As SB Nation's Chris Cotillo first reported, free agent Ricky Nolasco is signing with the Twins: four years, $49 million. Did you have the Twins in the Ricky Nolasco pool? I sure didn't. But there's so much money floating around out there, you just never know who's going to spend more money on a free agent than they've ever spent before.
Is Nolasco really worth that sort of money? Here's noted Twins enthusiast Aaron Gleeman:
Nolasco has been very durable through age 30, starting at least 30 games and logging at least 185 innings in five of the past six seasons, including 33 starts and 199 innings this year. His ability to prevent runs unfortunately hasn't been as impressive, with ERAs of 5.06, 4.51, 4.67, and 4.48 from 2009-2012 before a 3.70 mark this year. However, his secondary numbers have consistently been much better than his lackluster ERAs.
Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP) attempts to remove randomness and luck from a pitcher's performance, isolating what he can control (strikeouts, walks, ground balls) as opposed to what he can't control (batting average on balls in play, bullpen strand rate, homers per fly ball). For his career Nolasco has a 3.75 xFIP versus a 4.37 ERA and his xFIP has been better than his ERA in each of the past five seasons, including three seasons of at least a full run better.
Or we could look at just the last three seasons. Among the 71 pitchers with at least 450 innings in that span, Nolasco's 3.76 xFIP ranks 31st, in the same neighborhood as Justin Masterson, Tim Hudson, Jon Lester, and Edwin Jackson. And Nolasco ranks 26th in innings. I'm not going to create a freak stat combining xFIP and innings ... because that's essentially FanGraphs' version of Wins Above Replacement, where Nolasco ranks 30th.
Which doesn't seem so hot. Except, coincidentally enough, there are 30 teams. And suddenly being one of the 30 best starting pitchers in the major leagues, even if just barely, seems pretty good. And as Gleeman points out, Nolasco's contract is right in line with Edwin Jackson's. Basically, this is what good-but-hardly-great starting pitchers get on the open market these days.
The only thing that surprises me a little is that it's the Twins who came up with the dough. But if the Royals can afford James Shields and (for a season) Ervin Santana, there's no obvious reason why the Twins couldn't afford Ricky Nolasco. Especially considering they're not paying anybody else on the roster much, except Mauer and (sort of) Willingham.
Granted, caveats abound. Nolasco's nearly 31, and (as Gleeman also points out) he's done most of his pitching in pitcher-friendly ballparks against National League lineups. What happens in the American League over the next four years. It might get ugly, at least occasionally. But in the absence of an unpredictable injury, Nolasco figures to serve as a semi-valuable innings-eater, at worst.
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