Juan Nicasio (The Reliever) Is Really Good

Jul 16, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Juan Nicasio (12) throws against the Washington Nationals during the eighth inning at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 16, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Juan Nicasio (12) throws against the Washington Nationals during the eighth inning at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports /

Ever since being moved to the bullpen in mid-June, Juan Nicasio has been electric for manager Clint Hurdle and the Pittsburgh Pirates.

There are some pitchers who are better suited to pitch out of the bullpen. Juan Nicasio is proving to be one of those pitchers. There are a variety of reasons as to why a pitcher might be better suited for the bullpen than a starting role, and with Nicasio it is due to his pitching arsenal.

Juan Nicasio has a plus fastball and a strong slider. However, those are the only two pitches he has that are of Major League quality and that he throws regularly. For this reason, Nicasio is better suited for a Major League bullpen.

This past offseason Neal Huntington signed right-handed pitcher Juan Nicasio to be part of the Pirates’ bullpen. However, after Nicasio did not allow a run in Spring Training while averaging over ten strikeouts per nine innings pitched he earned a spot in the Pirate starting rotation. The struggles of Ryan Vogelsong in Spring Training also played a role in the decision for Juan Nicasio to start the year in the Pirate rotation.

Well, unfortunately, Nicasio’s stint as a starting pitcher did not go well. Due to this, he was demoted to the Pirates’ bullpen following his start against the New York Mets on June 16th. But since being demoted, Nicasio has been an electric relief pitcher.

After his start against the Mets on June 16th Juan Nicasio’s stats on the season were ugly. He was averaging 9.24 K/9, but was also averaging 3.84 BB/9 and a staggering 1.71 HR/9 in 63 1/3 innings pitched. Nicasio also had a 1.48 WHIP, 5.83 ERA, 4.92 FIP, and a 4.37 xFIP. Needles to say, Juan Nicasio was not getting the job done as a starting pitcher.

Moving Juan Nicasio to the bullpen was something that many Pirates fans, myself included, had been calling for most of the season. Nicasio, as he has proven, has the stuff to be an electric relief pitcher. Also, he proved last season with the Los Angeles Dodgers that he is a good reliever. In 56 1/3 innings pitched out of the Dodger bullpen last year Juan Nicasio averaged 10.3 K/9, he held opponents to a .256 batting average against, he allowed just one home run, and he had a 3.83 ERA and a 2.83 FIP.

Moving Juan Nicasio to the bullpen has benefited both him and the Pirates’ bullpen. Ever since the move to the bullpen Nicasio has become one of the Pirates’ most reliable relief pitcher. He also bring great value because of the fact that he can be used to pitch multiple innings, but also has the stuff required to be an one inning shutdown reliever.

SInce moving to the bullpen Juan Nicasio has pitched 19 1/3 innings. In those 19 1/3 innings pitched Nicasio is averaging 10.71 K/9, 3.26 BB/9, 0.47 HR/9, and he has a 1/03 WHIP. This has all culminated in Nicasio posting a 2.33 ERA, 2.98 FIP, and a 3.34 xFIP as a reliever.

There are a few reasons Juan Nicasio has been better as a reliever. First off, pitching out of the bullpen has led to an increase in velocity on both his fastball and slider. As a result, he is generating more swings and misses than he was as a starting pitcher.

As a starting pitcher, Nicasio had a 23.3 percent strikeout rate. However, that has jumped to 28.4 percent as a relief pitcher. A second reason Juan Nicasio has been more successful as a reliever is because he is allowing a lot less home runs. As I said above, as a starting pitcher he was allowing a staggering 1.71 HR/9 but as a reliever that has dropped to 0.47 HR/9. That is a massive, massive difference.

Finally, Nicasio has allowed a lot less contact as a relief pitcher than he did as a starting pitcher. As a starting pitcher opposing batters had a 25.4 percent hard contact rate against Nicasio, but that has dropped to 17.7 percent since being moved to the bullpen. Nicasio ground ball rate has also spiked from 39.8 percent as a starting pitcher to 56.9 percent as a reliever. Again, a sign that he is generating weaker contact.

Juan Nicasio is proving to be a really good relief pitcher. Not only that, but he also brings versatility to the Pirate bullpen. Nicasio can pitch multiple innings, or be used as a one inning hammer. Maybe just maybe it is time Neal Huntington contemplates approaching Juan Nicasio about a contract extension to keep him in the Pirate bullpen next season.