Thursday, November 28, 2013

Nolasco to Twins

Nolasco provides pitching help to a team that desperately needs it
Last night the Minnesota Twins handed out the biggest free agent deal to a starting pitcher in this young offseason by singing Ricky Nolasco for four years and $49 million. Given the eye-popping amounts of money that have been handed out to pedestrian and slightly above average players in recent days, that sounds about right and dare I say it (gulp), reasonable.

The contract, which includes a vesting option for a fifth year, is the largest ever given to a free agent by the Twins. It reflects more on Minnesota's need for rotation help more than it does Nolasco's pitching skills. Twins starting pitchers posted the worst ERA, fewest innings and fewest quality starts in baseball. And while Nolasco is a number three starter at best, he'll provide stability and league average skills to a rotation that could use a healthy dose of both.

Nolasco has been notorious for never pitching as well as his peripherals suggest he should. His inconsistency throughout the course of a season is maddening, as he can look like one of the best pitchers in some days but get shelled in others. What's equally frustrating is that he never took the leap many expected after his 2008 season, in which the then-25 year-old went 15-8 with a 3.52 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 4.43 K/BB ratio. Instead he regressed into a subpar pitcher, posting a 4.68 ERA (87 ERA+) and 1.32 WHIP for mediocre Marlins teams over the next four years.

2013 marked a return to form for Nolasco, who managed his best numbers since his 2008 breakout. Splitting time with the Marlins and Dodgers, he maintained a 3.70 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in nearly 200 innings of work. He pitched well for LA down the stretch, helping them win the NL West.

Hopfully Nolasco enjoyed the taste of pitching in meaningful baseball games, because he doesn't figure to experience too many of those in 2014. The Twins are in rebuilding mode, having lost 96 games in each of their past two years and 99 games the year before that. Spending close to $50 million on an innings-eater isn't the best use of their resources, but then again that's exactly what Theo Epstein did to acquire Edwin Jackson a year ago. All Nolasco has to do to earn his keep is provide around two wins above replacement per year, something he came close to accomplishing in each of the past two seasons per bWAR (and has easily exceeded per fWAR).

That might prove to be difficult for a lifetime National Leaguer transitioning to the American League, though. I'd expect Nolasco's numbers to regress closer to his 2009-2012 levels, with an ERA over four, probably closer to four and a half. That's still an improvement for Minnesota, just not the kind that's going to make much of a difference without a complement of other moves or young guys stepping up.

Given that Jhonny Peralta just made about the same amount of money, this deal doesn't look quite so bad. The Twins addressed a need by upgrading their rotation, but still have a long way to go before getting back to their winning ways from last decade. I want to think their money would have been better spent elsewhere, but then again there's not a whole lot they could've spent it on.

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