The Pittsburgh Pirates have recently acquired the 30 year old Edinson Volquez through free agency for a 1 year, $5 million dollar contract. If you’ve never heard of (or followed) Volquez, he is a right handed starter that has bounced around quite a bit of late, pitching for 3 teams in the last 3 years. Typically, this is an indication of someone with a lot of talent, who has a hard time recording outs. This is definitely true of Volquez, as he allowed a major league worst 114 runs in 170 innings, yielding a major league worst 5.71 ERA (4th worst defense independent ERA of 4.26).
Volquez’s fastball averages 93 MPH, but tops out in the high 90’s, giving him the live arm that the Pittsburgh Pirates are always on the lookout for. His 7.5 K/9 innings easily puts him in the top 25 pitchers in the major leagues. He has proven that he definitely has the stuff to be an upper echelon pitcher. Ray Searage and Jim Benedict will be working on his mechanics to gain a lot more consistency so that we see more of the good numbers from Volquez, and less of the bad.
Here are some key indicators to look for as Volquez progresses through the year:
1) First and foremost, Volquez must reduce his WHIP (walks + hits per innings pitched). His WHIP last year was a league worst 1.59 – which essentially means he yields on average almost 2 runners per inning. He must maintain a WHIP of around 1 to be effective.
2) The best way for Volquez to improve his WHIP is to eliminate the walks. Volquez is a career 5 walk/9 inning guy. As with every young pitcher who struggles with control, a tell-tale sign for Volquez is first pitch strikes. Searage’s and Benedict’s top priority has to be a pitching delivery that yields a fast ball that Volquez can command early in the counts. When watching Volquez in the games, if he doesn’t throw a lot of first pitch strikes, he is in trouble.
3) Volquez must also improve his ground ball to fly ball ratio. Searage is a big believer in pitchers producing ground balls. The Pirates predicate their entire defense on ground balls, as the infield always shifts to the hitter’s ground ball tendencies. Last year, Volquez allowed more fly balls than ground balls, yielding 19 HR and 43 doubles, both of which were near the bottom of MLB pitchers.
In short, if you see Volquez throw first pitch strikes, and get a lot of ground balls/strike outs, it will be prudent to show patience with him, even if he shows slow but sure progress in those areas. But, if we get to mid-season, and he still struggles with going deep into counts, and gives up a lot of fly balls, any success he has will be tenuous, and it may be prudent to move him to let one of the Pirates talented arms from the minor leagues have a chance.