Last night, Vince Velasquez endured another rough start, only lasting five innings while giving up five hits (two for extra bases), four walks and his customary great stuff with seven strikeouts. After the game, he was despondent, mostly about himself at his inability to help the team:
Velasquez didn't hold back when assessing his start tonight: "Terrible. ... I’m not even giving my team a chance to win. This is horrible."— Meghan Montemurro (@M_Montemurro) April 13, 2017
Justin Klugh put it well that all we want to do is give him a collective hug, but we can all see he’s struggling. This has led, naturally, to an outpouring of calls for Velasquez to move into a bullpen role immediately:
Been saying it for a while vince Velasquez is not a starting pitcher, let the dude close and come in and throw gas by people— Mike (@Mike26Ricci) April 13, 2017
Is Vince Velasquez destined for the back of a bullpen?— daaave (@PhilliesFever) April 13, 2017
Ladies and gentlemen, your future closer Vince Velasquez. #Philliestalk— Anime Collective (@RamblingCake) April 13, 2017
These opinions are all well and good, but it just doesn’t make any sense right now for the team to consider such a hasty move. There are several reasons for this.
1. What do they gain right now?
The team is currently in their rebuild mode (still), evaluating what pieces they have and whether or not they are going to be apart of the next contender. There is no doubt that Velasquez will be a part of that core. General managers are loathe to simply turn away from an arm that has that kind of stuff. He’s got some of the best strikeout stuff in the majors; he’s just had a problem harnessing it. And he’s not alone in this regard. Below is a chart (pardon the editing) of pitcher who have been able to strike out a lot of guys in their second to third year of pitching in the major leagues, but have also walked a bunch of guys as well.
While Velasquez lags far behind in starts and innings, it’s interesting to see the comparisons. Oliver Perez was destined for the bullpen after injuries forced him there. Kerry Wood’s career was derailed by
Dusty Baker injuries, and Robbie Ray is trying to do the same thing Velasquez in trying to do right now. The surprising name is Yu Darvish. This isn’t to say that the two are anywhere near each other in terms of stuff, but there is still hope for Vince if he can learn to be more efficient with his pitches. This, as well all know, is something one cannot do while in the bullpen. It has to happen in the rotation.
2. He’s still in the midst of a small sample size of starts
Matt Winkelman of Crashburn Alley fame put this out this morning:
Vince Velasquez currently sporting a 38.6% K% and a 37.5% HR/FB rate, I think it is safe to say neither are sustainable— Matt Winkelman (@Matt_Winkelman) April 13, 2017
We are talking about a total of nine innings. Look at those numbers again. A 37.5% HR/FB RATE!!!!! Two of the three home runs were hit by two of the premier hitters in the game right now, Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy. It’s not like he is giving up bombs to guys like Adieny Hechevarria. He’s also not going to strike out that many batters, but based on his past performance, that number seems far more likely to stay higher than the home run rate.
I understand that much of this conclusion jumping of a bullpen move is based on last year as well (he average just under six innings per start in his final nine starts of 2016), but we still have not seen enough out of him this year to warrant a move to the bullpen. Why? Well.....
3. He’s still young
This, to me, is the most important thing - he’s 24 years old. There is ample time to get him going, especially with the team as currently constructed. I know I said it before, but it bears repeating: the team has nothing to lose this season by letting him continue to start. If they had assembled a roster expected to contend for a playoff spot, then perhaps the leash on him would be a little bit shorter. However, the other options in Lehigh Valley are not exactly beating down the door, trying to get his job either. It’s too soon to give up on him right now.
Yes, Velasquez is the most frustrating pitcher the team has right now, mostly because we all can see that he has the ability and stuff to be a frontline starter. We’ve seen in action! But just because he is having troubles right now getting through five innings, I implore you, the fan, don’t give up yet. There is still time with this kid.