“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” That’s a quote from A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. It’s not exactly applicable to Edinson Volquez the last two years but it’s a strong point that I can use for illustrative purposes. Coming off the worst season of his career (5-7, 5.71 ERA, 1.57 WHIP an a PED suspension), Volquez rebounded for a solid campaign in his first year with the Padres last year giving hope that perhaps a return to his former glory could be in the offing (it wasn’t the “best of times” though as Volquez best season was 2008 when he went 17-8 with a 3.21 ERA, 1.33 WHIP and 206 Ks in 196 IP).
For his career, this is what we know with Volquez.
(1) He throws hard. His average fastball has traveled at least 93.6 mph in every one of his eight seasons.
(2) His heater allows him to strike a lot of batters out. For his career he’s punched out 653 batters in 679.2 innings, a rate of 8.65 K’s per nine innings. Since his career began in 2005 he ranks 12th among pitchers in K/9 (minimum 675 IP). That’s pretty impressive, no?
(3) He often has no control over his heater. I’m talking that you could crouch behind home plate without a glove and not have to worry about getting hit by a pitch at times. For his career his 4.93 BB/9 is atrocious and only worsened by the fact that he’s actually pulled off an amazing feat – he’s walked at least five batters per nine innings each of the past four years. Among hurlers who have thrown 675 innings since the start of 2005 he is the fourth worst hurler at throwing strikes. Here is the trio of deadbeat arms who have been worse in the BB/9 column: Oliver Perez (5.34), Daniel Cabrera (5.21) and Jonathan Sanchez (5.00). It’s pretty amazing that he’s continued to regularly get the ball given his lack of strike throwing, but just like the others on the list, managers see the talent and the dominating stuff and are willing to overlook some of the deficiencies at times.
(4) He’s displayed a very intriguing trend of increasing ground ball rates. When a player does this once, you take note. When he does it twice you’re intrigued. When he does it three times… sign me up. Volquez had never posted a ground ball rate over 46.3 percent his first five seasons in the big leagues, but the last three years that number has been 50.6 percent or higher. As a result of all those ground balls Volquez has posted a GB/FB ratio of 1.75, 1.75 and 1.79 the past three seasons. As I continue note, a player who generates strikeouts and ground outs is the number one arm type to target on draft day, and it’s also the type of arm that teams try to build their pitching staffs around (now you know why teams continually give Volquez the ball despite all the walks). To that end, have you ever watched Volquez pitch? There are times where batters simply have no chance to put the barrel on the ball. None. There are times where his fastball is darting and diving so much that he has no idea where it is going, the batter has no idea, and neither does the catcher. However, when he’s “locked in” batters have no chance. Unfortunately, he has trouble staying locked in for six consecutive innings so there is always some point in every start he makes where it could go horribly wrong for him.
In a vacuum there is an awful lot to like here. In addition to the strikeouts and the grounders, Volquez pitches his home games in Petco Park in San Diego. When he does make a mistake up in the zone he’s more than likely going to be able to avoid allowing a long ball because his ball yard isn’t going to hurt him (even with the fences being moved in a bit this season). He also pitches in the NL West where parks in San Francisco and Los Angeles are also pitcher friendly. Everything would be peachy if not for his propensity to dish out free passes. Given a run of 4-straight years of at least five walks per nine innings there really is no hope for a change. As crazy as it sounds, if he were to to walk “only” 4.05 batters per nine, a full batter above the league average in 2012, his prospects would improve greatly. Alas, you can’t expect that to happen so Volquez remains a highly intriguing reserve round add that you just hope somehow locks it in for the duration of a season, however unlikely such a prospect might be.
By Ray Flowers