What to Expect from Vance Worley

Vance Worley has filled in admirably for the Phillies while Joe Blanton and Roy Oswalt sit on the disabled list. The young right-hander has made nine starts with overall great results, and has gone between the starting rotation, the bullpen, and Triple-A Lehigh Valley as requested by the front office.

Overall, Worley has a 2.15 ERA in over 54 innings of work, averaging nearly seven strikeouts and four walks per nine innings. With his goggles and easily-manipulable nicknames (my favorite is Vance Vance Revolution), he has garnered a fan following and a push for National League Rookie of the Year.

Despite overall decent results, Worley was not a highly-touted name in the Phillies’ Minor League system. He was taken in the 20th round of the 2008 draft. Yet, he earned a call to the Majors in his third year of professional baseball — quite the accomplishment. In the Minors, he didn’t have any eye-popping numbers; his swing-and-miss stuff was average, and he had decent control, but that was about it. He had limited action in the Majors last year, but had both good performances and good results.

However, Worley’s career 4.25 SIERA speaks more to his true talent level than his career 2.00 ERA. His Phillies career is very reminiscent of J.A. Happ, the lefty sent to the Houston Astros in the deal that brought Oswalt to Philadelphia. Happ showed similar mediocre strikeout and walk rates with no special batted ball abilities, but a fluky BABIP helped him to a 3.11 ERA with the Phillies.

Fans and talking heads alike insisted that Happ was one of the select few that DIPS simply could not understand, like Matt Cain. Many said it was due to deception, as Happ slung the ball from behind his head, leaving batters with even less time to pick up the spin and speed of the ball.

Happ’s success continued when he went to Houston last year, finishing up with a 3.75 ERA after his relocation. With the ‘stros, Happ had a 7.6 K/9 and 4.4 BB/9, both rates slightly up from when he was in Philly. His 4.40 SIERA, though, was in line with his previous performances and indicated what to expect going forward.

This year, Happ has had significant struggles. His strikeout and walk rates are about the same, but rather than having a BABIP in the .260’s, it is now .312. As a result, his 5.76 ERA is not quite what GM Ed Wade expected when he acquired the lefty. His 4.61 SIERA is still around where we have expected to be all along, so Happ has actually been quite unlucky, but his 2009-10 and ’11 seasons are indications of just how much luck can play a part in a pitcher’s success or failure.

That should give one caution when looking at Worley. He has a .253 BABIP so far, but fans and talking heads are still claiming that Worley is the latest DIPS heretic — again, due to deception, as Worley hides the ball for what appears to be an above-average period of time. Everything about Worley and Happ, besides their handedness, is nearly identical, including their luck. Worley is due for the same regression that Happ went through, and it will not be pretty.

If you want to go where the smart money is, look at his 4.44 SIERA. Unless Worley improves his control, his ability to miss bats, and/or his ability to generate ground balls, his true talent level is that of a #4-5 starter. That is fine, for the role in which the Phillies need him. Unfortunately, the needs of the team and the expectations of fans and talking heads rarely align. Worley’s fall from grace will be steeper than it needs to be.