- 2015 vs L (334 PA): .298/.381/.495, 18.3% K, 9.9% BB, .376 wOBA
- 2015 vs R (418 PA): .198/.275/.293, 20.8% K, 7.7% BB, .255 wOBA
- 2016 (through 5/16) vs L (92 PA):
- .205/.286/.407, 20.7% K, 9.8% BB, .299 wOBA
- 2016 (through 5/16) vs R (119 PA):
- .224/.308/.365, 18.5% K, 8.4% BB, .296 wOBA
- 2016 (5/16 through ROS) vs L (285 PA):
- .263/.380/.426, 14.7% K, 14.0% BB, .353 wOBA
- 2016 (5/16 through ROS) vs R (311 PA):
- .299/.386/.465, 18.3% K, 8.7% BB, .370 wOBA
Now, take a look at his rest-of-season fastball location against lefties:
Boy, I sure wonder why that didn’t work. Still, Nelson was bad against lefties prior to this small eight-start sample to begin 2016, so it’s not shocking that he lost his effectiveness as the season went on. The really scary thing is how he got annihilated by same-handed hitting, something that was not a problem for Nelson previously.
From mid-May on, his home-run-to-fly-ball ratio against righties was an enormous 20.8%. Only two qualified pitchers posted worse full-season HR/FB rates when facing right-handers in 2016: Jon Niese and Jaime Garcia. By contrast, Nelson’s HR/FB ratio vsR in 2015 was just 8.0%, and sat at 10.7% when I wrote that post after his eighth start this year.
Against right-handers, I’d like you to simply check out his full-repertoire heat maps, first looking at his data through mid-May, when I last wrote about him:
From mid-May on, his hard stuff moved right over the heart of the plate — much like it did against lefties — while he almost exclusively worked low-and-away with his secondary pitches, resulting in a full-repertoire map that looks like this:
The problem with Jimmy Nelson isn’t his ability to gameplan. He’s made significant alterations to his pitch usage since he debuted in pro baseball. He started off in the minors as a fastball/slider guy, then developed his sinker (now his primary pitch) and curveball, giving him a full starter’s repertoire.
The issue here is that it doesn’t matter how smart or coachable you are, if you can’t command your pitches to suit your strategy. In each of the past two seasons, Nelson’s BB/9 soared — from 2.47 in ’14, to 3.30 in ’15, to 4.32 in ’16 — while his HR/9 (0.78 in ’14, 0.91 in ’15, 1.25 in ’16) escalated right along with the walks. In fact, Nelson was one of just two pitchers to surrender at least 25 homers and 85 walks this year, the other being Francisco Liriano.
When I wrote about him back in May, Nelson looked like he was developing into a useful fantasy starter. At the time, he held a 3.51 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP, and while not all of his peripherals aligned with those surface stats, it seemed that a change in strategy was creating a pitching profile that generates consistent weak contact.
Unfortunately, all the strategy in the world can’t help a pitcher if hitters have a better idea where the ball’s going than he does.
Scott Strandberg started writing for Rotographs in 2013. He works in small business consultation, and he also writes A&E columns for The Norman Transcript newspaper. Scott lives in Seattle, WA.