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Seth Stohs, Nick Nelson, Parker Hageman and John Bonnes

TwinsCentric: Nolasco is in no man's land

Yesterday at Twins Daily I posed a question for readers about Trevor May, noting his spectacular numbers as a reliever and pondering whether the Twins should view him as a solution to their bullpen needs going forward.

The comments section featured a lively discussion and there wasn't much consensus on the best course of action. One thing did appear to to be unanimous, however, and has for some time: No one seems to want Ricky Nolasco in the 2016 rotation, blocking May or any other talented youngster.

The distaste for Nolasco amongst Twins fans is certainly understandable. As we all know, his contract has been an unmitigated disaster up to this point. In his first season with the club after becoming the highest-paid free agent in franchise history, he went 6-12 with a 5.38 ERA and 1.52 WHIP, both career-worst marks.


This year, his numbers didn't look any better on the surface before he went down with an ankle injury that ended his season after just two months. In seven starts, he had a 5.53 ERA and 1.65 WHIP.

However, there were some positive signs hidden within those bloated numbers, and I'm not talking about his irrelevant 5-1 win/loss record. In 32 2/3 innings, Nolasco had a solid 28-to-10 K/BB ratio, and he was showing slightly improved velocity on his fastball. His FIP checked in at a shiny 2.82.

His main problem was that he was giving up a ton of hits, but the .394 BABIP looks awfully flukish when you consider that he gave up only one home run and 13 total extra-base hits in those seven starts. Nolasco wasn't getting pounded, he was giving up singles in bunches, with an unsustainably low 59.7 percent strand rate. That kind of misfortune tends to even out over extended time, but the righty never had the chance for normalization to set in because he has been on the disabled list since the end of May.

His ankle issues have been frustrating, undoubtedly for him as much as anyone. It was apparently an old injury that resurfaced, and Nolasco took a cortisone shot before ultimately going under the knife in July to try and correct it.

While he's unlikely to throw another pitch this season, Nolasco will have a full offseason to heal up and return next year. At that point, his quality peripherals, along with his track record and his not-all-that-advanced age (he'll turn 33 in December), offer plenty of reason to believe that he can rebound and return to being the useful starter that the Twins thought they were signing in the first place.

That's why all the talk I keep seeing about Nolasco being a "sunk cost," and the suggestions that he should simply be cut outright this winter, strike me as a little ridiculous. He is owed $25 million after this season. I know it's not our money, but does it really seem wise to just flush it down the drain when we've barely had a chance to see what Nolasco can do when he's right physically?

It's not, and it's not realistic. Nolasco will be here at the start of the 2016 season. If things get off to a similarly brutal start, then at that time I could perhaps see the Twins taking the rather drastic step of cutting ties and eating many millions of dollars. But they won't do so before then, nor should they.

However, it is not unthinkable that another club could take interest in the veteran starter during the offseason and flip another bulky contract for his, or take on a share of what he's owed with the Twins picking up the rest. There were some rumblings of the Twins and Padres working on something with Nolasco and James Shields leading up to the deadline, though nothing materialized.

If you're looking to see a Twins rotation next April that doesn't include Nolasco – and who could blame you, since there figure to be several more trustworthy options available – that might be your best bet.

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Once you're done here, head over to Twins Daily for our Tuesday minor-league recap, information on our upcoming annual pub crawl, the latest No Juice Podcast, and more!

TwinsCentric: Let's talk about Tyler Duffey's curveball

Filth flarn filth.

That’s the only thing that came to mind watching Tyler Duffey’s curveball bend space and time over the course of his last two outings.

After a rough introduction to the majors at the hands of the Toronto Blue Jays hitters, Duffey has settled in and compiled two solid starts in a row against Cleveland and Baltimore. Ignoring his Major League debut for a moment, Duffey has now struck out 15 batters over his last 13.2 innings pitched. Of those 15 strikeouts, 14 have come on his curve.
 
Duffey, a former closer from Rice University and converted into a starter after the Twins drafted him, arrived to the organization with two viable above-average pitches in his fastball (four and two-seamers) and curveball but has also mixed in a work-in-progress changeup. Duffey told Twins Daily this spring that he considered his curveball his best pitch and it shows. Any pitcher will tell you that the fastball is the foundation -- that sets up every pitch -- but the curveball has been, as the French say, Le Unhittable.


With the exception of a few flares, a couple of seeing eyes and one hanging fly which 40-year-old Torii Hunter in right failed to wrangle in, Duffey’s curveball has been a zone-expanding, bat-missing machine. Just watch some of these swing that Duffey was able to induce in his start against Cleveland at Target Field last week.

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These are well-compensated, experienced, fully grown professional baseball players taking ridiculous swings usually reserved for hack golfers at a bachelor party after six beers while blindfolded.

To date, Duffey has done very little to disguise what is coming once he gets ahead: He has thrown curveballs 51% of the time in a pitcher’s count. Despite the ubiquity of scouting reports on pitchers, there is still some element of surprise that gives a rookie pitcher and advantage over hitters. You can hear about a pitcher’s repertoire and watch footage but until you experience it in the batter’s box and see it for yourself, the pitcher will have a slight edge. That may play a small factor in Duffey’s dominance over two consecutive lineups.

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However even when knowing the pitch is coming it still can cause hitters to look foolish. For example, during Thursday night’s contest Duffey unleashed a doozy of an 0-2 curve that had Orioles’ slugger Chris Davis completely flummoxed. Davis swung at the ball -- a pitch that would barely make it across the plate in the air. The Orioles successfully lobbied the umpire crew to say that Davis had made the world’s slightest contact with the ball and was therefore foul. With new life, Duffey delivered the exact same pitch in the exact same location to which Davis could not manage to nick this time for strike three.
 

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What makes Duffey’s curveball so hellacious? It is the amount of spin he is able to generate.

According to his PitchFX spin rate, he is breaking off his curve at 1600 RPMs on average. Why is this important? Studies have shown that the higher the RPMs on breaking balls, the more the pitch moves and the higher the swinging strikes rate typically is. Across the league, MLB pitchers have a 1500 RPM average (although ESPN/TruMedia’s database suggests it is closer to 1350). On the high end of that spectrum are guys like Oakland’s Sonny Grey (1898 RPM), Seattle’s Felix Hernandez (1858) and Houston’s Collin McHugh (1886).

It was in discussing McHugh’s acquisition that the Houston Astros shared a little secret in their methodology. According to the Bloomberg article in 2014 entitled “Extreme Moneyball”, the Astros analytics team identified McHugh, who was a castoff from both the Mets and Rockies organization, as a potential target because his curve registered such a high spin rate. McHugh’s curve was reaching nearly 2000 RPM. Duffey’s bender does not reach that McHugh’s strata but it is above average in spin rate nonetheless. Based on the 100 curves thrown, Duffey’s hook resides alongside Los Angeles’ Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, Washington’s Gio Gonzalez and Arizona’s Jeremy Hellickson.

Through three starts, Duffey's curve sits among some of the game's best when it comes to spin. Who knows what lies ahead in the career for the big right-handed. Will hitters key in on his patterns? Will his fastball have enough oomph to support his curve? Will his changeup develop as a third option? If nothing else, Duffey's curve will prove to be a very valuable weapon out of the bullpen.


For more on the Minnesota Twins, be sure to check out these stories at TwinsDaily.com:

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