2016 Phillies Report Card: Vince Velasquez
Not one local paper seized the opportunity to use the headline “VERY VERY EXTRAORDINARY” when Vince Velasquez struck out 16 Padres en route to a three-hit shutout on April 14. No wonder the industry is on the decline. You can pin it on the internet if you want, but when you miss out on Nat “King” Cole references, you’ve no one to blame but yourself.
A highlight of his and his team’s season, VV’s early-year gem may have put unattainable expectations on the second-year hurler’s season. Set those aside, and what’s left is a very very strong year for a potential stalwart in the Phils’ approaching competitive window.
Velasquez joined the club last offseason, as the primary MLB piece in a trade that sent fire-balling closer and flat hat aficionado Ken Giles to Houston. He was several years removed from Tommy John surgery when he debuted for Houston in 2015, after skipping AAA altogether. They used him in the rotation and the bullpen as they closed out their season, and there was some speculation that The Phils might start him in AAA. A strong spring landed him in the rotation, and a Dad-dominating April afternoon cemented that position for the foreseeable future.
On the year, Velasquez was 8-6, with FIP and xFIP both under 4, with 152Ks and just 45bb in 131 IP. His K Rate was a very good 27.6% and his BB Rate was also quite good, at 8.2%. He was certainly homer prone, giving up 21, and that’s cause for some concern going forward.
Equally concerning was a start in early June where Velasquez was forced to leave after throwing just two pitches. It was called a biceps injury, and with Tommy John on our minds, we all held our collective breath. But with a couple weeks on the shelf, Vinny From Philly (do we have to?) returned to action before the end of the month and pitched through his mandated innings limit in early September.
His final line reads like a mid/back-end starter, but his upside remains higher, as his fastball shows easy velocity into the upper 90s, and he has multiple workable secondary offerings. Also, his fallback would seem to be the back of a bullpen, with likely not as dynamic a 1-2 punch as Ken Giles’ FB/SL combo, but potentially with better control. Looking at his usage chart, you can see his main secondary varied throughout the year. He was willing to use whatever was working. Hopefully one of those will emerge as a dominant force, (the change-up seems to have been most highly regarded prior to 2016), but if not, at least he’s got options.
With some question marks coming out of 2016’s rotation, VV seems solidly entrenched in his role. Similarly, we should see Jerad Eickhoff and Jeremy Hellickson locked in, and hopefully a healthy Aaron Nola, plus whoever emerges from spring training in the #5 spot. That’s the makings of a rotation worth watching every day. Eickhoff may have had the most consistent 2015, but it’s Velasquez who was the most impressive to me.