Edinson Volquez Takes the Next Step
Written by Troy Patterson Wednesday, 11 February 2009 08:00
Volquez had been a top prospect for a few years and was the Texas Rangers' #1 prospect heading into 2006. He had some growing pains in his early chances at the majors though, with very high walk rates but very limited sample sizes. After a trade for the very talented Josh Hamilton during the 2007-2008 off-season, he finally pulled it together.
Volquez returned home this off-season to have some knee tendonitis checked out, but he will be ready this season and should have no lingering effects, as this was handled quickly at the end of 2008. He also slowed in his first full season, but had a strong finish as his strikeout rate returned. He pitches for Dusty Baker, which is always a concern, but looking at his use, there are reasons to be optimistic.
A study run by RazzBall.com found that throwing 27+% curveball and sliders led to more injuries or decreased performance in the following season. They also found pitch count spikes of greater than 700 pitches leads to problems. Volquez had only 12% curves and sliders in 2008. He also had a good pitch increase from 2007.
Volquez was a highly rated prospect, but in 2006 he had some struggles in AAA and the Majors with his control, walking more than 4.50 batters per 9 innings at both levels. His K/BB in 120.2 IP at AAA was 1.81, which is far from elite. He appears to have turned this around in 2007, as his Minor League splits show a K/BB of 2.75. His Major League numbers suffered with a decreased strikeout rate and his K/BB was still below average at 1.93.
Looking at FanGraphs data for just the Major Leagues, he appears to have changed his approach from 2006 to 2007, as he went from throwing 10% sliders and 3% curveballs to throwing almost no sliders and 12% curveballs. In 2008, he changed again to add more changeups. This is important for two reasons. First, the changeup is his best pitch using pitch f/x, as it results in a swinging strike 20% of the time and a ball only 32% of the time. Second, the changeup causes the least amount of stress on the arm for off-speed pitches.
Volquez still had some control issues in 2008, as his BB/9 was 4.27 and a resulting K/BB of 2.22. This is not yet elite and will require a further drop in walks. The major reason for this high walk rate is his number of first pitch strikes. He falls behind hitters at one of the worst rates in baseball. For pitchers over 170 IP, he ranked only behind Barry Zito for lowest first pitch strike % at 52%. He will have to make improvements in walks to take the next step. Throwing early strikes is the first step in that direction.
His groundball rate will help him with pitching at Great American Ballpark. He threw a 46% groundball rate, limiting his HR/9 to 0.64. His HR/FB of 8.0% shows some luck, but with a low FB% the regression next year should be minimal.
The 10% increase in change up use shows he is making adjustments. His major limitation to cracking the Top 10 pitchers is walks. The good sign is that he learned how to improve the walks in the minors as he made the adjustments. If he can add in an extra 5-10% in first pitch strikes he can drop his walks/9 to under 4, which pushes his K/BB to 2.50 he would be a top 10 pitcher this year.
Volquez has great talent and has been a highly touted prospect for several years. He is still putting things together and could experience some growing pains in 2009. Taking him in the middle rounds as a number 2 or 3 starter this year is well worth the gamble.