The Phillies face Ricky Nolasco tonight in the opener of a three-game set in Miami. Nolasco is the essence of boom-bust against the Phillies, pitching to a 1.43 ERA and holding the Phils to a .157 batting average in his best eight starts, but a 6.17 ERA and .304 average in the other seven.
From 2008-10, Nolasco looked like a pitcher whose results belied his actual performance. He had a 4.31 ERA over that span despite a respectable 1.20 WHIP, 8.6 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9. His numbers gave off the appearance of a pitcher who was getting unlucky and would soon regress to the mean and put together a few 3.30 ERA seasons.
But since 2010 the strikeouts have fallen off and he's become much more hittable (10.3 H/9 compared to 8.9 the three years prior).
Through it all, though, Nolasco has stifled the Phillies more often than not. He has a 4.68 ERA the last four seasons but a 3.58 ERA against them.
Going deep into the numbers, it appears the way to force an early exit for Nolasco is to make him throw his fastball, which is by far his worst pitch. The opposition has a .331 lifetime average off his fastball, but has hit just .239 off his slider, curveball and splitter. Nolasco throws those three secondary pitches often, but, like all pitchers, goes back to the fastball when he needs a strike.
Nolasco's success will also depend on the home plate umpire, because he won't be throwing quality strikes on the first pitch -- his fastball simply isn't good enough. His career first-pitch strike percentage is pretty low for a guy known for control (62%), and this year it's 55% through two starts.
Only 12 of the 47 batters he's faced this season have swung at the first pitch, so it looks like guys are catching on.