Player profile: Edinson Volquez

Background

While Johnny Cueto may have received more hype coming into the 2008 season, Edinson Volquez performed the best out of the two young Reds’ starting pitchers. Volquez had a stellar first half, going 12-3 with a 2.29 ERA. His fade in the second half could be expected for someone pitching in his first full major league season, but Volquez still put up a very impressive performance, most notably his 206 strikeouts in 196 innings pitched. However, Volquez does have a few question marks going into the year. Let’s take a look at the skills and risk he brings.

Skill Set

YEAR     AGE  TEAM  IP   ERA    FIP   TRA*  lgTRA K/G  BB/G  GB%   BABIP   HR/FB%
  2006   22   TEX   33.3  7.29  6.71  5.29  5.11  3.5   4.0  43    .363    15.8
  2007   23   TEX   34    4.50  4.76  5.05  4.99  7.5   3.9  38    .303    10.7
  2008   24   CIN   196   3.21  3.77  4.14  4.77  9.5   4.3  46    .302     8.1

You can see that Volquez struggled in Texas. However, he had put up pretty good numbers in the minor leagues while with the Rangers. His major league success last year was similar to his minor league numbers in the past. Volquez strikes out a ton of people but also gives up his fair share of walks. He’s a groundball pitcher, which is especially helpful for a pitcher in Cincinnati. This profile is reminiscent of a guy like A.J. Burnett or Carlos Zambrano.

Volquez does show some signs of regressing next year. Both his xFIP and TRA* suggest Volquez’s ERA will increase next year. Of course all players naturally tend to regress to the mean anyway. Also, despite getting 17 wins last year, the wins could be a concern for 2009 given the state of the Reds. Volquez does possess upside in his skill set. If he can make improvements with his walk rate, Volquez could take off even if his strikeout rate dips slightly.

Overall, it should be safe to expect the strikeouts from Volquez. He’ll probably see a rise in ERA even if his skills don’t change much. But keep in mind there’s a small chance that Volquez could really take off and establish himself in the upper tier of pitchers. Let’s see what sort of risk Volquez brings with this upside.

Risk

Experience: Medium risk. We have about 1.5 seasons worth of major league data on Volquez. However, we do have a pretty good idea of his type of profile, which is a high strikeout, high walk, high groundball pitcher. Still, there is some decent room for error because of the sample size.

Playing Time: Very low risk. Volquez should not have any concerns about playing time as long as he stays healthy.

Skill Risk: Medium risk. Again, Volquez walks a lot of batters. If he sees a slight increase in his walks or decrease in strikeouts this could cause a lot of harm to his stat line. Worst case he could have an Oliver Perez moment where his numbers completely fall off.

Age: Low risk. Volquez is at the age where he should continue to improve as a pitcher provided he stays healthy. Phil Birnbaum has suggested that pitchers keep improving into their late 20s as long as they don’t get hurt.

Burnout: High risk. Volquez is still a relatively young pitcher pitching for Dusty Baker. This may be more than enough to scare a few people away from him. While he didn’t have a huge innings jump, Volquez is still facing his first test of coming back from almost 200 major league innings.

Overall Risk: Medium risk. Volquez’s two biggest risks are his walk rate and his burnout chances. He is a definitely a worth taking a shot at in a keeper league. Volquez is the kind of guy where if things go right, he could anchor your pitching staff for a long time.

Conclusion

By this time next year, Edinson Volquez could be one of the top five starting pitchers in baseball or recovering from an injury. This following year will also tell us a lot about how durable we can expect Volquez to be as a starter. Normally I’m pretty risk averse when it comes to investing a lot in pitchers, but Volquez is a guy who already has a strong skill set with room for growth, which may be enough to balance out the risks he brings as well.

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