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