Last season with the Reds, Edinson Volquez pitched 108 2/3 innings. He struck out 8.63 batters every nine innings, but he also walked 5.38. He gave up 1.57 home runs every nine innings to top things all off. The bottom line: he just wasn’t good. With a change of scenery and the Padres pitching coaches to help him, Volquez is already showing signs of improvement this spring.
Historically, Volquez walks a lot of batters. In his career he has a BB/9 ratio of 4.84. No amount of work with him will get him to have the pinpoint control someone like Greg Maddux exhibited in his career, but with some careful refinement, it may be possible to keep Volquez consistently at his peak (peak in this case actually being the lowest BB/9 of his career) of 3.97 walks per nine innings. He’s shown much more command this spring already, and that’s without the added bonus of pitching in Petco Park.
Courtesy of Brooks Baseball, I’ve pulled some of the Pitchf/x data for Volquez from 2011, a season in which he struggled mightily, and so far in 2012.
2012 (Spring Training)
The pessimist will look at these two tables and see that Volquez is throwing his sinker and his curveball for a lot more balls than he did in 2011 (percentage-wise). The optimist will ignore that and see that Volquez is throwing his four seam fastball and his change up for less balls, more whiffs, and more strikes. So who should we go with, the pessimist or the optimist?
Volquez uses his fastball about three times more than his sinker or curveball, and he uses his changeup about two times more than those other two pitches. While the sinker and the curve are important, he is clearly improving his control of his two best pitches. You can see, across the board, Volquez is pitching more to contact and has a higher percentage of balls in play. Much of this can be attributed to his preparation for pitching in Petco Park. He made a conscious decision when he was traded to the Padres to pitch more to contact. Pitcher in San Diego have that luxury.
Now obviously we are working with two completely different sample sizes here. The 2011 number encompass all of last season. The 2012 numbers include just spring training. So let’s focus on what Volquez is doing right this spring and what he is doing wrong as opposed to trying to compare his numbers to years past.
Volquez is 2-0 in five games started this spring. He has a 3.48 ERA and has pitched 20 2/3 innings. His strikeouts are surprisingly low (5.85 per 9 innings), but his walks are at 4.79 per nine innings. He still walks more than most would like him to, but 4.79 per nine is still lower than his career average. Let’s take a closer look at what pitches Volquez is using to produce these improvements.
Again, Volquez’s two best pitches are his fastball and his changeup. His fastball is arguably the better of the two pitches. Volquez is touching 95 mph in March with both his fastball and his sinker. That’s pretty impressive when couple with the drop off in velocity he can bring with his curveball and change up. The curveball drops by about 15 mph, and the change up drops by about 10 mph.
It’s still early, too early to tell whether Volquez will translate to a solid pitcher in San Diego or not. However, early results are promising. When he came over from Cincinnati, Volquez was projected as the team’s number four or number five starter. Now, he is slated to be the Padres’ number three in the rotation. With the size of Petco Park, Volquez should be able to continue pitching to contact. He is becoming less of a strikeout pitcher and more of a finesse pitcher. Whether this is by design of the pitching coaches or not, I don’t know. To be a pitcher who relies on location, you generally expect that pitcher to have incredible control. Volquez has moderate control at best, but he is improving.
If Volquez can keep his walks down to about 4.5 per nine or less, continue pitching to contact, and limit the home runs given up on the road, we should see big improvements over his last few years in Cincinnati. It’s probably safe to say Volquez’s 2007 was probably a fluke, but he has the makings to be a solid number three starter. Under no circumstances should we expect a Cy Young caliber performance from Volquez, but his control improvements will allow him to pitch well for San Diego. He is looking more and more like an asset and a steal when included in the package the Padres got for Mat Latos.