Going into the off-season, the Minnesota Twins needed starting pitching help. Badly. Their strikeout numbers were abysmal, on the year they only managed a 12.4 K%. They tied with Baltimore for the worst FIP in the league. All in all things were pretty bad -- trust me, I know this as a Twins fan. What did they do about it? They handed out the biggest free agent contract in the franchise's history to Ricky Nolasco. Nolasco is getting four years and $49 million, with a fifth year vesting option.
Like I stated before, the 2013 Twins rotation was really, really bad. Vance Worley started the season as their No. 1* starter, and he only made ten starts during the season due to injuries and general ineffectiveness. Kevin Correia was his usual self, but paying a pitcher $5 million to throw nearly 200 innings has its value. I'll save you the pain, and not discuss the rotation any further, just know it was ugly.
* - I use "No. 1" extremely loosely.
Nolasco, on the other hand, is coming off of another fine season. According to Fangraphs, he finished the year with three fWAR, making him an above-average starting pitcher. What makes Nolasco really attractive is the fact that he's extremely durable. Since 2008, he has averaged 191 innings a season, making him one of the more durable starters in all of baseball. The Twins are also big on limiting walks as much as possible, and Nolasco does an excellent job of doing so. Career wise he only walks around ~5% of all batters that he faces, so he should fit right in with the club.
Nolasco's never really had a problem with giving up home runs -- regardless, pitching in Target Field for roughly half of his starts will be a huge benefit. According to Stat Corner, Target Field suppresses home runs by 21% for left-handed hitters and 6% for right-handed hitters.
One thing that makes Nolasco interesting is the fact that he constantly underperforms his peripherals. Career wise, Nolasco has a 4.37 ERA, while his FIP is 3.76. This could be due to a variety of reasons, some of which we'll try and look at here. While looking at his splits over at FanGraphs, you can see that Nolasco is pretty terrible when it comes to pitching with runners on base. When the bases are empty, Nolasco maintains a about a 5.0 K/BB, as well as a .313 wOBA allowed. When batters get on base, his K/BB falls all the way down to 2.25. His wOBA allowed also rises up to .333.
He's also notoriously bad when it comes to leaving men on base. For reference, his career LOB% is 68.7%. Since 2002, that ranks as the 11th worst out of 120 qualifying pitchers. While it doesn't explain everything, it likely explains a little as to why Nolasco underperforms his peripheral statistics.
When looking at the deal, I don't see this necessarily as a bargain, but I also don't see it as an overpay either. The fact that he'll be 31 when the season starts and has thrown a ton of innings is concerning, but the Twins desperately needed a pitcher like Nolasco. If he's able to throw 180-190 innings a season, and be a solid 2.5-3 fWAR pitcher per season then the Twins should be extremely satisfied with themselves. The Twins will need at least one more free agent starter, but starting the off-season off by signing Nolasco was a good move, and ultimately it is one that should pay off for the organization in the end.