2013 Dodgers in Review #32: SP Ricky Nolasco

December 14, 2013 at 1:56 pm | Posted in 2013 NLCS, Ricky Nolasco | Leave a comment

3.15 ERA90topps_rickynolasco / 3.52 FIP 87.0 IP 7.76 K/9 2.17 BB/9 (A)

2013 in brief: Production for nothing, and starts for free: a good trade at the time looked even better in retrospect.

2014 status: Signed a four-year contract with Minnesota in November.

******

When the Dodgers acquired Ricky Nolasco from Miami in early July, after days of speculation, I was out of town (naturally), but I was still able to find my way to a computer to point out how much sense this trade made:

Of course, all along we worried about the cost, and that’s where this really seems like a win. Going back to Miami are righty minor league pitchers Steve AmesAngel Sanchez, and Josh Wallper Jon Heyman and Chris Cotillo, and I have to say I really, really like this idea. We’ve seen Wall, and he’s fine, but he’s 26 with a middle reliever ceiling at best. Sanchez has shown talent but is on his third year in A-ball and probably profiles as a reliever. Ames has gaudy minor league numbers — at least he did until getting to Albuquerque this year — but is 25 and doesn’t have the scouting reports to back up those numbers.

So what Ned Colletti has done here is beef up the pitching depth by adding a starter who immediately becomes one of the team’s best five starters, and he’s given up only three good-but-not-great relief prospects to do it. No Zach Lee, no Ross Stripling, no Zachary Bird, not even a Chris Withrow or a Garrett Gould. The Dodgers also pick up all of Nolasco’s remaining salary for the year — which, who cares — and there were unconfirmed reports that the Dodgers may collect some international signing cap room as well.

If they do, that’s just gravy. Nolasco isn’t great, but he’s an improvement, and the price is minimal. Really, really nicely done by the Dodgers, once this is official.

If it looked good at the time, it looked even better when Stephen Fife immediately got hurt and Nolasco stabilized a rotation that was facing some severe back-end depth issues and ripped off about two months of excellent performance. In his first 12 starts, he allowed one or zero earned runs five times, never once allowing more than three, and putting up an absurd 62/17 K/BB. He shut out the Red Sox over eight innings; he struck out 11 Cubs in eight shutout innings; he went into St. Louis and tossed five shutout innings. We were hoping for depth, but we got greatness instead.

Yet it wasn’t just magic, was it? After seeing how new teammate Zack Greinke used his fastball, Nolasco began using his slider as his primary pitch for the first time in his career:nolasco_pitches

By early September we were envisioning just how wealthy the free agent market would make him — I guessed 4/$60m — but some of the shine came off when he completely fell apart in his final three months of the year, allowing 17 earned runs, and then getting passed over for a start in the NLDS when Clayton Kershaw took Game 4 on short rest. For a while, we thought the same thing might happen in the NLCS, but he did start Game 4, despite not having started in three weeks, and he lasted just four innings.

Though it seemed clear Nolasco preferred to remain as a Dodger, the team never gave any public indication they were willing to match what he would get on the market, and the arrival of Dan Haren on a one-year deal seemed to seal his fate. Nolasco heads off to Minnesota, but this was a trade absolutely worth making, one that worked out well.

******

Next! Hyun-jin Ryu!

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