes good" type who is effective when healthy.


Radar Love: Heat in the last week:

96-98: Brian Wilson against Pittsburgh on September 6th.
95-97: Ervin Santana in Detroit on September 4th. Santana could enter the national stage this October, as he has been overpowering all year.
93-97: Brandon Morrow in throwing 7.2 innings of one-hit ball against the Yankees on September 5th. He also featured an 86 MPH slider, an 81 MPH curveball and an 82 MPH changeup.
94-96: Johnny Cueto against the Cubs on September 6th.
88-95: Justin Masterson against the Orioles on September 3rd.
89-93: Francisco Liriano against Detroit on September 5th.
87-90: Jason Marquis in Cincinnati on September 6th.

In two weeks: AL Central: Cliff Lee


Article first appeared 9/10/08