I think we can officially call Vince Velasquez’ 2017 season an unmitigated disaster.
After a 2016 season in which he showed promising flashes mixed with a frustrating inability to pitch deep into games, there was hope the fireballing right-hander would take a step forward and become one of the starting pitchers the team could depend on moving forward.
There was a lot to build on. Velasquez had a 4.12 ERA in 24 starts last season. He struck out 10.44 batters per nine innings with a 27.6% strikeout rate, both of which were among the best in baseball.
But this year, he made just 15 starts. He pitched a mere 72 innings. His ERA ballooned to 5.13, his K/9 fell to 8.50 and his K-rate fell to 21.6%. And most importantly, he couldn’t stay healthy.
And now, Velasquez’ 2017 season now over, as he must recover from surgery to repair a vascular issue in his middle finger. It is the second time this year he has hit the disabled list, and he’s been on the DL in every one of his four MLB seasons. He’s also had Tommy John surgery in the past.
Velasquez had trouble getting his secondary pitches under control this year, and him vocalizing that he really didn’t know how to fix any of these things.
So a move to the bullpen seems to make all the sense in the world, but general manager Matt Klentak told reporters that isn’t the plan yet.
Klentak: Phillies remain committed to Vince Velasquez as a starter in 2018. A 6-8 week recovery to repair vascular issue in finger.— Matt Gelb (@MattGelb) August 22, 2017
“We do still think that Vince possesses all the ingredients to be a top-notch, major-league starter,” Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said Tuesday. “That would be our hope.”
If wishes were horses then beggars would ride.
It’s understandable why the Phils want to continue with the grand Velasquez starter plan. He was the centerpiece in the Ken Giles trade, and it would be a shame to give up too soon on a guy with lightning in his arm who has shown he can pitch at an elite level when everything is working right.
“I think every time Vince goes out there, the stuff that he displays — particularly the fastball, the swing-and-miss fastball — that’s something you can’t teach,” Klentak said. “There’s a lot of things we can work on with players, the players can improve upon. The ability to miss bats with a fastball is a God-given skill that Vince possesses, and that’s why we believe he still has a lot of upside.”
But in his two years with the Phillies, he has averaged just over five innings per start. That’s not enough. That inability to pitch deeper into games stresses a bullpen that is far from a strength. And there is no doubt Velasquez will once again be on an innings limit in 2018. How much can the Phils depend on him next year?
Of course, just because they want to keep Velasquez as a starter doesn’t mean he’s automatically going to be in the starting rotation. Aaron Nola and Jerad Eickhoff have two spots locked up, and Nick Pivetta, Ben Lively, Zach Eflin, Jake Thompson, Tom Eshelman, and Drew Anderson will all enter spring training with hopes of locking up a spot.
The Phillies could surprise and make a run at Yu Darvish, or go after a second or third-tier starter like Lance Lynn, Chris Tillman, Marco Estrada, Matt Garza, Jaime Garcia, Tyler Chatwood or Andrew Cashner. Adding a veteran pitcher to replace Jeremy Hellickson is almost a certainty.
Velasquez seems better suited to the closer’s role, where he would be able to focus on perfecting two or three pitches. and his inability to pitch deep into games wouldn’t matter. But the Phillies apparently want to give it one more shot in 2018 with Velasquez in the starting rotation.
Even if that is the goal, that could change very quickly. After all, the Phils entered the 2017 season with Jeanmar Gomez as closer, and that lasted for all of one blown save and one appearance.
Velasquez’ destiny seems to be the bullpen, but there’s no harm in giving the starting thing one last try.