Edinson Volquez had an amazing start to the 2014 season. Through his first five appearances (four starts), he had a 2.18 ERA in 33 innings, with a 20:8 K/BB ratio. The numbers said that he would regress and see a decline going forward, but not to the extreme he saw. In his four starts since that great debut, Volquez has combined for an 8.31 ERA in 21.2 innings, with a 12:8 K/BB ratio.
A few weeks ago, Nate Barnes wrote about Volquez, wondering which version the Pirates will get going forward. So far it has been the bad version. There is hope that Volquez can turn things around. He has a 4.23 xFIP. That wouldn’t be great going forward, but it would be much better than what he has done the last few weeks. He also has a 2.36 BB/9, which is the lowest rate of his Major League career. The problem has been the long ball, with Volquez owning a 17.3% HR/FB ratio. It’s hard to say if this is unlucky. Pitchers tend to be around 10%. Volquez has been around 12% in his career, although he also played a few years for the Reds and Rangers, giving him two home run friendly parks. I don’t expect him to stay near 17%.
Volquez might be better than what the Pirates have seen lately. The question is, how long can they give him? The Triple-A rotation is full of guys who are having success. I’ve said that Brandon Cumpton should already be up to take the rotation spot from Wandy Rodriguez. In all fairness, the velocity from Rodriguez was up in his last start, which covered my biggest concern. He also had a decent outing. If he does the same tomorrow, he might buy himself some more time. I still feel more comfortable with Cumpton, especially since he continues to dominate in Triple-A, and has had success in the majors.
Back to Volquez, he can’t keep pitching the way he’s currently been pitching and remain in the rotation. The Pirates have pretty much killed their chances at competing this year, so having Volquez continue to struggle might not matter at this point. But if they want to hold onto the slimmest chances of competing, then they need something to change right now.
If Volquez can’t turn things around right away, then the Pirates could turn to Jeff Locke, Casey Sadler, or Vance Worley. All three are pitching well in Triple-A right now. The Pirates would also have any of those guys beyond the 2014 season. So if those guys came up and had success, but the Pirates didn’t turn their season around, they’d at least be working to fill future rotation spots. That can’t be said with Volquez, who is only under team control through the 2014 season.
The one downside to making the switch is that the Pirates wouldn’t be getting a lot of upside with the three guys in Triple-A. At best, you’re looking at a strong number four starter from any of those guys. That’s not the best thing for the long-term. In the short-term, it would provide an upgrade over a struggling Volquez.
I wouldn’t remove Volquez from the rotation right now. I’d give him a few more starts to see if he can turn things around and cut out the home runs. That also gives Ray Searage a chance to see if he can eliminate that huge flaw that has shown up over the last four starts. If Volquez can eliminate the home runs, then he could be better than Locke, Sadler, or Worley. That’s worth the risk. But the Pirates can only wait so long for that potential reward, and if it’s not showing up over the next few starts, they need to make a switch.
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