The Pittsburgh Pirates have been a bit like the Statue of Liberty when it comes to broken pitchers: “Give me your tired, your poor…” They took a seemingly broken A.J. Burnett and received two productive years from him. They took a seemingly broken Francisco Liriano and he had a fantastic year for them last year and even won a playoff game. Now, the expectation is that their next tired and poor pitcher to reclaim is Edinson Volquez. It’s not going to happen.
I have to admit that I am biased against the guy. So let’s put that up there right at the start. He has been the worst starting pitcher in baseball over the past three seasons. He gave up the most earned runs allowed in his league in 2013 and the most walks in 2012. But people still look at him as a “stuff” guy that just needs to figure it out.
The past is littered with such guys. Stuff doesn’t always get you a good pitcher. Let’s put some things in perspective here. Edinson Volquez has made 154 starts in his career and pitched a total of 850 innings. For all that pitching, he has the grand sum of 1.7 rWAR to his credit. To be fair, Fangraphs.com gives his career 5.9 fWAR.
Volquez has one good season to his credit–2008, his first year with the Reds. That season featured his best BABIP and his best HR/9 rate. He also featured a 75.5% strand rate. All of which lead him to a FIP that season of 3.60. It was a good season. But the rest has been a whole lot of nothing.
Are there legitimate comparisons with Liriano who had his own struggles with the Twins before coming to Pittsburgh? Well, yes, if you want to state that both had been disappointing. But there was always some concern (whether fair or not) that the Twins never believed in him because he did not fit their pitch to contact, low walk mantra.
I think the comparison ends pretty much there. After completing a successful 2013, Liriano now has three very good seasons to his credit in his eight years of pitching. Volquez still has the one. Liriano has a 2.41 strikeout to walk ratio for his career. Volquez is at 1.77.
Liriano has a 1.333 WHIP for his career. Volquez has a career WHIP of 1.505. Liriano has a devastating pitch, his slider, which has racked up 99+ runs in value over his career and a change-up that has given him 16.4 runs of value above average. Volquez does not have such a killer pitch and his highest pitch value for any of his pitches is his change-up with has a career run value of 5.9. Every other Volquez pitch type has a negative value.
Liriano has struck out a batter more per nine for his career more than Volquez while walking a batter less. I think the situation with Liriano and the Pirates last year was that the Pirates had something to work with, just like what they did with Burnett. I don’t see the same canvas with Edinson Volquez.
Maybe I have been so down on Volquez for so long that I cannot see the silver lining the Pirates are seeing. I certainly can be proven wrong in thinking that there is no chance the Pirates turn him around. Some of his peripherals with his short stint with the Dodgers were better. So maybe that is what the Pirates see.
The projections are fairly kind to him. Two that I checked in with have him finishing with a 4.01 FIP. Another pegs it at 4.36 (his career average). Perhaps that would be good enough for what the Pirates are looking for. As a fourth or fifth guy in the rotation, that would be somewhat acceptable.
But those projections still like his 8.4 K/9 rate and look at his low LOB rate and high BABIP and say that he was unlucky. Perhaps. But perhaps he simply is not a very good pitcher who is what he is. I could be wrong. But don’t count me as an optimist here that the Pirates will raise another pitcher from the dead.