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Anatomy of a pitching meldown, part 3 -- Ricky Nolasco and Joe Saunders

In the final part of this series, I take a look at Ricky Nolasco and Joe Saunders, and try to figure out how they got off track.

Ricky Nolasco emerged as the ace of the Marlins staff last year, and this year was expected to continue where he left off. He has responded by seeing his ERA jump by almost two runs a game to this point. At one point this season, his ERA was a whopping 9.07, which resulted in a demotion to AAA New Orleans. He has been quite respectable since his recall in early June, posting an ERA of 3.69 and going 7-3, but what caused him to be so terrible at the start of the year? Well, a look at his pitch data for the first half of the season shows that batters had been hitting his fastball at a rather alarming rate (about 100 batting average points higher than last year), while his other pitches stayed fairly consistent. He was also throwing a lot fewer curveballs than he had thrown in the past. His curve is one of his better pitches (and one of the better ones in the game), as he varies the movement on it considerably. He uses it to set up the fastball by throwing off the timing of opposing hitters with a change in speeds. His tendency to throw the pitch less frequently this year could very well explain why his fastball hadn't been fooling anybody. At any rate, he's turned it around since his demotion, and he's back to his old form.

Joe Saunders was actually having a pretty decent season with the Angels for a good portion of this year, posting an ERA of 3.66 through June 24. However, that was the last time his ERA was below 4, as he proceeded to reel off eight consecutive starts in which he gave up at least four earned runs. He's another pitcher who suffered a noticeable drop in the average speed of his fastball this year. His pitches have also been finding more of the plate, resulting in him giving up four more home runs this year than he did in the entire 2008 campaign, in 50 fewer innings. He wound up on the DL in early August with left shoulder tightness, which could explain his woes. In the two starts since his return from the DL, he has picked up a couple of wins and has given up only two earned runs in 12 innings pitched. His velocity has also come back, as he's been hitting 93 MPH on the gun with regularity. It looks like Saunders is back, and should hopefully be a safe bet for your fantasy team going forward.