September 10, 2012; Houston, TX, USA; Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Chris Volstad (32) reacts after a pitch in the fourth inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-US PRESSWIRE

Volstad’s Chances at Success Slim but Better Than Hochevar’s

A quick heads up for readers of this blog: 90 percent of what you read this offseason will be about starting pitching. For me, this is a good thing. The Royals need starting pitching so we should write primarily about starting pitching. I’m just warning you so you’re not surprised by the repetitive theme of starting pitching, starting pitching, starting pitching.

With that in mind I’d like to write about … starting pitching. Specifically, the Earth shattering move the Royals made last week, signing Chris Volstad off waivers. Michael already covered this briefly, but I’d like to think more about it because I just read a post by the great and wise Rany Jazayerli that got me considering the Volstad move.

Let’s first note where everyone is starting the conversation: Volstad is not very good. We can all pretty much agree on that. He’s about replacement level. Nothing special but not Kyle Davies. He was once a well thought of prospect who never matched the expectations people had for him. He’s 26, right handed, doesn’t throw overly hard, and is extremely tall. He relies heavily on his defense and isn’t a strikeout pitcher.

I’m not going to consider whether or not Volstad is a good sign. It’s really too early to know that or even speculate with certainty because of how unset the Royals rotation is. I want to consider whether or not there is any way Volstad can have success in Kansas City.

After having poured over statistics, and having watched him pitch for the Cubs last season, my answer is maybe but probably not. I would put his chances of success in Kansas City at 20 percent, which is better than I would have given him with the Cubs.

Why so low? For one reason, moving into the AL for the first time will probably hurt Volstad. He’s only ever pitched in the NL so his strikeout numbers, never very good, will probably slip a bit. He walks to many people, and in the AL that kills. His lack of strikeout stuff makes him a wannabe Derek Lowe without Lowe’s command (in his prime anyway).

So, why so high at 20 percent (which is 20 points higher than Luke Hochevar)? Because Volstad is only 26, and he’s had “success” before. I use “success” in its loosest form. He’s never been Justin Verlander, but he’s been a decent pitcher before. His sinker has decent movement. His only real obstacle, that is, to reaching his potential as a solid 4, potentially decent 3, is his lack of command. He walked 3.48 hitters per nine innings last year. That’s not good at all when he’s only striking out 5 or 6 hitters per nine (in the NL). In 2011, maybe his best year statistically (3.64 xFIP), he only walked 2.66 hitters per nine. He needs to be around the 2-2.5 range to be effective.

If he can locate his sinker down in the zone consistently and get ground balls without walking people, he can be successful in Kauffman Stadium with the Royals’ defense. That’s a very big if. That’s why he only gets 20 percent, but that’s better than Hochevar’s 0 percent.

The bigger questions still lie out there. Will Volstad make the rotation? Make the team? What role will he fill? Isn’t he just Luis Mendoza, only taller and maybe more volatile? These are all questions that need to be answered. Not now, but eventually.

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Tags: Baseball Chris Volstad Kansas City Royals Pitching

  • jimfetterolf

    Volstad may have potential, but doesn’t throw as hard as Mendoza and Hochevar and lacks a plus pitch. The hope is that he can be fine-tuned into a Mendoza type of ground ball pitcher but it is extremely unlikely he will be able to match Hochevar’s stuff or ability to put up the occasional ace-level start. He is cheaper than Hoch, although more expensive than Mendoza. He’s a roll of the dice, something GM Dayton Moore does a couple of every year.

    • Marcus Meade

      Yes, but you can’t discard Hochevar’s non-ace-level starts, which is almost all of them. There’s a reason Hochevar is statistically the second worse starting pitcher of all time with at least 125 starts (behind only Kyle Davies). He may have better stuff. He may throw harder. He may be better looking and more charming. It means nothing. We know Hochevar. We’ve had many years to see exactly what he is in a Royals uniform in Kauffman Stadium. He’s the devil we know. Volstad is the devil we don’t. In this case, we want the devil we don’t know.

      • jimfetterolf

        Statistically, as in ERA, a stat derided about as much as BA and RBI? His various fips put him in the neighborhood of Hellickson and Gavin Floyd, Clay Buchholz and Jason Vargas, and better than Ervin Santana last year.

        “we want the devil we don’t know.”

        Of course, the next president-GM-manager-player is always the savior, that’s just human nature. What I expect is for Hoch to be tendered, then traded for some other team’s underachiever with good stuff, Arrieta was mentioned this summer. I would prefer Luke traded for a lottery ticket, it’s pretty clear he doesn’t want to be here any more. He’s cheap and worth a minor-leaguer or two off the 40-man. Paulino was a bust when we got him, it happens. If Volstad makes the 40-man, unlikely, he’ll be in Omaha with no damage done. Happens every year.