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Is it time for Vince Velasquez to go?

We’ve been patient enough. Should the team be moving on from the enigmatic righty?

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Atlanta Braves Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve been patient long enough. Many of us have defended Vince Velasquez loudly and often. We’ve tried to show support, even when he self-admittedly couldn’t figure out what was going on and how he could make himself right. Sunday’s dismal showing made it crystallize even more.

Vince Velasquez needs to find a new home.

We’re certain that it just isn’t working out here anymore. We’ve discussed ways to find avenues that would lead him to ultimate success. The “starter to reliever” talk that has followed Velasquez on discussion boards for the past 3 years is a horse that has been beaten to death, resurrected, then beaten to death again. Once he finally was moved to the bullpen, even that didn’t go as expected. You think that he’s been better in that role? Well sure, if you count dropping his ERA as a starter this year (4.83) all the way down to......4.35 as a reliever. Let’s dig into it a little further. If we throw out his “start” on Sunday (it was a bullpen game, not an opener), Velasquez’s line since he was permanently moved to the bullpen is this:

9 13 IP, 4.82 ERA, 13 hits, 6 RA (5 ER), 6 walks, 13 strikeouts, 1.027 OPS allowed

That is not the line of a reliever anyone should want on the mound.

Of course, now we know that the biggest reason he’s still here is injuries. The team is currently without the following people to populate the bullpen:

  • Seranthony Dominguez
  • David Robertson
  • Tommy Hunter
  • Adam Morgan
  • Victor Arano
  • Pat Neshek

Those are six pitchers that are clearly better options coming out of the ‘pen than Velasquez is. However, with all of them on the shelf, Velasquez is truly the last man standing. Someone has to throw those relief innings.

We can also look at the same refrain from years past: the stuff is tantalizing enough that he should be kept around. Only now, he hasn’t exactly seen the bump in velocity we thought might come now that he can go all out and leave nothing in reserve. Velasquez became a reliever full time on May 24. Here is the velocity chart this year before and after that date.

Velasquez as SP and RP

Pitch before 5/24 after 5/24
Pitch before 5/24 after 5/24
Fastball 95.01 95.14
Changeup n/a 89.14
Slider 86.82 87.24
Curveball 84.18 82.88

The slider has seen a small jump, but the pitch he leans on, the fastball, is essentially the same as before.

Outings like what we saw Sunday are the ones that have angered us about Velasquez for the past three years. All the ingredients are there for success, and yet when he’s needed the most, he goes out a lays a gigantic egg on the mound.

So is there any justifiable reason to continue being patient?

I know I am right there with some of you. I’m the one who, during Sunday’s game, advocated for Velasquez to be jettisoned as quickly as possible from the team.

Then I began to think about his being converted to a reliever in the middle of the season, and how much of a physical and mental transition that must be. Allowing for that, I decided that if we dig in just a tiny bit further, there are some signs of life.

All of this should be prefaced with “SMALL SAMPLE SIZE” alerts going off around like an air raid siren. This is also a masterclass in “cherry picking stats 101”. However:

Whiffs/swing as SP and RP

Pitch Whiffs/Swing before 5/24 Whiffs/swing after 5/24
Pitch Whiffs/Swing before 5/24 Whiffs/swing after 5/24
Fastball 22.3% 28.4%
Changeup n/a 33.3%
Slider 25.6% 48.0%
Curveball 28.6% 40.0%

This was pretty startling to me. We’ve always sort of believed in Velasquez because he had “swing and miss stuff”, something few on this staff and in the minor league system currently possess. And by golly, Velasquez is actually doing exactly what we want a reliever to do. We want relievers to come in and get swings and misses with their stuff and he is doing exactly that when he comes in as a reliever. If you want to cherry pick a little more, take out his horrible outing from May 26, when he lasted just 23 of an inning and gave up four runs, and his ERA as a reliever actually drops to 1.35. I’m not trying to play gotcha and tell you you’re wrong with your opinion. It’s meant to show that perhaps Velasquez was beginning to adjust to becoming a reliever before being asked to start the game on Sunday. I’s also note that Velasquez, since converting on May 24, has a BABIP of .483 (!), which seems likely due for some regression, causing some of his other numbers to fall. Of course, the naysayers will also look at Sunday and point out that of the six balls hit into fair territory, the average exit velocity was 101.9 miles per hour. Balls hit that hard are going to find empty spaces.

I’m not sure that there are any excuses to be made for Velasquez anymore. We as fans have lost a lot of hair from constantly pulling it out while watching his appearances. We’ve begged for a role change and now that we’ve got it, it’s still hard to watch. But for now, and I will try to practice what I preach, we need to continue to be patient as Velasquez grows into his role as a reliever. Asking him to start on Sunday may not have been the best way to utilize him, but he should have been ready nonetheless. I’m not going to sit here and make excuses for his performance and I won’t blame you if you feel the team should move on. For now, until the injured players come back, he will stay. Try and remain patient as best you can. There are some good signs coming from Velasquez. Let’s hope he can build on it.