Royals GM Dayton Moore remained active this month, signing free-agent starting pitcher Edinson Volquez to a 2-year, $20-million contract. The 31-year-old Dominican Republic native will fill the spot previously occupied by James Shields in the rotation, joining countryman Yordano Ventura along with Danny Duffy, Jason Vargas, and Jeremy Guthrie.
Originally signed by the Texas Rangers, Volquez burst on the scene in his first full year in the big leagues. Pitching for Cincinnati, he was named to the All-Star team in 2008 and would finish the year with 17 wins on the strength of a 137 ERA+ and K/9 of 9.5 over 196 innings despite also leading the league with 14 HBP.
Volquez has been mostly been unable to match his great rookie season. Yes, he has led the league in several categories. However, he isn’t getting the black ink most players hope for, posting the most walks (105 in 2012), earned runs (108 in 2013), and wild pitches (15 in 2014) despite not nearing the league lead for innings in any of those seasons. Following his dominant 2008, his wildness has become considerably less effective. So much so, that although he posted an impressive 4.8 WAR that season, his career WAR sits at 4.1. He would fail to post a league average ERA each of the next five seasons and lose a full three K/9 by 2014.
Data Baseball-Reference.com accessed 17/12/14
Over his career, Volquez has managed to maintain remarkably consistent fastball velocity, with an average sitting between 92.4 and 93.6 MPH. He’s also a true four pitch pitcher. In addition to the four-seamer, he throws a sinker, change, and curve, each of which he’s thrown at least 20% of the time across all his major league appearances.
Volquez re-emerged with Pittsburgh last season and posted the lowest ERA of his career, though his peripherals would suggest that he was fortunate to do so. His BABIP was well below his career average at .263, though his above-average ground ball rate (50.4%) coupled with Russell Martin’s strong pitch framing (11.7 RAA) may have accounted for some of the variation. He also had an above-average swinging strike rate on his curve, though it was slightly below-average on his other three pitches.
Volquez will be the third highest player on the Royals this year, behind Alex Gordon and Alex Rios. That doesn’t sound good, but the Royals are just entering the arbitration years with many of their best players and and have focused on balance, rather than a ‘stars and scrubs’ approach.
While this signing appears riskier than Moore’s previous two, the Royals are well positioned to help Volquez equal or even build on his recent success. Although catcher framing statistics have never favored Perez (-10.6 RAA in 2014) Fangraphs rated the Kansas City defense the best in the league in 2014, and better than Pittsburgh at several individual positions. This will certainly favor a groundball pitcher like Volquez. Although Moore may have overpaid by a couple of million – MLBTR projected a 2/$18 million contract – a healthy Volquez should be able to eat innings at the back end of the rotation while the team waits for Kyle Zimmer and Sean Manaea to join the big club. He won’t come close to replacing the production of Shields, but at the risk of damning him with faint praise, he’s not Bruce Chen or Liam Hendriks, either.
All statistics from baseball-reference.com unless otherwise noted.Next post: Medlen with the Royals: Dayton Adds Another Arm
Previous post: Brian Daubach’s Long and Winding Road to the Majors