I’m not ashamed to admit that I once had a love affair with Edinson Volquez. He was wild, unfaithful at times, but I was younger then. (That’s how time and the aging process work, as I understand them.) The willingness to live on the edge, the danger he brought, it was part of his allure.
We occasionally reconciled through the years, but for only brief periods. As I matured, I grew to know my boundaries, and too often, Volquez crossed them. Eventually, I understood that he was just no good for me. I taught myself not to answer the phone. Eventually, he stopped calling.
As any old flame with whom we’ve had that nearly instant chemistry can, however, Volquez stoked the flame once more. He made a silent appeal to be part of my life again. He cleaned himself up. He got a new job. He seemed to admit to himself that corrective surgery alone wasn’t going to fix his problems. He’d (at least once) turned to drugs, but that just landed him in hot water. He’d struggled to understand that his façade is practically perfect. The issue: He was ugly on the inside. The difference, this time, is that he seems to be in denial no longer.
This is where his support system, overseen by Pittsburgh Pirates GM Neal Huntington, had intervened. This organization seems to have developed a knack for that. It’s hard to argue otherwise: Their holistic approach to aid pitchers in attempts to reclaim careers has achieved noteworthy results.
He begged for attention this time with a 1.29 ERA through 14 innings, but that number isn’t going to sway the average analyst, let alone a scorned former companion. Thankfully, Volquez has never shown disturbing platoon splits. Indeed, mostly that’s because they haven’t mattered; left- or right-handed batter, they’ve all drawn free passes against him. Heck, RHBs have have actually taken him deep much more often than LHBs.
But give me just a taste of that 5.6 walk percentage (lifetime rate: 11.8!), and he may have me on the hook once more. What have the Pirates done to you, Edinson? He’s started out with what would be the best first-strike rate of his career, the first time it’d be at or above 60 percent. He’s also been pounding the zone at a significantly greater rate – nearly 55 percent of the time – than he has in any previous full season. It’s clear that the Bucs have laid the foundation, at least, to alter the fortunes of this talented hurler.
Maybe he has to sacrifice something in order to achieve this success. Volquez’s 8.4 swinging-strike percentage would be the lowest mark of his career. The 18.5 strikeout percentage wouldn’t be, thanks to the reduction in rate of batters faced, but it’d almost certainly result in the lowest K/9 of his lifetime. I can live with that, especially because I’m confident that he still has the ability to generate those tantalizing K’s and bring me to greater heights on occasion, if only to satisfy a yearning (or to get out of a second-and-third, no-out jam).
Pittsburgh must expect a benefit to elevated usage of Volquez’s sinking fastball, a pitch he threw more than one-third of the time last season. In 2014, he’s tossed that offering a touch more frequently than he did last year. The early returns on the value of that pitch have been positive, unlike in previous seasons, however. Perhaps this is where to be wary: His opponents have lined that pitch one-third of the time, but the average on balls in play for that sinker so far is just .250; he hasn’t recorded a season with a BABIP below .306 against that pitch in any previous season. Perhaps it’s a stroke of luck or an adjustment away from a serious correction.
Volquez’s zone profile from Brooks Baseball doesn’t reveal a dramatic change in his location, either; he’d already had somewhat of a tendency to keep the ball down.
Certainly, we haven’t seen enough to call Volquez the favorite for NL Comeback Player of the Year. As Jerry Crasnick’s column notes, Francisco Liriano benefited from a stay in extended spring training thanks to a non-pitching-related injury. Volquez’s overhaul, on the other hand, is a work-in-progress. It’s trial by fire. Someone is going to blow him up. It’ll probably have little to do with the opponent and a lot to do with Volquez. He’ll be unpredictable. But I’ll probably be there to pick up the pieces, at least for a little while.
Considering the Bucs’ recent track record and our knowledge of their reported methods, we cannot dismiss his early-campaign success as fluke. We aren’t exactly looking at a player whom we’d expect to close this season with a sub-2.00 ERA. But if he were to end it with the first sub-3.0 BB/9 – hell, the first sub-4.0 BB/9 – of his major league career, then we’d have to have admitted at some point that he started to romance us again. And if we added him to our teams and he were to finish with an ERA along the lines of his 3.45 xFIP, we surely wouldn’t bitch.
In the Mixed Tout Wars Draft league, I’ve decided to give Volquez another chance. I’d say that I’ll let you know how it goes, but his travails remain fodder for the roto tabloids, so there’s no need. And if you happen to wander into some saloon in a couple of months and bump into a surly drunkard leaning against the jukebox, shoving quarters into it in order to ensure that Taylor Swift’s catalog remains on shuffle, then you’ll have an idea of how things turned out for me.
(Just kidding. Holy crap, you don’t really think that I’d listen to Taylor Swift, do you? I’m vomiting.)
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