Closing Time: Ricky Nolasco breaks your spreadsheet

Scott Pianowski

Generally I'm against someone telling the same joke over and over, but I always liked the placekicking laugh Charles M. Schultz offered to us. Lucy Van Pelt would trick Charlie Brown into kicking a football, then she'd swipe the pigskin away from poor Chuck before the boot was made. The final frame would offer up a life lesson, a punchline, or both — while Brown lay on the ground, dazed and confused.

In fantasy baseball terms, here's the lineup: Ricky Nolasco is Lucy. His stats are the football. And thirty percent of you are Charlie Brown, duped again.

Nolasco's 2012 Batting Practice Tour hit Fenway Park on Wednesday, with the righty allowing nine runs in 3.1 messy innings. His ERA jumped to 5.16 on the year. He's been knocked around at home and on the road, by lefties and righties alike.

So why is Nolasco still owned in 30 percent of Yahoo! leagues? Because he's one of the all-time peripheral teases. He's the type of player rotoheads tend to outsmart themselves on.

Nolasco's career FIP is 3.87 and his career xFIP is 3.76, and he's carried a strong K/BB ratio most of his career. The preseason storyline never seems to change with Nolasco: someone screams out "he's been unlucky" and tries to make the case that he's a legitimate roto sleeper.

I understand that line of thinking and I'll use it myself in many instances: see Ryan Dempster's unlucky 2011 (and 2012 payoff) for one example. But when a pitcher regularly under-performs (or over-performs) his peripherals year-in and year-out, it's time to stop thinking of them as unlucky (or overly lucky). When the pattern carries over for several years, we need to change our thinking on the player. At some point, you are who you are.

Nolasco's underachiever profile is well documented. He had a 5.06 ERA out the door in 2009, though FIP suggested 3.35. He came in at 4.51 the following year, with FIP posting at 3.86. Last season he was 4.67 in the real world, 3.54 under the hood. And this year the split is 5.16 and 4.38.

I'm not in any way taking a shot at advanced metrics or SABR analysis. These formulas are wonderful things and seem to work for the majority of players (and pitchers). But there are always going to be outliers, players who seem to break the formula for one reason or another. Matt Cain is an example of this to the good side, and Nolasco is one of the toxic examples.

And even if you don't want to do a lot of stat digging with Nolasco, the surface stats paint an ugly picture. His strikeout rate has fallen to 5.38 in 2012 while his walk rate has swelled to 2.58; anytime those numbers are moving in the wrong direction we're asking for trouble. And take note of Nolasco's average fastball falling down to 89.5; he was a 91.5 arm back a few years. He hasn't posted an ERA below 4.50 since 2008, and no matter what you think of that stat, it's the one that pays the roto bills. I wouldn't own this guy on a dare right now.

Feel free to pile on Nolasco in the comments, or suggest your favorite peripheral outliers. I'll be back shortly with more notes on the Wednesday slate.

The way the ball was flying out of Yankee Stadium on Wednesday, I'm not going to take much away from what Tommy Hanson (5 IP, 4 R, 4 HR) and Phil Hughes (4.1 IP, 6 R, 4 HR) did for our make-believe teams. Hughes is at home for two starts next week (Indians, White Sox) and I think he's worth the play in deeper formats. Seven of his eight starts before Wednesday were useful for roto purposes. But if you want to apply the Nolasco logic from above to a pitcher like Hughes, I'll at least listen to your argument.

Tommy Milone had the soft rock working against the Dodgers on Wednesday, brushing them aside with a three-hit complete game (1 R, 1 BB, 2 K). Milone was in the zone with 72 of his 112 pitches, and his outfielders ran down 11 fly-ball outs. It's fun to watch a pitcher who's around the plate and works quickly. At his best, Milone has that Mark Buehrle look to him.

Milone's home/road splits are routine conversation whenever his name comes up: he's a 0.99/0.77 man in Oakland, a 7.42/1.67 pitfall on the road. I don't think he's quite that sketchy for the suitcase starts, given that his passport has already seen Arlington, Boston, Colorado and Arizona. Those are difficult assignments for anyone. Next week he gets two turns, at Seattle (use him there) and at Texas (the obvious skip). And if you're in a league that heavily considers K/9, of course, you probably can't use him anywhere.

The diagnosis came down on Jose Valverde: he's dealing with a sprained right wrist and won't do anything for a few more days. No one seems to think this will be a long-term thing; we'll see.

Joaquin Benoit presumably steps to the front of the Detroit handshake line (and has the stats to justify the spot), though lefty Phil Coke might see some matchup work in the ninth. I wouldn't bother with Octavio Dotel as a saves chase, given he's just off the DL and had some messes in the ninth earlier this year (Jim Leyland surely remembers that).

I recognize the hapless Pirates offense has regained some hap this month, posting 83 runs (tied for tenth in the majors) over 18 games. Nonetheless, Francisco Liriano stopped this group fairly easily Wednesday (6.2 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 6 K) and I expect a similar line when Doug Fister heads to Pittsburgh on Friday. The healthy-again Fister is immediately available in 40 percent of Yahoo! leagues. Back to Liriano, he's been useful in four of his last five turns, which means I'll trust him at home next week against the White Sox. But this is a game-by-game contract on my clipboard.

Is anyone ready to put Justin Masterson back in the Circle of Trust? The Cleveland Spider slung nine terrific innings against the Reds (3 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 9 K) and he's been on top of his game over four June starts (1.24/0.86, 27 K, 6 BB). Have a look at the tape, see what you make of it.

Masterson's improved his sinker this year, and a more-utilized slider has helped the cause. He's also fooling around with a change now and then, perhaps as a way to potentially solve left-handed hitters (he's still looking for a best answer to that long-running problem, but we've seen too many good turns to back away now).

The only immediate buzzkill to Masterson is the schedule: he's at Yankee Stadium (avoid) and Camden Yards (borderline call) next week. Otherwise, I'm fully on board with a point-and-click. Masterson awaits your call in 53 percent of Yahoo! leagues.

Our friend The Admiral would like a quick word on San Diego's Everth Cabrera, who collected three hits Wednesday and his 11th steal of the year (he's yet to be caught). Cabrera fell into a quick 0-for-17 slump when recalled in mid-May, but he's on a 28-for-90 roll since (with a couple of surprising homers thrown in). Cabrera qualifies at both second and short, and he's only owned in six percent of Yahoo! groups. Make The Chicken happy; look into this speed merchant.

Speed Round: Allen Craig tweaked his wrist during a diving catch Wednesday, but it appears he's going to be okay: he's listed in the preliminary St. Louis lineup for Thursday. Double check the box score before first pitch, but the oft-injured Craig may have dodged a bullet here. … The Red Sox are willing to eat most of the Fred Sanford Kevin Youkilis contract in a potential trade. I'll be flabbergasted if the hobbling veteran is still in Boston come August (and I expect a deal to happen much sooner). Be sure to hold Will Middlebrooks anywhere you have him. … Brad Mills has dropped Jed Lowrie to the No. 6 slot, just to tick me off, apparently. Although Lowrie is batting .228 in June, he still has a zippy .892 OPS. That just about makes him Hack Wilson on the 2012 Astros. … The other cleat officially dropped for Brandon Beachy: he needs Tommy John surgery for his damaged elbow. Sorry about that, amigos. … Dexter Fowler's slump started at home but it's intensified on the road, where he hasn't hit all year. He's a .324/.436/.631 stick in the thin air, and a .169/.250/.296 sinkhole everywhere else. Coors Field does seem to have a hangover effect for some hitters; they get used to off-speed pitches not breaking nearly as much in the mile-high air, then have trouble adjusting when the road beckons. … Ryan Raburn will get a second base start Thursday, which is Jim Leyland's version of being cocky. The Tigers are also getting Alex Avila (hamstring) back, a major boost for the lineup. … Infinite cake and birthday wishes to a Papaya I know. May it be a terrific year for you.