Wednesday, October 12, 2011
It's no secret that the Kansas City Royals have one priority entering the offseason: starting pitching. Everyone of course is itching for the Royals to net a proven top tier guy. You know, the kind of guy that can slide into the one spot and immediately turn this team into a contender.
Unfortunately bringing in a guy of that caliber and with that kind of track record is far from automatic. The free agent market bares little options, which could cause contracts to become bloated. While the trade market will undoubtedly be a costly venture in terms of prospects.
So what if the Royals can't net the sure fire front end starter that they so desire? Do we just enter 2012 with the same group, hoping for better results? How about instead Kansas City takes a flier on a buy low guy. There are quite a few of these out there, but I'd like to second the motion made by must follow Royals' tweeter Doublestix. The Royals should at least, check in on the price of Edinson Volquez.
As a rookie, Edinson Volquez took the National League by storm, by going 17-6 with a 3.21 ERA in 196 innings. However, three years later he is coming off his worst season as a professional, in 108.2 innings he posted a 5-7 record with an era of 5.71. So what happened?
Here are his rate stats from 2008: 9.46 K, 4.27 BB, 0.64 HR good for a xFIP of 3.84.
And from 2011: 8.61 K, 5.38 BB, 1.57 HR and a xFIP of 4.08.
Obviously losing nearly a K per 9 innings and increasing your walk rate by over 1 per 9 innings is going to hurt your numbers for the year. But the real killer for Volquez was his spike in home runs allowed. In 2008, Volquez allowed just 8% of fly balls to leave the yard. But in 2011, this number has spiked to 20.7%.
Considering that Volquez's groundball percentage has actually improved from 46.3% in 2008, to 52.4% in 2011 I would definitely be willing to make the reasonable assumption that Volquez's home run rate in 2011 was more a result of bad luck than poor performance.
Do I believe that he can drop back down into singled digits in his home run per fly ball percentage? No, I think that would unlikely. However, do I think his improving ground ball rate could decrease his home runs allowed? Of course I do. Another thing that could really help Volquez's home run per 9 innings rate is a move to Kauffman Stadium.
Kauffman plays as a pretty neutral park. However, this isn't the case for home runs. Because of the deep power alleys at the K, offense comes more from players hitting loads of double and posting high averages. But Kauffman has a long standing history of depreciating home runs (as evidenced by the Royal single season home run record of 36.)
Bruce Chen is a fly ball guy that for back to back season has been able to outperform his xFIP numbers thanks to the K's spacious outfield dimensions. For these reasons I would expect that Volquez's home run rate should dip back down under 1 in 2012 should he pitch for the Kansas City Royals.
Of course there is another major concern for Volquez, and that is his increasing walk rate. But this is what makes him such an appealing buy low option. Because reasonably if he can just get the right pitching coach, or make the right adjustment, he would immediately be a front end starter.
I say this because it is apparent to me that Volquez's stuff could be just as dominate as ever. His fastball averaged 93.7 mph in 2011, virtually the same speed as 2008. His O-Swing% (pitches a batter swings at out of the strike zone) is actually up from 2008 by 4.6% to 28.6%. This obviously could be in part to throwing more pitches out of the zone, however, stuff wise a percentage this high would indicate that batters are still being fooled by his pitches.
His contact percentage (percentage of swings a batter makes contact on pitches) has actually dropped by 0.2% to 73.6%. I'm not suggesting this is statistically significant, merely pointing out that the stuff is just as much there now as it was in 2008.
Volquez is just 28 years old. He will be arbitration eligible for the second time this winter and would be under team control for two more seasons. He made only $1.63 million in 2011. Considering the numbers he posted, he probably won't receive much of a raise for 2012. This could make it difficult to pry him from Cincinnati, but not impossible.
I don't believe it would take much to acquire Volquez. The Royals continue to have a strong farm system, despite graduating several of their top guys in 2011. If the Royals could acquire Volquez for a couple mid-level prospects, I would immediately pull the trigger.
The Royals have obtained two quality pitchers for next to nothing: Felipe Paulino and Joakim Soria. Both of these guys were loved by both the stats department and scouts in the organization. I see no reason why Edinson Volquez couldn't be the third pitcher to this party.