Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Thoughts on Edinson Volquez and Ray Searage

Just a year ago at this time, Edinson Volquez' career appeared to be in serious jeopardy.  He had been DFA'd by the Padres in late August, picked up by the Dodgers, then left off their postseason roster.  His ERA on the season was 5.71.  This spring, he was signed to a 1 year/$5 M contract by the Pittsburgh Pirates whose pitching coach, Ray Searage, has a burgeoning reputation for being a pitcher fixer.  Volquez only added to that reputation by turning in one of his best seasons in years if not the best of his career.  This raises the question of what did Ray Searage do to resurrect Volquez' career?  Did he teach him a new pitch?  Did he notice something in his mechanics that he corrected?  I don't follow the Pirates closely enough to know the answer to those questions, but clues can be found in Volquez statistical lines that I think tell us the answer.

2010(Reds):  4-3, 4.31, 62.2 IP, 9.62 K/9, 5.03 BB/9, BABIP= .323.
2011(Reds):  5-7, 5.71, 108.2 IP, 8.61 K/9, 5.38 BB/9, BABIP= .298.
2012(Padres):  11-11, 4.14, 182.2 IP, 8.57 K/9, 5.17 BB/9, BABIP= .292
2013(2 Teams):  9-12, 5.71, 170.1 IP, 7.50 K/9, 4.07 BB/9, BABIP= .325.
2014(Pirates):  13-7, 3.04, 192.2 IP, 6.54 K/9, 3.32 BB/9, BABIP= .263.

So yes, Volquez cut his walk rate, but his K rate has taken precipitous drop at the same time.  The other outstanding feature of these lines is the BABIP which is a full .029 lower than in any of his previous 4 seasons.  I read somewhere that his BABIP over his last 12 starts is something like .225.  So, it looks like Volquez' success this season is the result of reducing his walk rate and a whole lotta BABIP luck!

But wait a minute!  Maybe Ray Searage has some secret formula for suppressing BABIP and this is all sustainable.  Let's take a deeper look to see if there is evidence that Volquez' stuff has changed  or if he might have learned a new pitch.  According to Fangraphs stat charts, Volquez is throwing the same 3 pitches he has always thrown(he ditched his slider prior to 2010), a FB that goes about 93.5 MPH which he increased in usage from about 50% to about 55%, a CB that he throws about 25% of the time,  and a changeup that he that he has reduced his reliance on from about 26% down to 19%.  His GB/FB remains at 1.5, pretty much his career average.  Nothing too earthshaking there, right?  So what else is going on here?

Fangraphs also had a nice article entitled Edinson Volquez:  Starting the Most Important Game of the Year.  The author looked at what point in the count Volquez was able to end AB's against him.  He found that in 2014, he got hitters out early in the count at a significantly higher rate than in 2013 and he got hitters out late in the count as a significantly lower rate than in 2013.  That may not seem like a hot news flash for a pitcher who lowered his BB/9 by almost a full walk, but the differences are most dramatic on 0-0, 0-1, 3-1, 3-2.

So, what did Ray Searage tell Edinson Volquez about pitching that dripped his ERA by over 2.00 if he did not show him a new pitch or tweak his mechanics?  Here's what I think Ray Searage said, "You've always had good stuff.  You need to trust it!  You don't have to nibble!  You can get soft contact if you stay out of 3 ball counts and you will cut down on your walks to boot.  Throw that 93.5 MPH fastball in the early counts and make sure it's for strikes.  Yes, they will hit the ball more, but the pitch is good enough that it won't be hard and you will get outs.  Trust me and most of all, trust your stuff!

So, is Ray Searage a pitcher fixer or did Volquez just get BABIP lucky?  The answer is, probably some of both.  Volquez dropped both his K rate and his BB rate, and that is by design.  He's getting more contact early in the count with his best pitch and it is inducing weaker contact because hitters are not sitting on a get-it-over FB on a 3-1 or 3-2 count.  Volquez and Searage also caught a perfect storm of BABIP luck that enhanced the results of what they designed.  A BABIP of .263 might be sustainable, but probably not, especially in light of Volquez' historic BABIP rates.  A BABIP of .225 which he has had over the last 12 starts, is clearly not sustainable!  I would also add that except for the BABIP part, the trends we've seen this year started last year under Bud Black in San Diego, but were ruined by an unlucky BABIP.

So, will Edinson Volquez regress in tomorrow's game?  He might.  Statistically, he is almost guaranteed to at some point in the not-to-distant future.  On the other hand, BABIP luck is no more or less likely tomorrow than any other game this season, so he may just flummox the Giants with hittable stuff that they fail to hit hard.  The Giants tend to not do so well against those kinds of pitchers.


  1. well, beane went for it....and just got booted in extras from the play in game

    and losing pitcher? our own dan otero

    amazing game


    1. Yeah, anybody who says 1 game playoffs are bad for baseball needed to watch that game. I didn't tune in until the 9'th inning and I felt like I watched an entire, very exciting ballgame! We have seen time and again that teams with their backs to the wall are able to summon another level to their game, especially on the offensive side of the ball. If only every player could maintain that kind of intensity for an entire season. I think that is humanly impossible, though.

    2. You could subtract by adding...something went missing after the trade for Lester.

      And in 2011, something about 'no trusting us to be good enough,' when we acquired Beltran.

      It's not in books of math or stats, but maybe the art of knowing when to go for it, and when not to, when it's enough and when one needs to do more, to get one more pitcher or bat, is the hardest part of the game...just like with many human endeavors.

      We did some, but not as much as many thought we needed to a few months back, and here we are - tonight, as we begin our 'going for it,' something to inspire us, from Henry V:

      From this day to the ending of the world,
      But we in it shall be rememberèd;
      We few, we happy few, we band of brothers

  2. Both Cole and Liriano have had nor mal BAPIPs of ca. .300 for the last couple of years with the Pirates. That leads me to think that the dip in BAPIP that has benefited Volquez is likely to be unsustainable rather than a result of clever coaching. That of course has little bearing on whether his regression to the mean will take place on October 1, 2014. We all hope so.