StaTuesday: Brewers' Jimmy Nelson has things under control
Milwaukee Brewers starting pitcher Jimmy Nelson has taken a huge leap forward this season and it is pretty easy to see why.
Nelson is walking fewer batters and striking out more in 2017. That's a recipe for success.
In 2016, Nelson led the National League in both walks and hit by pitches. In 2015, he also led the league in hit batters and was second in wild pitches.
But Nelson has things under control this year.
After walking 4.3 batters per nine innings in 2016 -- and 3.6 over his first four seasons -- Nelson, through his first 20 starts, is allowing just 2.2 free passes per nine innings. Along with allowing slightly fewer hits than last year (8.8/9 down from 9.3/9), Nelson has a career-best 1.227 WHIP.
In conjunction with walking fewer batters, Nelson is whiffing more. A lot more.
His previous K/9 rates in his first four seasons was pretty consistent: 7.2, 7.4, 7.5 and 7.0. This season Nelson is fanning 9.8 batters per nine innings.
As a result, his strikeout to walk ratio has improved tremendously. Entering this season, Nelson's whiff to walk ratio was 2.02 and last season it was a career-low 1.63. This year Nelson's ratio is an impressive 4.40.
How impressive? If he keeps it up, it would be just the ninth time in Brewers history that a pitcher with at least 20 games started had a ratio of 4.0 or better. Nelson would be just the sixth to do it overall, and (based on him having 12 more starts and averaging six innings per game) just the third with over 172 innings.
By the way, this year Nelson also has hit "only" five batters this season and thrown two wild pitches (he had 30 and 19, respectively, combined the last two seasons).
Nelson currently has 132 strikeouts as well. If he can keep up his current pace, Nelson would finish with the second-most strikeouts in Brewers history, behind Ben Sheets' 264 in 2004.
How rare would be this feat? It's only happened nine times previously in franchise history and by five pitchers.
Nelson is currently has the fourth-best K/9 in Brewers history at 9.85 (minimum 20 starts). Only twice has a Milwaukee pitcher with 200 innings struck out nine or more batters per nine innings. As it stands, Nelson would fall just short of 200 innings if he maintains his current pace, but should top 190 innings. Only Sheets and Yovani Gallardo (three times) have reached 185 innings in a season and had a 9.0 K/9 or better.
With a 3.43 ERA -- he's tied for ninth in the NL with an adjusted ERA of 130 -- not to mention a 3.23 FIP (fourth in the NL behind just Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw and Stephen Strasburg), the 28-year-old Nelson has turned into a legitimate workhorse and ace. When you look at the above numbers, it's no surprise why.
Dave Heller is the author of Ken Williams: A Slugger in Ruth's Shadow, Facing Ted Williams - Players From the Golden Age of Baseball Recall the Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived and As Good As It Got: The 1944 St. Louis Browns