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2016 Phillies Exit Interview: Vincent Velasquez

When you strike out 16 in your second start it is hard to have reasonable expectations

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

When Matt Klentak took over the Phillies, Ruben Amaro had already gutted the team of all of the veterans of value. This didn't stop from Klentak from putting his mark on the team by shipping out his closer for a bunch of unproven players. The most prominent of those pieces was right handed starter Vincent Velasquez.

To put Velasquez's season in context you need to start with a number, and that number is 12. That being the number of starts that Velasquez had at levels AA or higher entering the year. Now there are many reasons why a 23 year old would not have upper minors experience, some is a history of injury, some is the Astros' need for relief pitching late in 2015 over starters. But regardless of the reason, Velasquez lacked in experience starting every 5 days against advanced batters before entering the 2016 season.

From a statistical perspective, Velasquez's season was somewhat of a mixed bag. Due to injury and innings restrictions he only started 24 games, over which he pitched 131 innings with a 4.12 ERA. He struck out 152 batters (27.6%) while limiting them to 45 walks (8.2%), though he did allow 21 home runs. It did not start all bad though.

There no better way to make season expectations more unreasonable than to throw a complete game shutout with 16 strikeouts and no walks in your second start of the season. So of course Velasquez did that, and he did that while pitching almost entirely with his fastball (though he did use some other pitches too).

It was not just one game either, Velasquez started off with 8 dominant games posting a 2.42 ERA over 48.1 innings with 15 walks to 59 strikeouts. The problem is that the wheels came off as he had some home run problems against Detroit and Chicago, before an inefficient outing against the Brewers.

This of course is where we return once again to our number 12. It was pretty obvious that Velasquez was still learning how to pitch. He would get too reliant on his fastball, or alternate between using his curveball and slider for whole starts. The result was inconsistency, long at bats, and a departure from his early dominance.

Then came the injury. There is nothing worse than watching your young dominant starter deal with an arm injury. Luckily it turned out to be some soreness and nothing permanent and Velasquez only missed about 2 and a half weeks. However in the interim period we were left in a state panic only to be topped by the injury gods striking down Aaron Nola. Baseball is cruel.

From there Velasquez showcased his talent, but also his ability to be incredibly frustrating to watch. In July he posted a 3.19 ERA while going at least 6 innings in every start, he also walked 14 to 28 strikeouts over  his 31 innings. In August he got the walks under control with 9 in 26.1 innings while getting his strikeouts back (36 of them), but he had a 7.52 ERA while averaging just over 5 innings a start because he allowed 8 home runs in a 3 game span including back-to-back 3 homer games vs the Dodgers. He ended his season with a solid start against the Braves before being shutdown for the year.

So where does this really leave us with Vince Velasquez? The Phillies view him as a starting pitcher for now. The Phillies have every reason to believe he is one based on his pitch arsenal, as he has 4 pitches he can generate swings and misses with; a fact that is further enforced with Velasquez ranking 8th in strikeout percent among SPs with at least 130 IP. The problem is that his contact was poor in the second half with a high home run rate and that he is throwing nearly 17 pitches an inning which is leading to short outings. The Phillies seem to think that he will see a big boost by using his changeup more and just generally learning how to pitch. Velasquez has the raw stuff to be a front line starter or dominant reliever, but for now he is still just a tantalizing and frustrating 24 year old pitcher, and that is still pretty good.