For the Philadelphia Phillies this season, the injury bug has taken the team by storm. Nagging injuries to pitchers, such as Joe Blanton, Brad Lidge, Jose Contreras, Ryan Madson, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels, and everyday starters, like Chase Utley, Placido Polanco, and Jimmy Rollins, have created roster issues for the Phillies.
Who to bring up from the minors, who to start in place of an injured player, and so on, have made it extremely difficult at times for the Phillies to come up with replacements, despite their lack of experience or production.
However, there has been a bright spot or two, and one of them has been rookie pitcher Vance Worley. Originally called up from Triple-A Lehigh Valley to make a spot start for the injured Blanton on April 29, Worley, now known by Phillies fans and teammates alike as the "Vanimal," has unexpectedly become a permanent member of the Phillies rotation.
While Blanton did make his way back to the rotation and started two more times, he was sent back to the DL after on May 16, and he hasn't been on the mound since.
Although Worley was sent back down to Triple-A in May after losing two straight starts, receiving a no decision in one and a loss in the other, Worley was recalled for a June 18 start and he hasn't looked back. Since then, the Phillies have won his last 13 starts, the most in a row for any pitcher in five years.
Worley is no temporary fill-in. He's now a part of the Phillies. And here's why.
Before we begin, let's take a look at Vance Worley's season in a nutshell.
This season, Worley is 10-1 with a 2.85 ERA, a 1.14 WHIP, and 90 strikeouts in 104.1 IP in 19 games (17 starts). He also pitched a complete game—the first of his career—on July 26 against the San Francisco Giants, winning the game 7-2.
He's been a great reason why the Phillies have been able to retain their lead in the NL East over the Braves and a big reason why the Phillies are still the best team in baseball.
Additionally, he's a strong Rookie of the Year candidate, except that there's some insignificant closer on the Braves named Craig Kimbrel who recently broke the rookie saves record set by the AL ROY last year, Rangers closer Neftali Feliz. Feliz set the record last year with 40 saves; Kimbrel now has 42 and he's still going strong.
However, with Worley's winning streak still active as well, he does stand a chance, especially since the Phillies are ahead of the Braves. Although it's currently Kimbrel's award to lose, Worley could win it if he doesn't lose in September. That shouldn't be a problem, considering he hasn't been given a loss since May 29.
Now here's why Worley will remain with the Phillies.
First, the obvious: Who else is there on the Phillies to use for the fifth starter aside from Vance Worley?
The starting rotation for the Phils currently looks like this: Roy Halladay is at the top, followed by Cliff Lee, Worley, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels. Since coming back from Triple-A, Worley has held what was originally Oswalt's spot in the rotation, but even with Oswalt back, he has still been more than good enough to keep it.
The only real opposition for Worley's spot is long reliever Kyle Kendrick. In 30 appearances (13 starts) and 101.1 IP, Kendrick is 7-6 with a 3.29 ERA, a 1.27 WHIP, and 47 Ks. Compared to Worley, that flat-out stinks. While Kendrick has settled in as the long man along with David Herndon, Kendrick does get the call if another starter is injured like Cole Hamels was last month.
There are theoretically other players that could take Worley's spot, but none of them are currently available. Jose Contreras was a starter until he joined the Phillies last season, but he's done for the year after undergoing elbow surgery on Friday. There's also Antonio Bastardo, who was used as a starter at the beginning of the 2009 season until injuries derailed him, and he's been in the bullpen since.
Although both Contreras and Bastardo would probably not start for the Phillies again even if given the chance, they could be used in desperate measures, though we thankfully haven't had to see them.
In addition, if Joe Blanton makes it back this season, the Phillies have said that he would only come back in a bullpen role due to Worley's success.
The job really is Worley's to lose.
Now to the business side of baseball.
The upcoming offseason could be a tough one for the Phillies. With left fielder Raul Ibanez, shortstop Jimmy Rollins, and closer Ryan Madson (among others) off the books at the end of the season, the Phillies may have to do some shopping in case any of the three (especially the latter two) decide that their time in Philadelphia is over.
There are also some contract options for some players. Former closer Brad Lidge has a $12.5 million club option that holds a $1.5 million buyout should the Phillies choose to decline it. More important for Worley's future, though, is the option of starting pitcher Roy Oswalt.
Oswalt has a mutual option in his contract worth $16 million. Due to the fact that it's a mutual option, both sides (the Phillies and Oswalt) must agree to exercise it, but if either side says no to the deal, then Oswalt receives a $2 million buyout and becomes a free agent.
But why does that affect Vance Worley?
Here's the deal: Since Worley is a rookie this season, he is paid the major league minimum salary of $414,000. While an extension after this season is extremely unlikely for him, Worley will still get a slight raise for next season, perhaps around $550,000, give or take.
Although Oswalt's buyout is more money than Worley will make next season since he is not due for arbitration until after next season, exercising Oswalt's option would be a hefty sum for an injury-prone player like himself.
Injuries are why Oswalt's option will likely be declined, why Lidge's option will likely be declined, and why Vance Worley will likely be the fourth starter on Opening Day next season.
With Worley coming at a discount of potentially $15.5 million and he is healthier and more effective than Oswalt right now, keeping Worley would be the smartest move the Phillies could make regarding their rotation.
Vance Worley has been a fairly effective pitcher this season.
According to FanGraphs, Worley's RAR, or Runs Above Replacement, is 19.5, and as a starter, it's 20.8 In addition, his WAR is 2.2. He's also held batters to hitting .218 against him. While these are decent numbers, these aren't the best stats available, so we'll look further into this.
This season, the Vanimal has been consistent, as well as tricky. His swinging percentage is 42.7, meaning that 42.7 percent of his pitches are swung at, whether for contact or missed. Additionally, he's gotten batters to swing at 29 percent of pitches outside the strike zone, utilizing his slider and curveball to fool opposing batters. His first-pitch strike percentage is also fairly high at 61.8 percent.
However, there is some need for improvement (as there is with all players), and as a rookie, Worley is no exception. Batters are making contact on 87 percent of all of Worley's pitches when swinging, including 76.6 percent of pitches outside the strike zone. He's also only pitched 5.6 percent of swinging strikes.
Lastly, on the season, Worley has thrown 1092 of his 1689 pitches for strikes. That means that he's throwing strikes roughly 64.7 percent of the time. That's not bad at all, but Worley needs to improve his command a bit more before he can be considered a consistent starter.
Vance Worley has a bright career ahead of him. He's stunned the critics who believed that he'd be only a fourth or fifth starter at most, and he's defied the stats that say he's not the "ace" he's made out to be.
While he does have a bit or work to do, Worley's made a name for himself. Even 2008 AL MVP Dustin Pedroia commented on how impressed he was with Worley's composure on the mound.
He'll be an inexpensive option for the Phillies to use and if all goes as well as it has this season, the Vanimal could become a force to be reckoned with.
With the potential departure of ace Roy Oswalt, Worley has shown that he can fill his shoes if necessary. In fact, he already has.
And despite swirling trade rumors around the trade deadline in July that speculated that Worley would be a must if a Hunter Pence deal were to occur, Worley's still here, and Pence has joined him.
Worley has shown the Phillies much promise. He's a potential Rookie of the Year candidate. But most importantly, he's a Philadelphia Phillie, now, and for the years to come. He's the only guy available, he's cheaper than most other options, and he's becoming more and more effective as he moves along. He's made it to the big leagues as a Phillie despite trade rumors over the last two seasons, and he's made the most of his opportunity.
He's endeared himself in our hearts, and we've seen things from Worley's Warriors to aforementioned Vanimal to prove it.
Here's to Vance Worley being a Philadelphia Phillie for a long time.