The free agent signing of RHP Edinson Volquez has caused much anguish in the minds of Pirates fans. In 2013 he led the NL in ER (108) and posted the highest ERA (5.71) of all of the 81 SP’s who qualified for the MLB ERA title. The $5 million question is why did we sign the Major League’s 2013 statistically worst starting pitcher?
Recently the Pirates and pitching coach Ray Searage have been able to turn around the careers of pitchers trying to reclaim their former glory such as Francisco Liriano, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Melancon. A commonality shared by each of these pitchers was that they each underperformed their underlying metrics. Edison Volquez falls into the above camp, as his advanced metrics suggest he was much better than his traditional stats indicate. Despite his 5.71 ERA, he posted a 4.12 FIP and a 4.07 xFIP. These numbers represent run prevention that was much closer to the league’s average ERA (3.87) than to the league’s worst.
So why the huge discrepancy? Bad luck seems to be the answer, his .325 BABIP (4th worst in MLB) was unsustainably higher than the 2013 MLB average of just under .297, also his LOB% was unsustainably low at 64.5%, (2nd worst in MLB) whereas the lg norm in 2013 was 73.5%. According to his PitchFX, he has changed his pitching approach. He now attacks hitters with a 2-seam fastball, trying to induce weakly hit ground-ball outs, whereas before he tried to overpower hitters with his 4-seam fastball. His willingness to adapt appealed to the Pirates and I suspect Ray Searage’s tutelage will help Volquez redirect his career. Expectations of grandeur should be tempered by his unsightly career 4.8 BB/9 but we can conclude that his extreme BABIP and strand rate should normalize, thus he is an excellent candidate to provide near league average run prevention levels in 2014. While a league average performance won’t inspire legions of joyful celebrations, it would provide a value that exceeds $5 million at the #5 spot of the rotation.
Edison Volquez’s 2013 Stats (fWAR):