2017 Phillies Report Card: Vince Velasquez

When the Phillies traded Ken Giles to Houston in exchange for Vince Velasquez and other pieces, they were supposed to be acquiring a long term rotation piece. Within the first month of his 2016 season, it looked like they had actually acquired an ace. The rest of Velasquez’s year did not go to script, and he entered 2017 looking to make improvements on the mound and more importantly staying healthy on it.

During the 2017 season, Velasquez only started 15 games and pitched 72 innings. He first missed time with a right flexor muscle strain, and then with a vascular injury in his right middle finger. Neither injury necessarily has a long term impact on Velasquez’s ability to pitch in 2018, and while the injuries have been concerning, they aren’t career ending. In 2017, only 75 pitchers pitched 150 innings. While, it would be nice if Velasquez could be a 200 inning pitcher, if he can pitch 140-150 innings a year, he has value as a starter.

All of that means nothing if Velasquez cannot solve his biggest problem. He hasn’t actually been that good when healthy. In 2017, Velasquez saw his ERA go up a run and a half, his strikeout rate decline, and his walk rate increase. Velasquez tried to pitch to contact more this season, and he was able to make big strides in his ground ball rate, but he still was unable to work deep and his strikeout rate struggled. At the same time he still ended up putting himself in at bats he couldn’t finish after reaching two strikes. After two strike counts, hitters hit .169/.266/.331, in comparison, after two strike counts, hitters hit .157/.199/.221 off of Aaron Nola.

The solution put forth by some is to put Velasquez in the bullpen. The theory is two fold. The first is that if he can’t stay healthy in a rotation, than he might be better served in a bullpen with a lesser workload. What makes this less compelling is that we don’t know if Velasquez will be any more healthy going out and throwing max effort innings every night. The other theory is that in max effort innings, Velasquez will have better results and be dominant in fewer innings. We have evidence that Velasquez should see a velocity increase as a reliever. However, Velasquez’s problem hasn’t been his fastball, it has been his other pitches.

It can be hard to judge the effectiveness offspeed pitches based on movement, tunneling, arm slot, and a variety of other factors. However, it can be easier to see the problem when we put it like this.

This is the location of offspeed pitches for Vince Velasquez. He just cannot throw the pitches for strikes, or at least does not have confidence to throw them for strikes. Fishing for misses with his offspeed pitches has forced Velasquez to go into the strike zone with a fastball he can’t command, and the result is a lot of hittable pitches.

Part of the problem may be that his offspeed pitches are just too hittable in the zone (this could be caused by his release point, movement, or a myriad of other factors), which could be a difficult thing to improve. Regardless, he needs to show that he can throw those pitches for strikes before hitters will expand the zone.

There is a lot of work for Velasquez to do before he can be an effective pitcher in any role.

Final Grade: F

Velasquez got worse at everything in 2017. The Phillies want him to work as a starter to open 2018, but for the second straight year, the Phillies will enter spring training questioning what Vince Velasquez will give them.

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  1. Major Malfunction

    October 25, 2017 01:30 PM

    “This is the location of offspeed pitches for Vince Velasquez. He just cannot throw the pitches for strikes, or at least does not have confidence to throw them for strikes.”

    In spring training 2017, his mission was to work on his curveball and throw it for strikes. And there was even a story here on CB back in March talking about how Velasquez is afraid to throw it because he doesn’t want it to bounce. Then as the season progressed and he got blown out, he actually said he has no idea where his curveball is going at this point.

    It sounds like whatever he worked on in spring training ended up being a complete waste of time. But maybe the blood flow issue thing wasn’t allowing him to grip the ball like he needed and that’s the root of his curveball issue? We can only hope surgery unlocks his talents else sending Giles away is turning into quite a bust. Unless the last straw is putting Velasquez into the pen?

  2. Matt

    October 30, 2017 06:49 PM

    If confidence is the problem he has to overcome I don’t hold out much hope. I’ve never seen a less confident guy in interviews. It’s funny how some guys can be just plain awful to mediocre and swear that they have proven that they belong in the majors (Pivetta) and then there are guys like Vince who come off like Fragile Freddy when they talk about themselves. I felt at times that he was almost begging to be taken out of the rotation.

    I honestly don’t even think of VV anymore when looking at the potential rotation for when this team becomes competitive. If they get anything from him at this point such as in the bullpen then I really believe it’s a bonus. Sometimes we have to ask ourselves why an organization would give up on what was thought to be a highly prized starting arm.

    Yeah, they needed Giles but nobody so easily gives up on a starting pitching prospect if they really feel he has a chance to be great. I think Houston already saw what we are seeing now, a weak-minded guy who just can’t physically (and probably more mentally) harness his pitches enough to be a consistent starter.

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