That’s exactly the question manager Dusty Baker and the Cincinnati Reds are asking themselves right now. The team is in the middle of a heated race for the National League Central crown and unsure if one of their starting pitchers, Edinson Volquez can handle the load.
It’s a sad story as in 2008; Volquez looked like he was on the verge of stardom then had to undergo Tommy John surgery in 2009. He’s been successful, at times. He’s been a feast or famine pitcher since his return. He’ll either give the Reds one run in five or six innings, or get hit up for four plus runs. The main culprit, like most players returning from this procedure, is his command.
So what do the Reds do? How do they fix his control problem, while keeping themselves in front of the division?
“I had (pitching coach Bryan Price) come up with two or three different scenarios,” Dusty Baker said. “Do we continue with him and hope he gets it or do we put him in the bullpen and start someone else?” (per John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer
Let’s explore the options.
First off do they stick with him in the rotation? Personally, I’d say no. I know, he’s had his fair share of good starts since his returning, but the bad far outweighs the good when your team is in a pennant race. Here’s a split of his eight starts, four “good” and four horrible. You’ll see that when he’s good, he’s just been a serviceable middle of the rotation guy but when he’s bad, boy is he BAD! He’s lucky his numbers aren’t worse in those “good” starts.
In his four solid starts, he’s given up four runs over 23 and 2/3 innings but he’s walked 13 batters verse the 23 he’s struck out, while also giving up 20 hits.
In his four other starts, he’s gone 11 and 1/3 innings with 20 runs allowed, walking 14 and striking out only 13.
With inconsistency like that I wouldn’t trust him on the rotation of a contender, so on the next option. Baker asked do we place him in the bullpen and start someone else, I feel the answer is simple. YES!
Even with his control problems, Volquez has displayed some electric stuff since his return. He’s striking out batters to the tune of 9.3 per nine innings. His walk rate is also high but as a reliever he’ll be put in positions where he can just let loose with his bread and butter, the fastball.
His fastball is only hitting 93-94 mph but batters are missing the pitch at a rate of 9% of the time they see it, the MLB average is 6%. He’s spotting it over the plate slightly below league average 58.7% compared to 60% but it’s been by far his best pitch. He’s had a lot more trouble spotting his breaking pitches. (Check out fan graphs to see more numbers, they’ve done some great work looking into this.)
So let’s see if a pitcher is making hitters miss with his fastball and can’t spot any of his other pitchers, where would you put him? Exactly, the bullpen. He could be a very viable piece out there while working on his peripheral pitchers on the side with the pitching coach. Who knows if he comes in out of the ‘pen the fastball might start hitting 95-96 instead, since he knows he’s in there for just a few pitches.
What has me curious thou, is Dusty baker says there are two or three options. I only can see two, the third would be a demotion to the minor leagues to work on his control. In my opinion, that’s not the right move as it could damage Edinson’s confidence, keep him at the major league level let him see that he can still get these guys out.
Do that and he’ll come back ready to pitch in Spring Training and fully healthy, body and mind, while also keeping the Reds in games down the stretch.