Vance Worley Looks Like the Pirates Big Reclamation Project This Year

On Tuesday, Pittsburgh Pirates’ manager Clint Hurdle talked about how teams needed depth in the rotation, and needed to think about Plan B, Plan C, and beyond. That’s been true for the Pirates this year, as seen by the fact that they currently have three starting pitchers in the majors who were in Triple-A to start the season.

One of those starters is Vance Worley. At the start of the year he looked like a guy you could place in the “beyond” category, just past Plan C. The Pirates acquired Worley for cash from the Minnesota Twins at the end of Spring Training. Worley had struggled with the Twins during the 2013 season, and had been outrighted to Triple-A a few days before the Pirates acquired him. The Twins had planned on making him a set-up man. The Pirates still saw him as a starter.

As for where he fell on the depth charts, they felt he had a good chance to get back to where he was before 2013, and had his chances of reaching the majors higher than everyone else.

“I guess in other people’s eyes he was beyond a plan C,” Hurdle said about Worley surprising everyone this year. “We signed him for a reason, because we thought he could help at the Major League level. He’s been a Major League pitcher. He’s had success here. The fact that he was able to clean up some things, just re-visit the delivery, the mindset when he was having success. Feel that again. Talk about some of the challenges that came after that. And then just start over. Start with a new organization. Clean chalk board. I’ve seen him pitch very, very well. I saw him a couple of Spring Trainings ago, it was lights out. Saw him last Spring, it wasn’t.”

Worley had good numbers in the Philadelphia Phillies rotation in 2011 and 2012. He had a 3.01 ERA and a 3.66 xFIP in 131.2 innings in 2011, making his jump to the rotation after a few outings in relief. In 2012 he had a 4.20 ERA and a 4.04 xFIP in 133 innings, but dealt with elbow issues. The issues started in May with inflammation, and he ended up missing all of September with bone chips. He ended up having surgery to fix the problem.

After the 2012 season, the Phillies traded Worley to the Twins, along with Trevor May, in exchange for Ben Revere. All of Worley’s pitches were up after the surgery, due to some mechanical issues.

“The mechanics were off because of the injury from 2012,” Worley said. “I was protecting my elbow because of the bone chips. And then after I had the surgery, that was why my mechanics stayed the same.”

The Pirates felt they could get Worley back on track, while the Twins had pretty much given up on him. Two days after he was acquired, he talked to Jim Benedict, who works with a lot of pitchers in the Pirates’ system. Benedict went over film with Worley, dating back to 2008 with the Phillies’ system. He watched Worley’s bullpens, watched him play catch, and watched him every time he had the ball.

“I’m happy they came and got me. I know they knew who I was and what I was capable of doing,” Worley said. “For them to come and swoop me up and be as confident in me as if they knew I was in their organization already. ‘We got you. We know what you can do. Come over and get things right, and we’re looking forward to having you here.’ I just said thank you. Thank you for getting me out of there.”

Worley has been outstanding in his first three starts with the Pirates. He has a 1.83 ERA in 20.2 innings, after giving up one run in seven innings tonight. The advanced metrics don’t have him keeping this up. He’s got a 4.15 xFIP, with that number being much lower than his ERA due to a lack of strikeouts. Worley has a 5.2 K/9, which is down from where he was in 2011-12. However, it’s too early to really put much stock in xFIP. Before tonight’s start, Worley had a 3.89 xFIP. When one start causes a swing in over 25 points, you know you’re dealing with a small sample size.

While Worley won’t be as good as his ERA, it’s not out of the question to think he could be back to his pre-injury form. He believes that he’s back to that point, at least from a mechanical standpoint.

“I think my mechanics are comparable,” Worley said about the comparisons to before the injury. “Ball and strike ratio has been really good since I worked with Jim. Just pounding the zone. I’m back down in the zone and throwing strikes.”

He should be safe when the Pirates activate Gerrit Cole from the disabled list this weekend. When Francisco Liriano eventually returns, the Pirates will have an interesting decision for their starting pitchers. Worley should get strong consideration for a rotation spot, simply due to his previous success, the current success that indicates he might be back to those levels, and the fact that the Pirates control him through the 2018 season.

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • csnumber23

    I like what I have seen so far with Worley. Although I thought he threw harder than 90-91 a couple years ago with the Phillies. I’m not sure if that is correct or not but if it is, that could help explain the lower strikeout numbers. All in all though, so far he looks like a solid 5

    • NSA

      Wow if that’s what your #5 looks like you’ve got high standards! stats aside, he just looks vicious out there. He is chiseled onto my rotation as is Locke. Cumpton will have to go down when cole comes back but I don’t think liriano is an automatic. He has to look good in rehab then I look to trade Volquez to make the room.

  • Scott Kliesen

    Pirates organization is turning into the Island of misfit Pitchers. Truly amazing how they take one teams trash and turn it into their treasure. But for this team to take the next step they need Cole to comeback and be a true Ace. A guy who can match up w Wainwright, Cueto and Gallardo in a big game is what’s missing.

  • moose7195

    Yeah the Worley-bird is making things difficult for when Liriano returns. And to be honest, I don’t know how they’re gonna keep Locke and Worley when that time comes, which is truly sad because both guys have pitched better than Frank this year. I guess having too much pitching is better than not enough, but moving a more effective player to AAA just seems dumb to me.

    • bucsws2014

      I think we all know that one of two things will happen when Liriano returns:
      – Locke gets sent down because he has options.
      – Locke stays up, Volquez goes to the BP, Grilli is released.

      In any case, Worley isn’t going anywhere regardless how well Locke is pitching.

      • moose7195

        I get that, but my point is that Locke doesn’t deserve to go down, and moving Volquez to the pen actually hurts the rotation, he’s been better than Liriano too. It’s a tough situation either way, and none of the suggestions you claim to be inevitable help the team

        • piraddict

          So they trade either Liriano or Volquez or both.

          • Will Sanchez

            along Liriano and Volquez, they need to trade “current asset’s Pedro, Grilli, Martin, and Snyder.NO is not about saving money…is about building (completing a roster that can be compete for playoff spot for the next 6 + years….we got the outfield in place…needed a young C, 3B,1b,and a ss or 2b depending on where Hanson end up playing…and a starting pitcher prospect or or two..

  • jon6er

    Worley pitched a veteran type game tonight (which he is) but I am really going to hate the venom when or if he has his first bad outing. Even Kershaw has a bad outing once in a while.

  • Dom DiDominic

    Don’t mind the 77 million payroll. Small market, I understand sometimes they will lose players to larger markets. But FREKIN pay Ray Searage and Jim Benedict! AJ, Liriano, Locke, Worley, Watson, Wilson, Grilli, Morton, Gomez, Melancon, Cumpton …….
    These are guys that may have been good at one time, but where not anywhere near the expectations that they produced with the Pirates.
    This is not an accident. These guys are good. Pay them, Keep them.

    • smurph

      Totally agree. These are things a small market team can do.

  • Leefoo Rug Bug

    But, but, but, we didn’t do enough in the offseason!

    • smurph

      Thumbs up, foo.

    • Will Sanchez

      very true…the FO sat on their hands…and now we have to pay with prospects …for what we could have gotten for just a signature..for years now they have failed to address the “holes” on the field (of, 1b) and that cost them prospects too..if they keep this up the farm system will be back to the bottom 1/3

  • smurph

    As Tim said in the article, Worley will not put up these type numbers for the rest of the season. However, I see a veteran pitching with a lot of confidence, mixing his pitches, hitting his spots, outsmarting hitters. Even with a slight dropoff, he looks like a solid #3 starter. Can Cole come back and be their ace? If so, this team can legitimately challenge for both the division and the NL pennant. As for Liriano, I agree with the majority. He should not be guaranteed a spot in the rotation unless he looks like the 2013 Liriano in his rehab starts. Pirates rotation with Cole is certainly good enough with a very good offense.

  • Rob Wheeler

    Thanks for that last sentence. I have been watching for the payroll page to be updated so I would know that answer. Great job with the site!!

  • piratemike

    I keep reading about Worley being called a veteran like he is an older pitcher in his 30″s.
    He is 26 or 27 only 3 years older than Cole.
    He isn’t a fireballer who throws 95 – 98, if he maintains his mechanics he can pitch for another 10 years.