Monday, May 27, 2013

Deconstructing Nolin

   New Hampshire Fisher Cats lefthander Sean Nolin became the first of Clutchlings' pre-season Top 10 Blue Jays prospects to graduate to the major leagues last week, when he was summoned for a Friday home start against the Orioles.
   That Nolin was called up was not a huge surprise; much of the talent ranked ahead of him is a level or two below him.  And despite missing April with an injury, he was tabbed by several publications in March to be one of the first call-ups for the big club. He had been dominant in 3 May starts at AA.
   Just the same, watching the first of our Top Prospect list make it to the majors was a little like watching your child about to walk across the stage at their high school graduation.  Except that in this case, given the results of Nolin's start, it was more like watching your kid trip on their gown as they climbed the stairs, and  tumble into the dais, knocking down the presenter, and a few faculty members in a domino-like sequence.

   Nolin lasted but an inning and a third in his major league debut, giving up 6 earned runs, 7 hits, and 1 walk, with no strikeouts.  Nolin threw 35 pitches, 22 for strikes.  A little troubling is the fact that he generated only 1 swing and miss - he didn't miss many bats.  I leave it up to the true sabermaticians to quantify the reasons for Nolin's struggles that day, but it comes down to this:  Nolin, who admitted that he was more than pumped up for this game, likely showed a case of nerves, and while throwing mainly two and four seamer fastballs, had his troubles hitting the strike zone - and when he did, especially to righthanded hitters, caught too much of the strike zone.

   We feel particularly bad for Nolin's parents, who drove for 10 hours to watch their son's brief MLB debut.
At the same time, even though he was sent back to New Hampshire after the game (which was likely the plan all along), Nolin has skyrocketed through the minors, and will be back at some point in the next calendar year.  He last lost a game at Low A in 2011, going a perfect 10-0 at two levels.  Thus far at New Hampshire, he is 2-0 with a 1.17 ERA, with 16Ks in 15 innings.
   We have a huge number of friends who are Jays fans, and many (incorrectly) criticized Nolin's promotion after the game.  This was not a situation like Ricky Romero's in April (and man, now that you think about it, some front office people really need to be called to account on judging him ready after one start at High A), when desperation was a factor.  With injuries wreaking havoc with the big club's starting staff, we had wondered earlier this month if former top prospect Deck McGuire might be in line for a promotion after a nice little series of good outings, but he's been  roughed up a bit in his last couple of starts.  Nolin was the best option available (the Buffalo Bisons are not in 2nd place in the International League's Northern Division on the strength of their starting pitching), and even though down the road he may profile better as a reliever (Keith Law rates his change up as "fringy"), it's easy to understand why the parent club put out the call for him.  He's had a pretty dominant run over the past season and a bit.
   Marc Hulet of Fangraphs  doesn't think Nolin's recall was as logical as I do:

   (T)he promotion of Nolin may not be in the best long-term interests of the club or the young pitching prospect.
From a business standpoint, Nolin doesn’t have to be added to the 40-man roster until after the season. If he gets called up this year — prior to roster expansion on Sept. 1 — it presumably won’t be to stay so he’ll burn his first of three option years. Perhaps more importantly, the southpaw opened the year on the disabled list and has made just three starts in 2013, as well as just six starts above A-ball (including last year) for his career.

   With Josh Johnson and J.A. Happ injured, Romero getting pounded in Buffalo, and much of the organization's depth at many positions depleted in an effort to bolster the major league roster, Nolin is about all there is available at this time.   
   The best thing for Nolin is for him to continue to build his arm strength at New Hampshire, and continue to work on his change.  And forget about the outing against Baltimore.

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