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2016 Season Preview: Edinson Volquez

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Has he discovered a secret to beating FIP?

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Royals were in desperate need of innings in 2015 following the departure of James Shields.  The Royals gambled on free agent Edinson Volquez, whose career was resurrected by pitching coach Ray Searage with the Pirates. That move paid huge dividends for the Royals, not only because Volquez reached the 200 inning barrier, but also because he prevented runs at a better rate than Shields had in 2014.

In 2014 under Searage, Edinson Volquez started using a knuckle-curve, substituting it for some regular curve balls. He also began using his sinker a little more.  While the velocity on his four-seam fastball has remained stable over the years at 93-94 MPH, his usage continues to drop. Volquez relied on the heater heavily early in his career, but as he has aged, the pitch is no longer a staple of his repertoire. With the Royals, Volquez only tossed it 12% of the time, remaining committed to the sinker, knuckle-curve, as well as a bigger emphasis on the change up.

Pitch Usage

Season/Team

FA%

SI%

CU%

KC%

CH%

2013 Season – 2 Teams

20%

35%

25%

21%

2014 Season - Pirates

18%

37%

12%

14%

18%

2015 Season - Royals

12%

39%

24%

25%

Volquez has greatly out-pitched his peripherals the past two seasons, but the projection systems are expecting a significant step backwards.  Volquez can likely expect his unsexy strikeout-to-walk ratio and unsustainably low home run rate will cause his numbers to regress.

Edison Volquez

ERA

FIP

IP

K/9

BB/9

WAR

2015 season

3.55

3.82

200.1

7.0

3.2

2.6

2016 Steamer projection

4.27

4.30

163.0

6.8

3.2

1.4

2016 PECOTA projection

4.26

4.77

174.0

6.8

3.6

0.6

2016 ZIPS projection

4.06

4.38

175.3

6.7

3.5

1.4

When taking the entire season into context, his change-up proved to be the difference maker.  It was his go-to pitch for whiffs with a 18% swinging-strike rate.  The shape is evidence that it was no fluke, with more horizontal movement than his career norm. One extra inch of arm side run is nice.  His vertical drop on the pitch  from year to year has been fairly consistent,  getting 2 ½ inches more drop compared to your average change in 2015.  That would explain the 58% ground ball rate.  The 10 mph velocity gap, and the separation in vertical movement changes the eye level effectively.

Volquez’s sinker has always capped his upside. It is below-average in terms of whiffs and ground balls. An effective sinker is usually good for inducing groundballs at least 50% of the time. Volquez was miles away from that benchmark last year with a 40% rate on sinkers.  With Volquez's underwhelming command and control, the shape of the pitch is a necessity, and Volquez has been lackluster on that front.  The fade is nice, but the pitch simply does not drop enough, at least two inches less than average.  The knuckle-curve does have solid drop, a better option to induce a ground ball.

Volquez struggles to repeating his mechanics, so maintaining his velocity in the mid 90s is crucial for him.  His release points are not consistent. Perhaps the wide gulf in separation from his curve to his fastball led to his slump before the postseason. Was he tipping his pitches?

We all know what he’s capable of during his epic postseason run. When he’s shoving 96-97 mph with extra arm-side run and rise, there is plenty more room for error.  I would like to see his fastball and curve usage increased a bit, as they play well off each other.  It would just make perfect sense for him to cut that 38% sinker usage in half.

Our most recent memories of Volquez are fond ones, with him peaking in October when it mattered most, even under the most emotional of circumstances. It remains to be seen if Volquez will change his approach at all, but his polarizing skill set makes him one of the more interesting players to monitor this year.  With the elite defense still intact, he's a strong candidate to once again outperform his FIP.

What do you expect out of Edinson Volquez in 2016?