First Pitch: How Long Can the Pirates Give Edinson Volquez?

Edinson Volquez had an amazing start to the 2014 season. Through his first five appearances (four starts), he had a 2.18 ERA in 33 innings, with a 20:8 K/BB ratio. The numbers said that he would regress and see a decline going forward, but not to the extreme he saw. In his four starts since that great debut, Volquez has combined for an 8.31 ERA in 21.2 innings, with a 12:8 K/BB ratio.

A few weeks ago, Nate Barnes wrote about Volquez, wondering which version the Pirates will get going forward. So far it has been the bad version. There is hope that Volquez can turn things around. He has a 4.23 xFIP. That wouldn’t be great going forward, but it would be much better than what he has done the last few weeks. He also has a 2.36 BB/9, which is the lowest rate of his Major League career. The problem has been the long ball, with Volquez owning a 17.3% HR/FB ratio. It’s hard to say if this is unlucky. Pitchers tend to be around 10%. Volquez has been around 12% in his career, although he also played a few years for the Reds and Rangers, giving him two home run friendly parks. I don’t expect him to stay near 17%.

Volquez might be better than what the Pirates have seen lately. The question is, how long can they give him? The Triple-A rotation is full of guys who are having success. I’ve said that Brandon Cumpton should already be up to take the rotation spot from Wandy Rodriguez. In all fairness, the velocity from Rodriguez was up in his last start, which covered my biggest concern. He also had a decent outing. If he does the same tomorrow, he might buy himself some more time. I still feel more comfortable with Cumpton, especially since he continues to dominate in Triple-A, and has had success in the majors.

Back to Volquez, he can’t keep pitching the way he’s currently been pitching and remain in the rotation. The Pirates have pretty much killed their chances at competing this year, so having Volquez continue to struggle might not matter at this point. But if they want to hold onto the slimmest chances of competing, then they need something to change right now.

If Volquez can’t turn things around right away, then the Pirates could turn to Jeff Locke, Casey Sadler, or Vance Worley. All three are pitching well in Triple-A right now. The Pirates would also have any of those guys beyond the 2014 season. So if those guys came up and had success, but the Pirates didn’t turn their season around, they’d at least be working to fill future rotation spots. That can’t be said with Volquez, who is only under team control through the 2014 season.

The one downside to making the switch is that the Pirates wouldn’t be getting a lot of upside with the three guys in Triple-A. At best, you’re looking at a strong number four starter from any of those guys. That’s not the best thing for the long-term. In the short-term, it would provide an upgrade over a struggling Volquez.

I wouldn’t remove Volquez from the rotation right now. I’d give him a few more starts to see if he can turn things around and cut out the home runs. That also gives Ray Searage a chance to see if he can eliminate that huge flaw that has shown up over the last four starts. If Volquez can eliminate the home runs, then he could be better than Locke, Sadler, or Worley. That’s worth the risk. But the Pirates can only wait so long for that potential reward, and if it’s not showing up over the next few starts, they need to make a switch.

Links and Notes

**Prospect Watch: Brandon Cumpton Leads an Amazing Night of Minor League Pitching

**Prospect Reports: Adrian Sampson Searching for Consistency

**Minor League Schedule: Nick Kingham Headlines Light Wednesday

**New Mock Draft and Rankings From

**Prospect Highlights: Double From Alen Hanson, Two Key Hits By Mel Rojas Jr.

  • I do not agree that at his best at this point in his career, he is better than Jeff Locke at his best. Nor do I think he could out pitch Cumpton at any point in his career. When he had 18 wins, he had a 96 MPH fastball, that’s gone. He has above average stuff with below average command, even if he doesn’t walk people, he can’t throw it where he wants. I’d rather him walk people than have a 93 mph fastball down the middle

  • Keeping Wandy on this team is like adding insult to injury. I don’t care if he’s paid 25 million. Why do these teams keep players just because they have large salaries. If they are costing your team games why keep them. In Wandy’s case is arthritis considered a baseball injury. Pirates should seek a non-baseball injury settlement. I’m also not sure about the rules. If the cut and no team claims him the Pirates can assign him to a minor league team. If he refused assignment the Pirates wouldn’t be responsible for his salary anymore. If the Pirates don’t improve soon I don’t see the Pirates ending the season with Volquez, Wandy, Grilli, Snider, Tabata, and Martin. They could get a few long term prospects and maybe a young arm they could bring up. I would then hope the money saves would go towards free agents this off season.

  • Pirates score 4 runs off Tillman, our slow pitch softball pitcher Rodriguez gives up 6 the next inning. Are the Pirates top brass this inept that they actually think Volquez and Rodriguez are going to suddenly turn into quality starters? In the meantime, the team gets buried in the standings. They supposedly have a great farm system – even though all of the minor league teams are horrible except for Indy – yet, they will not trust the prospects they have and instead hold on to these retreads. It is very, very frustrating to be a Pirates fan this Spring – the team’s front office is totally incompetent or stubborn or both.

  • what exactly is McCutchen doing? He just meandered into second on what should have been an easy triple, then wandered over to third on the hit from alvarez…..this is why i don’t like cutch sometimes. He scored anyways, but this lack of general urgency is exactly why the pirates are where they are right now. Its contagious

  • What’s Karstens doing these days? Seriously. I can’t find anything on him beyond a scheduled showcase he supposedly did in Jan/Feb which wasn’t reported on.

  • Letting Burnett go and signing Volquez is in my mind maybe the worst thing that the Pirates did since Matt Morris. Volquez has been terrible for many years and I still do not fathom how signing the guy with the worst ERA in the league last year was somehow even remotely justifiable. If they really believe Ray Searage is such a magician that would almost be as bad as the signing itself. I could buy not getting a RF, since Byrd wanted two years and they clearly have Polonco in the wings and signing Byrd would block him. They hoped that Snider/Tabata could at least give them something to super two day. They were wrong, but it it was at least understandable. I can even see not signing a 1B. They wanted to give Lambo a shot and he blew it. Again, the Pirates have to take chances like that. But Volquez? That was almost insulting the fans after last year. It said, “we will not sign our own good pitcher but will keep going to the garbage pile even when we make the playoffs, so fans, just get over it.”

    • Bob, have you seen any of AJ’s stats this year? Signing Volquez may have been a mistake (though that is not a given yet) but not signing AJ looks better and better. He’s walking so many hitters (leads the league), he can’t get past 5 innings even if he’s otherwise pitching average and his team has the lead for him.

  • I’m not ready to give up on season right now though things look very bleak. I am actually quite constructive about our offense going forward even though it has struggled mightily at times. I expect more consistency and improvement from individuals(Pedro, Mercer, etc) and the Polanco effect. The pitching is a huge concern. I think our only hope is probably relying on 2 of these 4 going forward(Cumpton, Locke, Worley, Sadler). AJ was huge loss no matter how it is spun and independed of JT’s injury. We must start winning though starting tonight.

    • If they brought the entire Indy team up here and their coaches, they probably win a lot of games, if you just bring a couple of players up, it won’t be long before these coaches ruin them with some of the dumb things they are doing. I wish they would keep Polanco down all year, just because I think if this coaching staff gets their hands on him they will ruin him.
      The biggest problem with the Pirates these days is that the other teams have adjusted to what the Pirates did last year and the Pirates do not recognize it and it is a lot deeper than a couple of players. The Pirates are totally numbers oriented, no matter what happens they will stick with what the numbers tell them.

      • pilbobuggins
        May 21, 2014 3:12 pm

        I agree on the bad coaching, I have never been a fan of hurdle and we have a hitting coach with a career .240 ish batting average, searage does a good job with the tools he is given no matter how dull or broken they are. Bottom line is hurdle won’t bench guys who are not hitting or pitching well I.e. pedro,liriano,volquez ect. and a hitting coach getting no help from his manager and no respect from his players.

        • Hurdle is really slow to adapt, Pedro cannot hit in the 4 slot, never could and for some reason Hurdle can’t see that big hole, those LOB are adding up to a lot of losses.

  • The Off season has nothing to do with their current situation, it goes
    far deeper than what they could have, would have done. A player here or
    there is not their problem. When an entire team collapses it goes far
    deeper, everything from current philosophy to coaches to underperforming
    talent. This is not the titanic, but it is a an engine running bad with
    a lot of different problems. A player that strikes out 3 times on the
    same pitch and never gets a strike thrown to him and goes out and
    continues to do the same thing over and over and over falls under player
    and coaches. A defense that lived and died by shifts has been figured
    out by most teams now, but the coaching staff has not figured out that what they are doing is not working well anymore, a pitching staff that can’t keep the ball out of the middle of the
    plate because of the philosophy that you have to always throw strikes,
    because walks will get you back to the minors and keep you there, if
    they would have walked Davis three times maybe the score would have been
    different last night. A Team to the man that can’t hit a pitch right
    down the middle of the plate, a left fielder that can put the bat on his
    shoulder and walk just about every time up, they rarely throw him a
    strike anymore and if they do it is probably a mistake. I could go on but my consulting fees are high. Oh, I forgot I come cheap.

  • Sad to say, but the old adage about how fast one can go from hero to zero seems applicable this year. Huntington- I think you will look back on the 2013 offseason with some regret.

  • I’m hoping Wandy has figured this out and we can call up Cumpton for Volquez.

  • Cumpton and Locke should be up with frankie and volquez down to figure out the problems. Maybe some rest would help. The Indy depth can support the plan.

  • Some good news: if the losing continues the Pirates will get a top pick in next years draft! We won’t have to worry about whether we can find good talent at #24 next year.

    • Always look on the bright side of life.

    • Another positive Jared. If any of Frankie, Volquez or Wandy can straighten themselves out before the end of July, the Bucs could get a legit prospect for one of them before the deadline.

      • lonleylibertarian
        May 21, 2014 10:42 am

        Just don’t see that happening. Right now the Bucs have 8-10 players with no trade value IMHO…

        • pilbobuggins
          May 21, 2014 3:25 pm

          The pirates most expendable player with any trade value is pedro, gm’s are attracted to homers the way a moth is to flame. So send the one tool wonder packing for somebody with a batting average and a pulse.

      • The sad thing is, really, that the organization saw such an amazing rejuvenation last year and this team needed that. What it needed more, though, was to follow up that season with another good season. To keep the momentum going so that people could truly believe in this franchise again. Those of us who come here, who post on this site and/or others…we are people who will always follow the team. Certainly we are the die-hard fans that teams need…but they also need the casual fans who get enthused with the team when there is something exciting and will come out and spend money and make the organization successful. Those fans will not come with the organization being how it is now…up and down (and mostly down besides last year)…the Pirates really needed this year to build on last year. And it hasn’t.

      • With my comment below being said…now that this season has gone how it has, this team needs to get it’s younger players up here, into the roles they will fill for the upcoming years, and get them experience. We need to see what we have so that we can maximize on the years we have left of those talented players on our roster like Pedro, Walker, McCutchen etc. Cumpton should be up and we should be seeing what he can do. Not continuing on with people like Volquez. And we should probably begin to look for trades for Pedro. We should be able to get a huge return for him. We would need a replacement however.

  • If the Pirates have killed their season then it makes sense to cut bait with Volquez unless you think he can be traded for a bag of practice balls later in the season (and save his remaining salary). When this season is finished it is time to think about next year and Volquez isn’t coming back no matter what he does. So Cumpton deserves to be up and starting for either Wandy or Volquez and Bucs need to be looking for other starters for 2015 too. Locke should be up soon to figure out if he is part of rotation for 2015.

    • I agree, if the tipping point is reached where it is unlikely they will be contenders, then they really should not be putting Rodriguez or Volquez out there at all.

  • The starting staff in Pittsburgh is dragging team down to the 21st losing season in last 22.
    Put the kids in. Drop Volquez and Wandy, they have no purpose going forward with the way 2014 is looking.

    • Leefoo Rug Bug
      May 21, 2014 9:41 am

      I think we need to include Frankie the one year wonder in this convo.

  • BallHeadWonder
    May 21, 2014 7:13 am

    I am going to tell you what guys….I have a question???? Is the Indy Rotation better than the Pirate Rotation??? I read how the staff in Indy is looking very sharp every nite and these guys are biting at the bit to get to The Show and the supposed Major League Staff keeps throwing Batting Practice every nite!!! Time is running out guys!!

  • Volquez will get at least 20 starts bc of the salary he gets. If salary didn’t matter, Cumpton would be in the rotation in favor of Volquez or Wandy.

    • I just don’t see what the point of continuing to try to work on Volquez’s game is for the Bucs. He’s not in their plans beyond this season, and they’ve got better options in the system already. Why not just cut bait?

      • It’s kind of funny that the 3 SPs up for contracts are struggling the most, when you’d expect them to be making a push for a nice payday in the offseason. It will be interesting to see how long of a leash each one gets, including Frankie unfortunately. I was hoping he’d be good again and the Bucs would get an extra draft pick when he refused the QO. The best laid plans…

        • Cato the Elder
          May 21, 2014 10:15 am

          It certainly gives lie to the notion of “the contract year” myth that never had any statistical support anyway.

          • What about the “every other year” myth with Liriano? When I read that Sabathia was out for 6-8 weeks, I was hoping for one solid start out of Liriano and especially against one of the Yankee competitors in the AL East. It is never too early to take advantage of a good situation. I want Bird and Clarkin – how much more than Liriano is that going to cost at this point.

      • They won’t cut bait bc of the salary. Lambo wasn’t producing in ST and they sent him to AAA bc they had no financial commitment to him. I get the economics of baseball stinks and that the Bucs are in a bad spot do to ownership not having a bottomless wallet. However, not having your best 25 ML players is a crime . And keeping guys in the rotation or lineup bc of their salary is just a loser thing to do . DL Volquez and experiment that way. Throwing games every 5th day is maddening

  • It’s nice that former Dominican Rep. Little League pals Volquez and Liriano are back together again. I was reading the game program for this homestand last night. Did you know neither of them wanted to be a pitcher? Liriano was a CF and Volquez was a SS.

    I guess they must have been reminiscing about their Little League dreams this spring. Because it appears neither of them wants to be a pitcher this season.

    Last year I went to 18 Bucs games and didn’t leave early once. This year I’ve already left before the seventh inning three times – and that’s with skipping three games they lost.

    After last night, I believe the Bucs’ staff is now tied for 2nd in MLB for most HRs allowed, behind only the pathetic D’Backs.

    Compared to these two, Wandy’s last start was a breath of fresh air. I think this article could’ve been about Frankie just as much as Volquez. This team is in deep doo-doo right now. Cumpton should be up yesterday for Volquez. And Frankie should be aware he’s rapidly approaching DFA status.

  • Locke was an all star last year. He’s already proven his ceiling is above the #4 pitcher level. And Cumpton has never shown any fear – a great attribute in any middle rotation guy. The whole point of signing Volquez was to eat up some innings until someone was ready in Indy – why make a season-long experiment out of the guy? Next man up.

    • Andy: Excellent point. The Pirates are getting everything in place for unloading a lot of expensive, and obviously unneeded, aging veteran pitchers. $25 mil in 2014 for Liriano, Rodriguez, Volquez, and Grilli. We know after 20 years of futility that we can play this badly without paying numbers like that.
      TIM: The passengers on the Titanic are starting to notice that the water is still rising. This group of players just do not seem to be able to put anything together, and the days tick by and the number of games under .500 keeps growing. IMO, this team has about 15 more games at most to turn this around.

      • lonleylibertarian
        May 21, 2014 7:30 am

        The Bucs have a LOT of “dead wood” – in addition to the above pitchers you can add Snider, Tabata, Stewart, Barmes, Davis, and G Sanchez.

        All of these guys need to be moved on – none of them have any trade value so a transition plan that “clears the decks” and gets some folks ready for 2015 is what we should be talking about – not how long do they stick with these proven losers…

        I would much rather watch a younger – more hungry group try and prove themselves and win jobs for the future than a group of overpaid and underachieving veterans.

        And once again – who will be held accountable for this disaster – because that is what it is – a disaster?

        • Davis and Sanchez need moved? Are you even watching the games? Seriously? What did you do last year when they were winning? I’m guessing the same thing, exposing the Pirates for the disservice they do. Good thing they are losing again, you must feel vindicated. I get your frustration, and I’m with you, but that’s ridiculous. Those guys have made 1st base a nonissue and are quietly making it a strength.

          • lonleylibertarian
            May 21, 2014 9:39 am

            Davis has 1 HR – must have more power from a corner. Gaby will be making more than the new low budget Bucs can/will pay…

            I am not saying they are not “productive” – just that you should look to upgrade the position – and Headly and Loney ARE NOT what I consider upgrades.

            • Cato the Elder
              May 21, 2014 10:10 am

              What would you like the Pirates to do? Who is the upgrade that the Pirates are not looking at?

              • lonleylibertarian
                May 21, 2014 10:46 am

                Why not put Lambo on first for the rest of the year and see how he does? And at the same time move Bell and Rojas to 1st base to have an in house option if Lambo does not work out.

                • Cato the Elder
                  May 21, 2014 10:57 am

                  That is the upgrade you are clamoring for? Andrew Lambo!? I wouldn’t have minded seeing Lambo as the a platoon partner with Sanchez to start the year, but having already traded for Davis (in part because Lambo couldn’t win the job in Spring) I can’t see how this is anything other than a lateral move. I wouldn’t gnash my teeth and rend my clothes if the Pirates were to do what you suggest, but this is hardly an inspired suggestion.

                • Rojas at first base? what the hell are you smoking

            • new low budget bucs? quit being sensational and stick to the facts man. we always have been low budget, and by getting rid of players who are being overpaid, we can pay that to players who earn it. Gabby will not be overpaid, Davis idk….we’ll see

          • BuccosFanStuckinMD
            May 21, 2014 2:31 pm

            Davis has made first base a non issue?? Are you kidding me?? he has two home runs in 5-6 weeks and has become a mostly singles hitter. I hope the Pirates do not consider him the answer or even part of it. I would like to see, when healthy, Lambo to be given 5-6 weeks to play in a platoon with Sanchez and see how he does.

            • pilbobuggins
              May 21, 2014 2:57 pm

              The reason the pirates are not winning( other than bad pitching) is because there’s nobody in the #4 spot to drive them in,you just said davis is a singles hitter, would’nt you rather see him hitting singles and driving in runs instead of a pedro strikeout, doubleplay,popup ect.. to me pedros consistent non-production in the four hole is the biggest factor in the bucs losing.( not only,just biggest)

              • There is no answer to fix our lineup until Polanco comes up. With Marte displaced, Harrison is doing a fantastic job of getting on base and making solid defensive plays. He is turning into the utility man we always wanted, lo and behold he just needed some steady playing time. I would like to eventually see Marte batting 2nd or 3rd in front of Cutch. I’d prefer to slide Cutch back to 4 or up to 2. I don’t like how he hits in the 3 hole. You take Polanco, Marte, Walker, Cutch, Alvarez, Martin, Davis, Mercer and you have a strong lineup

        • Lonely, you had me until Davis and Gaby. Guys with .800 OPS, good defense and a MLB track record are not dead wood. They’re exactly what the Bucs need. I was hoping Tabby or Snider would put up good 1st half stats and actually be tradeable when Polanco arrives. Obviously that’s not going to happen.
          But most importantly, the devotion to a defense only backup MI and C needs to stop. Get some guys that can hit every day (mostly pinch hitting) and don’t worry about the defense once a week. Stash a couple of defense first guys at AAA for an emergency. You cannot have a 3 man bench, when most of the time one of those 3 is nicked up and needing rest.

          • lonleylibertarian
            May 21, 2014 10:51 am

            Just think they are probably not the long term solution – maybe Lambo can be – but he needs a fair shot – if not they need to move some of their outfield talent in the minors to first to see if someone could be a 2015 option

            • The outfield talent is better used for trade bait than it is to destroy their value at a position they can play and switch them now to a position of lower value in the minors

            • Davis is 27 how can he not be long term

        • You can’t clean out half of your roster for Indianapolis replacements and not expect an even worse result for the next 2 years. You need bench players as well as starters, and we have no one to play 1B in your utopia. Gaby hasn’t been terrible.

          • lonleylibertarian
            May 21, 2014 10:55 am

            Lambo – Hague – Curry – Broxton

            • And which of those guys has ever hit .259 and 4 HRs in the MLB, ever? What about .250 and 3 HRs. There is a reason those guys are in AAA/AA, it’s not like the FO is playing the worse players on purpose. Out of those 4, maybe Lambo could put up Gaby’s/Davis’ average results, except with Lambo your talking about triple digit K’s and a terrible walk rate. Which is something you don’t suffer as badly with Sanchez or Davis.

            • Ron Loreski
              May 21, 2014 3:02 pm

              Lonely, most of the time I actually agree with you. But I just don’t understand where you’re coming from with this. Ike Davis is slashing .250/.371/.404 (.775 OPS). Gabby Sanchez is slashing .259/.310/.519 (.829 OPS). I’ll agree that Ike Davis needs to start hitting some HR’s, but that doesn’t justify replacing him with Andrew Lambo.

              • lonleylibertarian
                May 21, 2014 3:35 pm

                Both are arb eligible and will get raises-total for the two could be in the $8M range….

                Lambo is major league minimum – why not see if he can handle the job for the rest of the season – not like the Bucs are going to be a contender. IF he can’t you can revisit one or both of Davis and Sanchez – but again – I don’t think either of them would net you much more than a third tier prospect – heck Davis is going to cost them Jacoby Jones – or worse 😉

                • Lambo is unavailable right now, so he isn’t a short term option and he’s not a given as a long term option; as far as Hague, Curry, and Broxton go, their respective ceilings are AAAA at best. You just can’t take half the position players on your roster and take them in back of the barn and shoot them–in Strat-O-Matic or your fantasy league, yes, but not in the real world.

                  • lonleylibertarian
                    May 21, 2014 4:55 pm

                    I don’t know – the more I watch this team I think of Coach John McKay’s famous quote…

                    When asked by a reporter what he thought of his team’s execution, he responded.

                    “I’m in favor of it!”

                    BTW – anyone notice GI Jones is having a pretty nice bounce back season – 6HR – 21 RBIs 0.6 WAR…

                    Bucs duo of Ike and Gaby – 5HR and 18 RBIs and 0.2 WAR

                    • The hindsight game is the most useless thing ever. You could say the same things about Brandon Moss, Ryan Ludwick, Justin Morneau, and multiple others. It doesn’t help anything because players like GI Jones didn’t show themselves worthy of extensions when it came time to sign them

                    • Jones is striking out 38% of the time- no thanks

                    • keep in mind we didn’t non-tender jones because we didn’t want him. we knew he wasn’t worth the arbitration number……and we were right, he signed for way less. Had we been able to sign him on a 1 year 5 million contract, we would have taken it

    • Lots of players have been in one AS Game never to be seen again. Few of us believed Locke was as good as his #s in the first half last year. Is he a better option than Volquez at this point? Probably. But let’s not get carried away.

      I imagine we’re all a bit happier these days that Volquez was only signed for one year.

      • Agreed 2014, Locke hasn’t proven anything beyond being a #4. You can’t cherry pick half his season while ignoring the other half. Sure he could creep up to being a #3 with some consistency, but that would be a surprise at this point.

      • Cato the Elder
        May 21, 2014 10:12 am

        “Lots of players have been in one AS Game…”

        Lol, like Edison Volquez.