Wasting no time, the Twins bolstered their pitching staff with a pair of free-agent signings prior to the Winter Meetings, inking Ricky Nolasco (four years, $49 million) and Phil Hughes (three years, $24 million) to multi-year deals. By default, Nolasco and Hughes instantly become Minnesota's two best starting options for the new season; the Twins trotted out Vance Worley on Opening Day in 2013. Woof. (And Mike Pelfrey led the team with 2.1 fWAR. Double woof.)
Nolasco, 30, went 13-11 with a 3.70 ERA (3.34 FIP; 3.58 xFIP), 1.21 WHIP and 165 strikeouts in 199 1/3 innings with the Marlins and Dodgers; Hughes, 27, went 4-14 with a 5.19 ERA (4.50 FIP; 4.39 xFIP), 1.46 WHIP and 121 strikeouts in 145 2/3 innings with the Yankees. Moving to Minnesota should benefit both right-handers, but Hughes figures to get the biggest boost as a fly ball pitcher. Target Field permitted the 27th fewest home runs per game, according to ESPN's Park Factors, and Hughes allowed 24 long balls in 2013, and 35 more in 2012. The new environment should do him wonders. Nolasco, on the other hand, has allowed a total of 35 home runs over the past two seasons combined. He should be fine as always in that regard.
Minnesota's pitchers were dead last in strikeouts in 2013, with 6.11 strikeouts per nine, and the Twins were the only team not to reach 1,000 strikeouts as a staff. (Pelfrey and Kevin Correia each struck out 101 batters, which led the team.) Nolasco and Hughes have similar career strikeout rates; Nolasco checks in at 7.38 Ks per nine, and Hughes at 7.56. Nolasco, however, set a new career high with a 10.5-percent swinging strike rate in 2013, as his strikeout rate jumped from 15 percent to 19.8 percent. After being traded to the Dodgers, his strikeout rate increased to 20.5 percent. Going to a new league should only help Nolasco, as opposing batters won't have as good of a read on the pitcher compared to his National League counterparts. Nolasco also has seasons of 195 and 186 strikeouts, so it's always possible he continues to trend upward, even on the wrong side of 30. He hasn't lost much velocity, according to FanGraphs. Nolasco also does a great job of limiting the free pass (something the Twins did really well as a staff in 2013), with a 5.5-percent career walk rate. There's no reason why that shouldn't continue.
While Nolasco's role as the Twins' No. 1 starter isn't in doubt (it's possible Alex Meyer becomes that guy in time), Hughes' role in the rotation is a bit murkier. I started this post off by saying he's already Minnesota's second best starter, but, again, there's not much to like from 2013's rotation. Hughes isn't getting paid to throw in the bullpen, so getting jerked between a starter and a reliever isn't going to happen like it did in New York at times (mostly early on in his career). Hughes performed much better than a 4-14 record and 5.19 ERA indicate, posting a much cleaner 4.39 xFIP. In 2012, Hughes posted a 4.35 xFIP and won 16 games. Go figure. A few home runs turning into long fly ball outs should help shave a good portion off of his ERA in 2014, as should his career ERA outside of Yankee Stadium of 4.10, compared to 4.96 in New York. The former first rounder is going to get a ton of sleeper hype entering 2014; you should still be able to get him at a relatively low price, however, so this is one sleeper candidate that's worth investing in.
For more on the Twins signing Nolasco, check out this post by Alex Kienholz from SB Nation's Beyond the Box Score.
- B(old) and the Beautiful
- Fantasy Top 5 for 2014: St. Louis Cardinals
- Fake Teams Podcast Episode 42: Knowing how to pitch
- 2014 Minor League Keeper Thoughts: Texas Rangers
- Starting Pitcher Draft Strategy: Target Ground Ball Pitchers, Part 2
- EPL Week 13 Fantasy Preview
- Starting Pitcher Strategy: Target Ground Ball Pitchers