2013 Dodgers in Review #34: SP Edinson Volquez

90topps_edinsonvolquez4.18 ERA / 4.37 FIP 28.0 IP 8.36 K/9 2.57 BB/9 (B)

2013 in brief: Surprisingly not awful in an even more surprising stint as a member of the Dodgers.

2014 status: Signed a one-year deal with Pittsburgh.

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I didn’t remember until now that I had titled the post about Edinson Volquez‘ arrival in Los Angeles simply “Report: Sigh.” I suppose that made sense because there had been almost no speculation about the Dodgers looking at him, the news appeared out of nowhere, and they didn’t seem to need him. Also appearing out of nowhere: the endless home runs he gave up as a Padre that threatened to destroy paying fans in the bleachers:

The Padres arguably have the worst starting rotation in baseball — so bad, that when Jason Marquis got hurt, it actually qualified as a problem — and even they said “you know what? Why don’t you just hit the road,” because when you get bounced after just 0.2 inning like he did against the Cubs five days ago, that’s not great.

That’s how bad he’s been, and that’s what happens when you’re mixing your usual control problems with a decreased ability to miss bats. Volquez’ swinging-strike percentage is down to 8.6%, the worst it’s been for him since back in 2007 with Texas. His velocity is down below 93 for the first time in his career, and he’s only really had one season in his career (2008) where he’s been both healthy and good, and WHY AM I ANALYZING EDINSON VOLQUEZ LIKE HE’S ANYTHING BUT AWFUL.

After a quick one-inning tuneup out of the bullpen, the Dodgers put him into the rotation… in Coors Field. I never thought much of Volquez, but that’s not exactly putting him in a position to succeed, is it? I attempted to look on the bright side about reported changes in his mound positioning, but our expectations were so low that when he managed to make it through four innings with only a single homer, it counted as a success. I think.

Edinson Volquez wasn’t good, but… well, I guess I’m not quite sure how to end that sentence. It could have been worse, I guess? Volquez got to 0-2 on three of his first four hitters, but still allowed six hits (including a Todd Helton homer) and runs in each of his first three innings. He also retired the last six he faced and didn’t walk anyone before being lifted after 75 pitches and four innings, so I suppose he can take something positive away from this — even if the rest of us can’t.

Volquez made four more starts as a Dodger, and it’s surprising to me now to look and them and realize he wasn’t completely awful. Do you have any recollection of him striking out seven Giants without a single walk on Sept. 15? I can’t say I do. Overall, a 26/8 K/BB in 27 innings as a starter is pretty good, even if allowing five homers isn’t. Volquez somewhat surprisingly made the NLCS roster — he did not appear — and then even more surprisingly, collected $5m from the Pirates for 2014. If the Dodger coaching staff really did find something to fix over the last month, then the Pirates have themselves a steal. Otherwise, they might as well have just lit that cash on fire.

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Next! To the bullpen with Chris Withrow!

Rockies 7, Dodgers 5: Happy That’s Over With

volquez_2013-09-04_2Edinson Volquez wasn’t good, but… well, I guess I’m not quite sure how to end that sentence. It could have been worse, I guess? Volquez got to 0-2 on three of his first four hitters, but still allowed six hits (including a Todd Helton homer) and runs in each of his first three innings. He also retired the last six he faced and didn’t walk anyone before being lifted after 75 pitches and four innings, so I suppose he can take something positive away from this — even if the rest of us can’t.

Otherwise, a whole lot happened in what was an interminably long game. It’s a rare and terrible thing when you can watch a game in which the Dodgers are trailing and not have a ton of emotion about whether they can come back or not, but that’s what happens when Volquez is followed by Brandon League and Carlos Marmol and Brian Wilson and, I don’t know, probably Russ Ortiz and Brett Tomko and Yhency Brazoban too. (Yes, J.P. Howell and Paco Rodriguez were in there too.)

Thanks to September baseball, the two teams combined to use 13 pitchers, not a single one of whom other than the two starters went more than a single inning. As Marmol did everything he could to turn a 4-2 deficit into a 7-2 laugher, you began to wonder if a game could just be marked a forfeit in the middle of an inning.

The Dodgers at least managed to return some intrigue with a three-run seventh, including run-scoring hits from Michael Young (one of his three hits on the day), Juan Uribe, & Skip Schumaker. But with two on and one out, Colorado reliever Manny Corpas managed to strike out both Carl Crawford and Yasiel Puig. For a split-second in the ninth, it appeared as though Hanley Ramirez might have tied it with a hard shot off of Rex Brothers, but Carlos Gonzalez managed to come down with it on the warning track. Young grounded into a 6-4-3 double play to end the game and the six-game winning streak.

It’s important to remember that the Dodgers sent out a joke lineup and still managed to stay in the game, and they still have a 12.5 game lead in the West headed into their day off tomorrow. (Hell, the starters who pinch-hit, including Andre Ethier & Adrian Gonzalez along with Puig & Crawford, all failed to reach.) Keep that in mind as you do a Twitter search for Don Mattingly, because apparently an otherwise forgettable September 4th game is the most important match of the season. As for me, I’m just happy we’re done with Coors Field for 2013. That’s the biggest win of the day.

So You’re Starting Edinson Volquez in Coors Field

As you’ve most certainly heard, Edinson Volquez will start in Colorado tonight, setting up Hyun-jin Ryu (now on six days rest), Zack Greinke, & Clayton Kershaw to face Cincinnati this weekend. Chris Capuano will now likely start against Arizona next week.

If that sounds terrifying, it should. Volquez is awful pretty much everywhere, and especially so in Coors Field, where he’s given up a career line of .349/.441/.568 in seven appearances — including 21 earned runs and 35 baserunners in 21.1 innings over three starts there in 2013 alone. When you’ve got an insurmountable lead like the Dodgers do in the NL West, you can afford to experiment a little, but there’s really never a time when you want to simply give away a game.

Of course, that’s not how the Dodgers view this. It’s not like they’re just expecting Volquez to be magically better because he’s wearing a lighter shade of blue, and we’re hearing all sorts of things about “mechanical adjustments” and “tipping pitches” that the team thinks he can improve upon.

More specifically, Tony Jackson spoke to Volquez a few days ago, and came away with this:

Volquez, whom I had never met before tonight but who seems like a really jovial, happy-go-lucky guy, said after the game that the only adjustment he has made so far since signing with the Dodgers was to switch from the third-base side of the rubber to the first-base side, which was the side he pitched from for Cincinnati in 2008 when he was a National League All-Star. That, of course, begs the question of why he switched to the third-base side in the first place. So I asked him that question. And he said it was basically something he did unconsciously.

Jackson’s reporting is above reproach, so I believe he captured the conversation accurately, but it’s interesting that Volquez said he switched “unconsciously,” because as this article from the San Diego Union-Tribune back in June indicates…

Fresh off the worst start of his career, RHP Edinson Volquez struck out a season-high nine batters over seven innings. He allowed just one run on six hits and three walks and threw 68 of his 107 pitches for strikes. So, why was he so good after he was so bad last week in Colorado (2.1 IP, 9 ER)? He said he moved from the first base side of the rubber toward third base to create a better path toward the plate.

…he was specifically asked by the Padres to do so. Either way, this all sounds like a thing we can test, and perhaps even see if there’s a correlation to success, so let’s go right ahead and do that.

From the wonderful BrooksBaseball, we can look at his horizontal release points over the years, and… oh, my.

volquez_release_points

So right off the bat, it seems like we might be on to something here. Volquez looked to be relatively consistent until the latter part of 2011, then way off to the side with his horizontal release point in 2012 and for most of this year, though it’s been trending back down. It’s also not as simple as saying that’s the issue, because he wasn’t very good between 2009-11, either.

We can see this in practice, too. Since 2008 was referenced in the Jackson quote, let’s look there. It’s a little difficult to find video from that year because the MLB.tv archives don’t go back that far, and most of the video I could dig up from that year is pretty grainy, but we can at least look at September 8 in Milwaukee:

volquez_2008-sep

He’s not really all that far to the first base side, actually pitching from more of the middle of the rubber. In 2009, Volquez made only nine inconsistent starts before blowing out his elbow and requiring Tommy John surgery, then was suspended for 50 games during his recovery in 2010 after testing positive for PEDs. (Not that anyone cares about that because he isn’t Alex Rodriguez or Ryan Braun, but that’s another discussion entirely.)

I looked at video from each season following 2008, but I won’t bore you with the details because as the graph above shows, he never really changes his position, despite the results changing dramatically. Finally in 2012 with San Diego, we can see a change, one that carried over to this year with the Padres, where he’s hard to the first base side…

volquez_2013-sd

That echoes the chart, though, according to this Ken Gurnick story, it now appears it’s less about where he pitches from, but how:

Manager Don Mattingly, however, said mechanical adjustments Volquez has worked on with pitching coach Rick Honeycutt are more focused on keeping him on line to the plate, instead of spinning off toward first base.

…although from the same story, Volquez says it’s about his hands:

On the video we saw different mechanics. We worked a lot on hiding the ball. You can tell the difference with my hands. We’ll see if I can do what they want me to do.

So Volquez has struggled because he’s tipping his pitches. Or he’s too far to the third base side of the rubber. Or too far to the first base side of the rubber. Or because he’s not “on line to the plate”. Or because he’s not hiding the ball with his hands. Or because he’s a guy who has been in the big leagues since 2005 and has had a FIP below 4.00 exactly once, with never-ending control problems.

Frankly, this sounds like throwing everything you can think of at the wall with him and hoping it will stick, and I can’t say I’m all that optimistic about it, especially in Coors Field. But then again, this team does have a huge lead, and I have no problem with adding another arm to the rotation to give the primary foursome some additional rest. Better Volquez take the heat in the most nightmarish park in America than Hyun-jin Ryu, right, and Stephen Fife can’t really be counted on right now either. If, as I fear, Volquez goes out and gets knocked out in 1.2 innings, well, you have a million guys in the expanded September bullpen to pick up the slack and a day off tomorrow anyway. What the hell, might as well make this last month interesting, I suppose?

Report: Sigh

That completely SEO-unfriendly headline is in response to this…

So here we are, talking about a terrible pitcher for some reason. Volquez was released by the Padres a few days ago, and that’s a team that gave 11 starts to Clayton Richard (7.01 ERA / 6.53 FIP) and three more to someone called Burch Smith (11.37 ERA / 7.45 FIP). The Padres arguably have the worst starting rotation in baseball — so bad, that when Jason Marquis got hurt, it actually qualified as a problem — and even they said “you know what? Why don’t you just hit the road,” because when you get bounced after just 0.2 inning like he did against the Cubs five days ago, that’s not great.

That’s how bad he’s been, and that’s what happens when you’re mixing your usual control problems with a decreased ability to miss bats. Volquez’ swinging-strike percentage is down to 8.6%, the worst it’s been for him since back in 2007 with Texas. His velocity is down below 93 for the first time in his career, and he’s only really had one season in his career (2008) where he’s been both healthy and good, and WHY AM I ANALYZING EDINSON VOLQUEZ LIKE HE’S ANYTHING BUT AWFUL.

Unfortunately, the minor league season ends in less than a week, so everyone squawking about “why isn’t it a minor league deal like with Jonathan Sanchez” is a bit off base. What this says to me is a whole lot more about how the team views the struggling Chris Capuano and the uncertain Stephen Fife than it does anything else, because if you’re willing to take a chance on a guy like this and put him right on the roster, it means that you are incredibly unhappy with what you have.

So really, the only thing keeping me sane here is that this almost certainly doesn’t matter. Capuano is terrible, and Fife can’t be counted on, and Volquez is terrible too, probably moreso than any of them. With 29 games left, the Dodgers have a nine game lead, and so the fifth starter gets, what, five starts, at most? Maybe? Start Capuano, start Volquez, call up Matt Magill or Zach Lee or even Sanchez… it almost certainly doesn’t matter. That’s what I’m telling myself, anyway.