Even following Chase Whitley's abhorrent performance this week, its pretty evident that Vidal Nuno is the weakest link in the Yankees' rotation. A big reason for Nuno's struggles is that he lacks the stuff to blows away big league hitters. With a four-seam and two-seam fastball that rarely break 90 MPH, and a bland assortment of offspeed pitches, Nuno's stuff is about as fringy as it gets, which is why he found himself pitching in the independent leagues three years ago.
Nuno's repertoire leaves plenty to be desired, but it's not as if there hasn't been a pitcher who's gotten by with comparable stuff. Since 2008, there have been 40 left-handed starters who have thrown at least 2,500 pitches and had an average four-seam fastball velocity of less than 90 MPH. Most of them were fringe major leaguers -- the Garrett Olsons, Wade LeBlancs, and Bruce Chens of the world -- but there are a few good apples in the bunch. Nine pitchers managed sub-4 ERAs despite not lighting up the radar gun, including Jaime Garcia, Wandy Rodriguez, Dallas Braden, Ted Lilly, Mark Buehrle, Tommy Milone, Travis Wood, Jason Vargas, and our old friend Andy Pettitte. If these guyscan be successful pitchers, why can't Nuno do it to?
Command's a big part of it. Unlike Nuno, many of those pitchers were adept at painting the corners. Nuno, on the other hand, hangs far too many pitches. Big league hitters are usually all over mistakes like this, this, this... or this, especially if the ball's coming in at 88 MPH. Time and time again, Nuno's paid the price for pitches left over the heart of the plate, leading to a disgraceful 15 home runs allowed. His 2.00 HR/9 is second to only Marco Estrada for pitchers with at least 40 innings this season.
Nuno's inferior secondary stuff has also held him back. Many successful soft-tossers get by by complimenting their blasé fastballs with quality offspeed offerings. Jason Vargas spins a deceptive changeup and Wandy Rodriguez made a living with his knock-out curveball, but Nuno's offspeed pitches are pretty ordinary -- and they've been getting clobbered. In 206 plate appearances between this year and last, opposing hitters are hitting .300 and slugging .497 off of Nuno's curveball, slider, and changeup. Just 15.5% of these plate appearances ended in a strikeout, so it hasn't even been a BABIP fluke. Nuno's soft stuff just isn't fooling anyone.
From Jamie Moyer to Tom Glavine to Mark Buehrle, there have been plenty of "crafty lefties" who managed to have successful careers in spite of their lackluster stuff. They didn't blow anyone away with their fastballs, but had pinpoint control, and mixed in quality secondary pitches. Unfortunately, Nuno's struggled to do both of these things. The Yankees don't have a plethora of in-house alternatives, so barring a trade, Nuno will get at least another start or two. But unless his command takes a leap forward, its hard to imagine he'll be anything better than the 5-ish ERA pitcher we've grown to know and hate.