The Yankees head into the off-season with more questions than answers, and that includes starting pitching. As everyone knows, there are big question marks in the starting rotation after CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova, thus they'll be scouring the free agent market for answers. He won't be option number one, but a potential answer to those questions could be Ricky Nolasco.
Like potential Yankee target Matt Garza, Nolasco split his 2013 between two different teams, this time with the Marlins and Dodgers. In his first 18 starts of the season with Miami, Nolasco pitched to a 3.85 ERA and 3.49 FIP. After being dealt on July 6 to the west coast for some prospects and such, Nolasco appeared in his final 16 games (15 starts) of the season with the Dodgers and pitched to a 3.52 ERA and 3.15 FIP. As a whole, Nolasco pitched to a 3.70 ERA and 3.34 FIP in 2013. Normally a 3.70 ERA is pretty nice, but it only equates to a 101 ERA+, or literally just one shade above league average. You can thank Nolasco's home ballparks (Marlins Park and Dodger Stadium), which are notoriously pitcher-friendly, as well as offense being down as a whole. Missin' you, steroids.
Nolasco's FIP this season, obviously, was lower than his ERA, which isn't anything foreign to him. Look at the table below and you'll see what I mean:
Every year, every single year, since 2009, his ERA has been higher than his FIP. His 0.89 ERA-FIP differential is the third-highest behind Esmil Rogers, Jeff Francis, and Manny Parra, while guys like Philip Humber, Kyle Davies, and Daisuke Matsuzaka are right behind him for reference. Normally, in a smaller sample, say a year or two sample, this could be attributed to bad luck, but after five years and 154 starts worth of data, you have to wonder if this is still the case. For the record, the Marlins ranked 25th, 22nd, 21st, 20th, and 21st on defense in each of the last five seasons, respectively, according to UZR/150, so in fact maybe he was unlucky all of those years, but I'm still skeptical.
As for a contract for the 30-year-old Nolasco, something in the Edwin Jackson four-year, $52 million range could work. Nolasco and Jackson do have their similarities: guys who are healthy and eat innings while consistently posting higher ERAs than their FIPs (Jackson, like Nolasco, had a similar ERA-FIP problem heading into his free agency period by posting a higher ERA than his FIP in three straight seasons from 2010-2012 and four of the previous six seasons overall). He could get a bigger deal, I suppose, but a $13 million average annual value sounds about right for a guy like Nolasco. Not to mention, like Garza, the Yankees won't have to surrender their first round pick for Nolasco since he was traded in the middle of the season.
Although Nolasco has proven he can stay healthy, and his ERA could, theoretically, catch up to his FIP, I feel like this is someone the Yanks should pass on even if they don't sign Tanaka this winter. Of course Nolasco's defense behind him could have played a role in his elevated ERA, but the Yankees rank 12th with a 1.4 UZR/150 since 2011. That's certainly better than what the Marlins have accomplished on defense in recent years, but it's nothing spectacular, either. Besides, imagine a left-side-of-the-infield defense of Derek Jeter at shortstop and Mark Reynolds at third base. Yikes. The team might be wise to look beyond Nolasco even if Plan A fails.