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.