By Jason Shetler
The Pirates signed a pair of free agent arms to one-year contracts back in December. Juan Nicasio was the first to sign for $3 million. A week later, the Bucs inked Ryan Vogelsong for $2 million.
After coming off a career year last season with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Nicasio was looked at to bolster the bullpen. Meanwhile, Vogelsong was brought into be a veteran back of the rotation starter on the cheap. The original plan for the Pirates was to have Nicasio pitch as a starter, but not to compete, so that he could be stretched out for long relief. As Spring Training carried along, Vogelsong was having his struggles while Nicasio had been pitching extremely well. In an outing against the Baltimore Orioles, Nicasio struckout ten batters in just four innings of work. GM Neal Huntington mentioned shortly after that Nicasio would be in the mix for one of the final two rotation spots. On Wednesday, it was announced that Nicasio had been named a starter, which meant Vogelsong was headed to the bullpen. Here’s why having Nicasio in the rotation was the right decision.
While Nicasio was obviously lights out in the Spring statistically, his stuff really played up with the numbers. His fastball had topped out at 95 mph while he got a ton of swing and misses with his slider. Let’s compare the metrics for Nicasio and Vogelsong from last year.
Nicasio: 2.83 FIP, 11.0% swing and miss rate, 30.6% chase rate
Vogelsong: 4.53 FIP, 6.3% swing and miss rate, 26.7% chase rate
Nicasio would be an upgrade as a starter over Vogelsong in terms of swing and miss ability. The Fielding Independent Pitching for Nicasio in 2015 was a full run lower than his ERA of 3.86. That’s mostly contributed to striking out batters at a 10.0 ratio. Vogelsong’s FIP was at 4.53, which wasn’t much lower than his 4.67 ERA. It’s unclear how well Nicasio will perform in the Pirates rotation, but at the very least, he should be a better short term starter option until Tyler Glasnow or Jameson Taillon arrives to Pittsburgh midseason first.