Juan Nicasio, a key win, and the concept of upside


When Juan Nicasio is good, just how good is he?

When Nicasio is right, which he certainly was over the course of six shutout innings in the team’s 3-1 victory over the Atlanta Braves on Saturday, you could argue that he is capable of pitching like an ace. His fastball and the 2014 version of his slider are certainly plus pitches, the kinds of pitches that aces possess in their arsenals.

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Nicasio is not an ace. You cannot count on him to pitch the way he did Saturday every time his turn in the rotation comes up. Sometimes his command gets away from him. Sometimes those secondary pitches do not cooperate, ballooning towards the plate to be mashed by opposing hitters. Juan Nicasio is nothing if not inconsistent. But when he is good, he is very good.

Given the possibility that Nicasio will pitch the way he did on Saturday, in a game that the Rockies desperately needed in the infant stages of a tough road trip, can you afford to remove him from the rotation? That will be a question worth legitimate consideration as Tyler Chatwood and Brett Anderson return from injury and as Eddie Butler knocks down the door for his big league debut.

I’m not sure you can afford to remove Nicasio from the rotation. If you view him as the 5th starter, then he offers upside rarely found in the 5th spot of any team’s rotation. It’s not so simple, though. Start to write out a Rockies rotation (with everybody healthy) in the order of the guys you consistently trust:

Jorge De La Rosa
Jhoulys Chacin (more based on last year, but nobody is removing him)
Tyler Chatwood (same as Chacin)
Brett Anderson (arguably the most ace potential of the group)
Jordan Lyles
Juan Nicasio

If you view him as the 5th starter, then he offers upside rarely found in the 5th spot of any team’s starting rotation.

That’s my order, at least. I love Nicasio’s upside and it makes me wonderfully happy when he pitches as well as he did on Saturday. But at the same time I can comfortably write five other guys ahead of him whom I trust more.

Because of injuries and the fickle nature of starting pitching in general, the Rockies will presumably never have the welcome problem of having all of these guys healthy at the same time. But if they ever do they will face a tough decision with Nicasio. The way I see it he has higher upside but less consistency than a guy like Jordan Lyles. Additionally, Nicasio might be better-equipped to throw out of the bullpen because of his ability to throw in the mid-90’s.

It stands to potentially be an intriguing question. If it does ever come about, the Rockies will have to answer a difficult question about the risk/reward of running Nicasio out there every 5th day.