By Jason Shetler
In his first four big league seasons from 2011 to 2014, Juan Nicasio wasn’t having much success in the rotation with the Colorado Rockies. During his time in Colorado, he posted a 5.03 ERA and was a replacement level pitcher for the most part. Prior to the 2015 season, Nicasio was dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers where he pitched primarily in the bullpen. He had his best season with them, posting a 3.86 ERA, a 2.83 Fielding Independent Pitching and a K/9 of 10.0 in 53 games. Despite the good numbers Nicasio put up, the Dodgers made a surprising decision to non-tender him this past offseason, making him a free agent.
The Pirates were looking to add some pieces to their bullpen after losing Antonio Bastardo and Joakim Soria to free agency. In December, the Pirates struck a deal with Nicasio for one-year at $3 million.
Going into Spring Training, Ryan Vogelsong was penciled in to be the fifth starter in the Pirates rotation. However, Nicasio began pitching lights out while Vogelsong struggled, prompting the Bucs to insert Nicasio in the rotation over Vogelsong to begin the 2016 season. It was an opportunity for Nicasio to show that he could be an effective starter in a big league rotation. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case, as he posted an ERA of 5.07 in 12 starts.
On June 24th, the Pirates moved Nicasio to the bullpen, the role that he was originally intended to be in before the year began. That decision is paying huge dividends now, as Nicasio is putting up a 2.25 ERA along with a 1.14 WHIP, 1.90 FIP, 2.38 xFIP and a 12.5 K/9 in 36 innings. He’s certainly playing a big part in the Pirates bullpen being significantly better in the second half. There’s clearly a comfort level with Nicasio as a reliever, based upon the work he did with the Dodgers last year and what he’s currently doing now in that role in Pittsburgh. Although Nicasio signed a free agent deal with the Pirates, he’ll be arbitration eligible this offseason, so it’s almost a certain that he would be brought back as a bullpen piece for 2017.