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Taking a closer look at Volquez

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It doesn't take a genius to see that Edinson Volquez has not been the pitcher so far this year that he was last season when he went to the All Star game.  Somehow last night he managed to survive long enough to get the win despite the fact that he allowed 11 base runners in 5 innings, including 4 walks and 2 home runs.  Sometimes the key is just offensive help and a manager determined to get you through 5 innings, I guess.

The biggest problem for Volquez so far this year has been an inability to hit the strike zone.  As you can see in the tables below, Volquez is missing the strike zone on considerably more of his pitches compared to last year and this is having damaging consequences:

2009

Type
Speed Pitches Swings Contact InZone IZ % SLG Contact% Distribution
Change Up 81.0 47 21 14 14 29.8% .700 66.7% 23.0%
Curveball 78.9 19 4 2 5 26.3% 1.000 50.0% 9.3%
Four-Seam 93.7 130 46 40 57 43.8% .789 87.0% 63.7%
Slider 80.5 8 0 0 2 25.0% .000 0.0% 3.9%

2008

Type Speed Pitches Swings Contact InZone IZ % SLG Contact% Distribution
Change Up 82.7 797 662 255 382 47.9% .466 38.5% 24.0%
Curveball 77.7 291 194 36 125 43.0% .350 18.6% 8.8%
Four-Seam 93.6 1751 1402 611 930 53.1% .481 43.6% 52.7%
Slider 82.5 486 397 128 209 43.0% .531 32.2% 14.6%

His inability to hit the strike zone is allowing hitters to be a lot more patient.  Hitters are swinging a lot less at his pitches so far, probably because he's not consistently close enough to the zone to convince them to swing.  He's getting himself into less advantageous counts and he's walking hitters at a 5% higher rate than last year.  He's also putting himself in a position where he has to throw a strike, which takes away his slider and basically makes him a 2-pitch pitcher.  As you can see, hitters have been right on both his fastball and change up, making a lot more contact when they swing.

Maybe the biggest problem for Volquez is that the league is figuring him out and he hasn't adjusted yet.  It's possible that he is tipping his pitches based on the fact that his release point on his change up is about 6 inches below where he typically releases his fastball.  If hitters are able to narrow it down to two pitches - since he's gotten himself into a count where he needs to throw a strike - then it sure would make a difference if you know what to look for in the pitchers motion to know if a fastball or a change up is coming.

I think the number one thing Volquez needs to work on is getting closer to the strike zone.  He's not going to be successful if the hitters can just wait until he has to throw a strike.  Getting himself into more favorable counts will allow him to use his slider more frequently, making him that much harder to guess on.  His slider isn't a great pitch, but having it in his repertoire allows him to use his fastball and change up much more effectively.

After that, it's probably wise to keep working on the change up and make sure it is coming out of the same spot as the fastball as much as possible.  I honestly think taking care of the first problem will make this less necessary, but in order to help on days when he doesn't have great stuff, it would help if he was less predictable as well.  I don't know if this is something he can fix during the season, but if he doesn't it could end up being a long year for the young right-hander.