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The New Nolasco

Ricky Nolasco's overall season line is solid: he currently sports a 3.94 ERA, along with a 126/35 K/BB ratio in 155 innings, having allowed 22 homers. However, if we look deeper we can see that Nolasco is now a much better pitcher than his overall line indicates.

Before this season, Nolasco had become somewhat of an afterthought on a Marlins team loaded with young, talented pitchers. After dominating double-A at age 22 in the Cubs organization, Nolasco was sent to Florida in a package for Juan Pierre, and was immediately thrust onto the Marlins staff. In 2006, Nolasco held his own in the majors, posting a 4.82 in 140 innings between the bullpen and the rotation, with a 99/41 K/BB ratio and 20 homers allowed.

However, in 2007 he experienced problems with his elbow and missed most of the season. This season, he began the year in the bullpen but was inserted into the rotation on April 11, where he has remained since. And he has improved greatly during the season.

On June 5, Nolasco allowed 7 runs in 5 2/3 innings in a loss at Atlanta. The poor outing raised his ERA to 5.05, and gave him a 40/25 K/BB ratio in 66 innings. Nolasco had also given up a lot of homers - 12, to be exact. More worrisome was the fact that he was giving up homers on only 11.8% of his fly balls - in other words, even though Nolasco had given up a ton of homers, he had not been at all unlucky; he had simply not been pitching very well. Furthermore, Nolasco was throwing only 62.9% of his pitches for strikes, and batters were swinging and missing at only 7.2% of his pitches.

However, since that start, Nolasco has been a totally different pitcher. In his June 10 start against the high-powered Philadelphia Phillies, Nolasco pitched six shutout innings. In his next start, he threw 8 2/3 innings of one run ball against the Tampa Bay Rays, striking out 12. A new Nolasco had emerged - and he was a stud.

In his last 89 innings, Nolasco has a 3.02 ERA coupled with an impressive 86/10 K/BB ratio, while having allowed ten homers. During this stint, Nolasco has thrown 70.1% of his pitches for strikes, and batters have swung and missed at 11.5% of his pitches. His BABIP (.277) and his HR/FB (10.1%) have both been very reasonable, suggesting that Nolasco has not benefitted from a great deal of good luck during his recent stretch.

I believe that a pitcher's results can fluctuate fairly wildly from start-to-start while his True Ability remains static. However, not only have Nolasco's results improved, but his  underlying ability to throw strikes and induce swings-and-misses has improved, suggesting an improvement in his True Ability. Furthermore, since Nolasco missed almost all of last season, it's reasonable to believe that he was not pitching up to his capability at the beginning of this season, and it's likely that he has improved as he has gotten more innings under his belt while fully healthy.

Going forward, it's likely that Ricky Nolasco will pitch closer to the 3.02 ERA he has put up in his last 89 innings, rather than the 5.05 ERA he sported in his first 66 innings. If he is able to keep up this pace, he will be a huge boost to the Marlins playoff chances (and yet will still likely be undervalued in fantasy baseball leagues next season).