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Vidal Nuno: The Hidden Secret of the Trumbo Trade

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We know what to expect from Mark Trumbo, but what about Vidal Nuno?

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, the Mariners brashly pulled the trigger on a trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks, acquiring Mark Trumbo and Vidal Nuno. The overwhelming response to this trade has been, "meh." Trumbo has received all of the headlines so far—he’s the more recognizable name and his offensive profile helps him fill out all of the traditional stat lines. Even though he’ll hit a bunch of dingers, he’ll probably provide an upgrade of just 1.0 WAR over Rickie Weeks, Dustin Ackley, or whatever other outfielder Lloyd decides to throw out in left field. To me, the most interesting piece of this trade is the player no one is talking about: Vidal Nuno.

Nuno was drafted in 2009 by the Cleveland Indians in the 48th round. He was released by Cleveland a year later, and in 2011, he was signed by the New York Yankees out of independent ball. He quickly moved through their system and made his major league debut in 2013. Last year, he made 28 starts in addition to 3 relief appearances, split between the Yankees and the Diamondbacks. Nuno started this year in Triple-A as the Diamondbacks found themselves with a bounty of young starters.

Throughout his minor league career, he was able to post excellent strikeout rates at every level he pitched in. He’s posted a 22.5% strikeout rate over six years in the minors and that skill hasn’t diminished in the majors. With such a high strikeout rate, it’s surprising to learn that Nuno’s fastball averages just 90 miles per hour. He throws his fastball with a significant amount of "rise" and is able to generate an above average amount of whiffs with the pitch..

Pitchers with a rising fastball generally run high fly ball rates and Nuno certainly follows that trend. Pitching in Yankee Stadium and Chase Field definitely drove his high home run rate and moving to Safeco should alleviate some of the problems he’s had with the long ball. This seems to be the kind of undervalued profile Jack Zduriencik likes to acquire—pitchers like J.A. Happ, Chris Young, and Aaron Harang all have a rising fastball without impressive velocity who certainly benefitted from the friendly confines of Safeco Field.

The rest of his arsenal includes a sinker, a changeup, a slider, and a curveball. Here’s a look at pitch mix and his Pitch Arsenal Scores from last year:

Pitch

Velocity

Frequency

H Mov

V Mov

Four-seam

90.0 mph

32.6%

3.53

10.24

Sinker

88.8 mph

15.0%

8.89

7.73

Changeup

82.6 mph

10.3%

7.41

8.17

Slider

83.0 mph

26.5%

-2.73

2.60

Curveball

77.3 mph

15.6%

-4.86

-5.15

Nuno_PA

He throws both his sinker and changeup almost exclusively to right-handed hitters. Neither pitch is very good so righties have been able to tee off on him. His career platoon split is extremely large, right-handed batters sport a .332 wOBA against him while lefties are held to just .267 wOBA.

His slider is good enough to throw to both righties and lefties alike and he’s increased its effectiveness in limited action this year. As a reliever, he’s been able to add 3 mph to the pitch and he’s throwing it 40% of the time. He’s generating more whiffs with the pitch than ever before and it looks like it could become a weapon he can call on in addition to his fastball.

Here are a few GIFs of his slider from his relief appearance on May 26. The first is a slider thrown to Matt Carpenter, a lefty:

Nuno slider LHB

And here’s a slider thrown to Matt Holliday, a righty:

Nuno slider RHB

There’s some good late break to the pitch and the additional velocity helps him differentiate it from his changeup and curveball. Increasing its usage also means he’s throwing his other pitches less often which is a good thing considering their quality. Yet, across the board, his whiff rates on all of his pitches have increased (small sample size caveat applies). It’s possible batters are struggling against his other pitches because they’re worried about his slider in the back of their mind.

In the end, Vidal Nuno probably won’t amount to much more than a back-end starter but that’s a commodity the Mariners have been desperately short on. Injuries to Hisashi Iwakuma and James Paxton and Taijuan Walker’s ineffectiveness (barring his last two starts) has stretched the Mariners’ pitching depth to its limits. The Mariners will have Nuno cost controlled for five years (two years of team control and three arbitration years), giving them another option for worst-case scenarios like they find themselves in now. When the rotation is firing on all cylinders, the Mariners can stick him in the bullpen where he’s proven he can be effective as well. Nuno is exactly the type of pitcher we’ve all hoped the Mariners would acquire to address the rotation depth and that might end up being more valuable than a few dingers from Mark Trumbo.