Tonight Is An Important Start For Juan Nicasio
By Marty Leap
Juan Nicasio will make his ninth start of the season tonight, and this is his most important start yet.
The story of Spring Training this year for the Pittsburgh Pirates was right-handed pitcher Juan Nicasio. Nicasio was dominate in Spring Training allowing just one run while striking out over 10 batters per nine innings pitched. After this fantastic showing in Spring Training, Juan Nicasio earned a spot in the Pirate rotation to start the season.
Juan Nicasio then followed this up with a strong April. In five April starts Nicasio posted a 3.33 ERA, 3.72 FIP, and 3.74 xFIP in 27 innings pitched. Furthermore, Nicasio averaged just 1.00 HR/9 while also averaging 9.67 K/9 in April.
After a strong April, Juan Nicasio has struggled in May though. In 15 1/3 inning pitched in three May starts Nicasio has seen his strike out rate drop to 8.22 K/9, his home run rate has risen to 1.76 HR/9, and his ground ball rate has dropped to just 38.8 percent. Furthermore, Nicasio has a 6.46 ERA and 4.98 FIP in May.
With Major League Baseball’s Super Two date quickly approaching, someone is going to be removed from the Pirate rotation to make room for Jameson Taillon. Right now, Juan Nicasio appears to be the front runner to be removed from the rotation. While Jeff Locke, not Juan Nicasio, has been the Pirates least effective starting pitcher this year Nicasio has the makeup to be a very good reliever.
When the Pittsburgh Pirates originally signed Juan Nicasio it was to be a reliever, and his May results have shown that he is best suited to be a reliever. Last season Nicasio pitched out of the Dodger bullpen and was extremely successful. In 58 1/3 innings pitched Nicasio posted a 2.83 FIP while averaging 10.03 K/9 and just 0.15 HR/9.
For these reasons, I look for Juan Nicasio to be moved to the Pirate bullpen when Jameson Taillon gets the call to the Major Leagues which will most likely come at some point in the next two weeks. This makes tonight a very important start for Juan Nicasio. If Nicasio wants to stay in the Pirate rotation when Jameson Taillon arrives in two weeks or so, he must pitch better starting with his start tonight.
The biggest reason Nicasio has struggled as a starting pitcher this year has been his control. Nicasio is averaging 3.61 BB/9 this season, which is down from his 4.94 BB/9 last season, but it is still too high. Furthermore, Juan Nicasio really only throws two pitches. You can get away doing that as a reliever, but not as a starting pitcher.
Nicasio possesses a very good fastball that averages 93.4 miles per hour, but he throws his fastball 69 (nice) percent of the time. Nicasio also has a slider that he throws 25 percent of the time. In the Major Leagues, it is very difficult to be a successful starting pitcher throwing just two pitches 94 percent of the time.
As a reliever however, this can be very effective. When you are only pitching one or two innings at a time, instead of looking to go five plus, it is more difficult for hitters to pick up on your pitches. Also, being a reliever would make Nicasio’s fastball better as he can just rear back and throw without having to save gas for the later innings which will lead to a bump in fastball velocity.
Next: Pirates 9, Rangers 1: Stars And Stiffs
If Juan Nicasio is going to remain in the Pirate rotation, he must pitch better. And that improvement must begin with his start against the Texas Rangers tonight. Luckily for the Pirates, moving Juan Nicasio to the bullpen should greatly improve what has been a struggling middle relief corp this season.