Vince Velasquez’ most recent start against the Washington Nationals was his first outing of the season to last seven innings and only the fourth time he’s gone seven or more innings in 30 career starts with the Phillies.
When the Phillies decided to move Ken Giles, they were attempting to sell high on a dime-a-dozen commodity. Since the trade however, the Phillies have struggled to find any sense of consistency in their bullpen. While Jeanmar Gomez wore the closer job well for the better part of last season, his previous struggles have carried into this year causing the team to search internally for a new closer. Five different Phillies have thrown in 12 save opportunities, with Hector Neris being the lone pitcher to record more than one save.
While the Giles trade brought on these bullpen issues, it may have also solved them.
Since the nine-inning, 16 strike out gem he threw in his second outing with the Phillies, Velasquez has not lived up to the lofty expectations he set for himself. His struggles haven’t been due to a lack of talent as his arm is still as electric as ever. Velasquez leads the team with 34 strikeouts, he’s throwing 9.18 K’s/9, and his fastball is still sitting around 94 mph, while occasionally hitting triple digits.
Over aggressiveness has been the leading cause of Velasquez’ problems with the Phillies. He is the type of pitcher who’ll try to overpower hitters with his fastball and put a whole bottle of mustard on every pitch. This helps his big strikeout numbers, but causes him to pick up a high pitch count early in games.
Velasquez is averaging about 17.2 pitches per inning, 7th most in the National League, while his K’s/9 rank 12th among NL starting pitchers.
Velasquez seems to be trying to rely on strikeouts less this year, with his groundball rate increasing to 44.6%; a 10% increase from the previous season. However, his homerun/fly ball rate has shot up to 24.2% due to the eight homeruns he’s already allowed this season, tied for fifth most in the NL.
This more reserved pitching style may be an attempt to stretch his starts longer, but the results have been less than ideal. In addition to his increased homerun rate, his 5.94 ERA is a near two run increase from the previous season, his BB/9 has risen to 4.05, and his K’s/9 have actually decreased from the 10.44 he threw last season.
The way I see it, the whole Vinny Velasquez-starting pitcher thing has been a failure. All efforts to make this work so far seem like an attempt at forcing a certain talent to fit a certain role rather than finding the most ideal role to fit a certain talent. Instead of having Velasquez wallow away in the starting rotation and takeaway innings from other young arms like Jake Thompson, Nick Pivetta, and Ben Lively, move him to the bullpen where pitchers with his skillset and mentality thrive.
Trying to find a way for Velasquez to fit as a starting pitcher has only resulted in fewer strikeouts and more home runs. Rather than finding out how he can best take on the workload of a starting pitcher, it would be much more beneficial if he simply took on an easier workload in the bullpen.
If Velasquez were moved to the bullpen, he would instantly become the most talented pitcher at the Phillies’ disposal late in games.
Trying to get Velasquez to take on a role in the starting rotation stretches him out too thin and doesn’t allow him to flash his arm at its utmost ability. Taking off the leash and allowing him to pitch his hardest for just one inning a night could lead to some pretty exciting results.
His pitch repertoire could use some work, but he already has the makings of a quality closer. His four-seam fastball is a great strikeout pitch, he’s throwing his two-seamer harder than ever, and his curveball is steadily improving as opposing batters are hitting just .182 against the pitch this season. Working on his changeup would go a long way, giving him another secondary pitch and something that would offset his fastball well keeping batters guessing.
If he can just learn to mix his pitches better and use his four-seamer as less of a crutch, Vinny Velasquez could be the Phillies’ solution at closer for the immediate and long-term future.