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Edinson Volquez has not slowed down from his 2015 success

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Volquez has established himself as the bonafide ace.

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

The Royals are amidst an abominable slump, dropping six of their last seven games. There has not been much to be excited about lately.  The few bright spots have been highlighted quite a bit already - Mike Moustakas’s power surge, Eric Hosmer’s steady contributions (164 wRC+), and the eighth and ninth inning duo relievers that are proven to be sure-fire cyborgs in Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis.

Another shining star that is getting a little less fanfare is Edinson Volquez. Expected by most analysts to take a step backwards in year two in Kansas City, he has silenced his critics compiling a 3.13 ERA through six starts. He has won three of his first six decisions, while hurling quality starts in four of them.  You can say five, if you want to include his 5 2/3 IP 2 ER outing on April 10 against Minnesota.

Edinson Volquez

ERA

FIP

K/BB

HR/9

GB%

SwStr%

2015 Season

3.55

3.82

2.2

0.7

46

9.5

2016 Season

3.13

2.94

2.9

0.5

53

9.4

There is enough data to suggest his ground ball improvements are for real. Where I am a little more skeptical is his strikeout-to-walk ratio. Volquez’s swinging-strike rate as well as his first-strike rate remain virtually unchanged.  First-strike rate correlates very well with walks, and has only ticked up one percentage point from 58% to 59%. Those rates are right in line with a league-average MLB starter this year, which are averaging 7.9 strikeouts-per-nine innings and 3.2 walks-per-nine innings, while Eddie currently sits at 7.7 and 2.7, respectively.  Perhaps, last year’s 7.0 strikeouts-per-nine innings were a little lower than his ability to miss bats dictated, but I do expect his walks to increase a little.  It is difficult for me to envision a lot more growth than he’s displayed in 2014-2015, especially with his haunted history of control issues.

Edinson Volquez

BB/9

First  Strike%

2013 Season

4.1

57

2014 Season

3.3

60

2015 Season

3.2

58

2016 Season

2.7

59

There are a lot of similarities when dissecting his six start sample and comparing to his 2015 campaign.  His pitch mix remains unchanged. A steady dose of sinkers, complimenting with a knuckle-curve, change up, with an occasional four-seam fastball.  His velocity is right on par with last year’s averages, and with velocity typically peaking a little later in the year that is an encouraging sign.

Looking at the Pitch FX data, his sinker and curve have practically identical shape, while the change have a little extra arm side run.

Horizontal Movement (Fangraphs)

Year

Fourseam

Sinker

Change

Curve

2016

-7.5

-9.4

-8.3

4.8

2015

-6.9

-9.6

-7.4

5.1

His changeup has been vital to his success, and it has elite drop for inducing ground balls as well as plenty of fade for whiffs. While he lacks the stuff of a prototypical "ace", but with stud defenders playing behind him, he could continue to produce like one. If he decides to sell out for more strikeouts once he's at peak velocity, he can substitute some sinkers and curves for fastballs and change ups. I still don't see any reason for mixing things up much, as he seems to have found his sweet spot focusing his efforts in inducing ground balls.

Volquez is tied for second on the club with Salvador Perez in fWAR at +0.9, trailing the amazing start of Mike Moustakas. The rest of rotation is combining for a +0.1 WAR, so you can see why I am singing Edinson's praises. While he will have an occasional clunker like he did at Anaheim last week, allowing eight earned runs, there’s a reason he’s renowned as "Steady Eddie." The organization is already reaping the profits from his 2-year $20M contract, and before it is all said and done could be one of the bigger free agency bargains in recent years.