In theory, asking a pitcher with a career 4.44 ERA to replace someone who is generally considered to be a top of the rotation starter would be a foolhardy proposition. Yet, that is essentially what the Kansas City Royals will be asking of Edinson Volquez next season.
Yes, Volquez likely will not sit atop the Royals rotation – that honor is likely to go to either Danny Duffy or Yordano Ventura – yet that is how Volquez will be thought of. His success, or lack thereof, will be compared to whatever Shields does in his new environs. It is entirely unfair, but let us face facts; as Shields helped to turn around the Royals fortunes, he has entrenched himself in Royals lore. Volquez, through no fault of his own, is the man tasked with replacing Shields’ production.
Based on their 2014 campaigns, that would actually appear to be something that Edinson Volquez would be able to do. He actually had a lower ERA than James Shields last season, posting a 3.04 ERA compared to Shields’ 3.21 mark. However, while Shields has proven himself capable of posting solid numbers, last season was easily the best of Volquez’s career.
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The question now becomes: Can Volquez replicate that 2014 success in Kansas City? That is, understandably, a subject of debate, given his .263 batting average on balls in play against. Even with his 20.4% strikeout rate, Volquez put a lot of pressure on the Pirates infield defense last season, as 50.4% of all balls in play were hit on the ground. Would Volquez, who has been an extreme ground ball pitcher, survive in Kansas City?
There is absolutely no reason to think that he would not. For all the credit that the Royals outfield defense receives, and justifiably so, the Royals infield defense is just as good. Eric Hosmer is a two time Gold Glove winner, and Alcides Escobar should have one of his own by now. Mike Moustakas remains in the lineup ostensibly for his glove. Omar Infante, while not as flashy as the rest of the infield, is certainly a solid second baseman.
If Edinson Volquez can keep inducing ground balls, strike out approximately seven batters per nine innings and command the strike zone, he may well perform to something close to the same level in 2015. The Royals defense should certainly help there, as any mistakes may be run down instead of being doubles in the gaps.
While Edinson Volquez may not be James Shields, he could be a reasonable facsimile thereof. That is, after all, what the Royals are really asking him to be. The idea that Volquez could replace Shields production could turn out to be an accurate thought after all.