MLB Spring Training 2012: Phillies' Vance Worley Changing Things Up

Joe ReddenContributor IIIFebruary 25, 2012

Regression...or Progression...
Regression...or Progression...Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

I have to admit it. I'm in the bag for Vance Worley.

I can't help it. Anytime someone comes in unheralded by ESPN and the rest of the "experts" and succeeds, I love it. And it doesn't hurt that he plays for the only team in MLB I care about. But that's beside the point.

That was 2011 and we are now about to roll into the start of the 2012 season. The "experts" are at it again, telling us Worley is due for a regression. They are making comparisons to former Phillies pitcher J.A. Happ and how he was rocked his second season after a good first year.

Fair enough. Would the Worley of 2011 be as successful in 2012? Probably not. Hitters adjust and learn what your pitches look like. The difference between Happ and Worley is how they adjust to these kinds of changes.

After the 2009 season, Happ couldn't have been higher. Having received awards like the Steve Carlton Most Valuable Pitcher Award, TYIB Rookie of the Year and Players Choice Outstanding Rookie of the Year, he was on top of the world. In his mind, he was a dominant pitcher who would continue his dominance for years to come.

But he should have learned from Cole Hamels that success doesn't carry over. And if you want to continue to be dominant, things have to change. This was not a reality he accepted, and as such, he now pitches for the lowly Houston Astros and has an ERA over 5.00.

Spring training hasn't even started yet and Worley is already mixing things up, even though he finished second in MLB behind Bartolo Colon with over half of his strikeouts coming with the hitters watching the ball go by. His sinker just had hitters confounded. They couldn't figure why the ball seemed to be coming right at their hip, and then cut right back across the plate for strike three.

But 162 games is a very long time. And Major League hitters are quick to adapt to anything, including that sinker when they had two strikes. Toward the end of the season, it became apparent that the hitter knew what was coming. 

That being said, quite a few still missed it when they tried, but not nearly enough to continue always going to that pitch in that situation. So coming into this season, Worley and Brian Schneider, by all rights his personal catcher, worked on a game plan of how they were going to use the sinker.

Here's Schneider in an interview with Matt Gelb of The Inquirer:

"We can throw it earlier in the count and not just wait for two strikes," Schneider said. "At the end of the year, we started setting the pitch up more by throwing one or two pitches away. Or maybe instead of throwing the sinker in there, we'd throw a four-seamer or a cutter in there and get them thinking."

As you can see, Worley has an array of pitches he can throw at hitters, with the sinker, rightly so, being the most preferred. He's also not afraid to borrow from the "aces." Last year he began experimenting with Hamels' cutter grip, and now he's using it consistently for his cutter. Also, at the recommendation of Roy Halladay, he is now using a split-change grip for his changeup. If he could develop that pitch into anything close to what Halladay throws, it would be pretty nasty.

Add to that his already proficient curveball, and you've got yourself some devastating options for hitters to guess at. When they see that ball coming inside, do they think sinker and get ready to swing as it cuts across the plate only to watch the floor drop out of a split-change and whiff at air? Or how about when he's been force feeding them sinkers and changeups all day and then decides to throw a rising heater on the outside?  

That's the thing about Worley—he doesn't just have one or two pitches. With two fastballs, a nasty sinker, progressing curveball,and a new changeup courtesy of the Ace of Aces, he could be truly great in 2012. It won't hurt that he will be at spring training and get to learn from a collection of the greatest pitchers in the game right now. There are no bad habits for him to learn with the Phillies, especially their pitching staff.  

He will continue to keep to the things that make him the "Vanimal." He'll keep that creepy smile when he releases the ball, the wild hair, those glasses and the determination and fitness to move at a pace that makes batters want to step out to catch a breather. But whether it's Hamels' cutter grip, Halladay's split-change or even Lee's proficiency with the bat, having the Three Aces as your tutor is like a dream come true.

"He absolutely has the stuff," Schneider said. "There's no doubt about it."