Is Vance Worley the Most Under-Rated Pitcher in the Pirates’ Rotation?

For the second year in a row, Vance Worley enters Spring Training trying to compete for one of the final spots in the rotation. This time around, his situation is much different.

Last year, Worley was with the Minnesota Twins, coming off a horrible season. He worked as a starter in Spring Training, but kept getting lit up, including being tagged for five runs in 1.1 innings against the Pirates. The Twins eventually put him on waivers, and when he cleared waivers, they outrighted him to Triple-A, with the goal of turning him into a set-up man — a role he had never pitched in before.

That transition was short-lived, as the Pirates acquired him for cash later in the week, converted him back to a starter, and immediately started working on his mechanics, trying to get him back to his pre-injury form from before the 2012 season. The plan worked, as Worley posted a 2.85 ERA and a 3.54 xFIP in 110.2 innings last year in his call to the majors.

The entire process was unexpected for Worley, who didn’t expect to be picked up by any team after being outrighted. He thought he would be stuck in the bullpen, performing a role that he had never done before. Worley credited his turnaround and success to the Pirates making him comfortable and keeping him positive.

“That’s something that this whole organization has done with me, as soon as I came over, given me positive feedback,” Worley said. “‘We’ve seen you here, and we know what you’re capable of. Let’s just get you right, and you’ll work your way back. We believe in you.’ For me, that meant a lot, considering where I was at before I got over here.”

This year is also different in another big way for Worley. Over the off-season he and his wife had a baby. The newborn boy definitely changed his routines and sleep patterns.

“Just trying to get sleep when I can, and when I am functioning, make sure my wife is awake so I can get to the gym and get my throwing in,” Worley said about how the off-season went.

He started throwing off the mound before mini-camp, and so far in the early part of Spring Training, Worley has said his bullpens are going well.

“I’ve been able to get down in the zone early, which is key for me, because I’m not an over-powering guy,” Worley said. “I’m more of the spot it up type guy, so if I’m down in the zone I can get away with mistakes if there are mistakes.”

As to whether he’s got the feel for his pitches and the ability to locate spots, Worley said that will be determined on Tuesday when he pitches live BP for the first time.

“The last couple of years I’ve been up in the zone because I’ve just been mechanically wrong,” Worley said. “Now that I know I’m right, it should be easier to get it down in the zone early in Spring.”

Along with his pitching, Worley has been focusing on the hitting, which is something the Pirates are stressing with their pitchers this Spring, after seeing disastrous results last year.

“I think they’ve harped on enough stuff for all of us starters and middle relief guys to get our work in, in the cages,” Worley said. “And once we actually start to see some live stuff, I think that will show us where we’re at, more than just hitting off the tee and talking.”

Worley is going up against Jeff Locke for the final spot in the rotation, and would seem to have the inside track due to his salary and his performance. He won his arbitration case against the Pirates this off-season, receiving $2.45 M instead of $2 M. As for the numbers, what he did last year from an ERA standpoint probably isn’t sustainable. But his advanced numbers point to a guy who can be a very good pitcher to have in the rotation.

To put his 3.54 xFIP in perspective, the league average xFIP for starters last year was 3.78. If this performance continues, Worley would be a number two starter in an average rotation, or a number three starter in a stronger rotation. That possibly makes Worley the most under-rated pitcher in the Pirates’ rotation.

A few years ago, such a statement wouldn’t sound so crazy, since Worley looked great in the early part of his career. Then the injuries came, putting his career in doubt. Now he’s back to his pre-injury self, and it’s reasonable to think that his numbers last year were legit. The question is whether he can continue with this performance going forward.

“It’s just picking up where I left off,” Worley said. “Physically feel good. Mechanically feel good. Now it’s just about going out and keeping the ball down. Seeing how things go against these hitters tomorrow, and keep grinding from there.”

  • Cole, Liriano, Morton, Burnett, and Worley. With Kingham and Taillon coming at AAA, and Locke in the pen available if needed is some nice starting pitching depth.

  • If these comments are any indication of popular sentiment, then I’d say that Charlie Morton has strong case for “most under-rated pitcher in the Pirates’ rotation.”

  • Charlie Morton’s career record in 7 seasons 746.2 IP , 36-61 4.50 ERA Enough said.

  • Ok, another of my dumb question, but I am curious.

    I have heard that Worley is an above average hitting pitcher with the ability to hit not only at least above the Mendoza line, but also ability to hit for power.

    Anyone have any actual numbers?

    (of course the Pirates cured that last year.)

  • His cutter/2-seamer/4-seamer combination is a thing of beauty. I love watching helpless batters freeze when he drops curveballs and backdoor sliders over the plate.

  • I would rather have a guy like Worley pitching a big game for me than Charlie Morton. Worley is a battler and has that bulldog mentality that Morton lacks. He is not afraid to pitch inside and defend his strike zone. I like him. I’d love to see the rotation be Cole, Liriano, Burnett, Worley, and Locke – with possibilities of Kingham getting a spot.

    • Morton has led the National League in hit batsmen for two years running, despite missing significant time to injuries in both seasons.

      Too bad he’s afraid to pitch inside and defend his strike zone like Worley is.

      • If that was a result of deliberately pitching inside and being aggressive inside, you would have a point. But, its not – its called lack of control over a pitch with a ton of movement on it. Has nothing to do with brushing back batters or pitching inside.

        • Do you even bother watching the catcher’s glove?

          • Sorry, Morton does not pitch inside to knock batters off the plate – I’ve seen him pitch way too many times to try to convince me of that.

    • Amazing how fast people forget just how good Morton was in the stretch run for 2013. 8 of his last 11 starts were 2 runs or less then he pitched well in the big game 4 vs STL losing 2-1. Fortunately for us it isn’t Worley or Morton, we can have both.

      BTW, I would guess that the best way to project Worley would be to use his entire career sample – 3.75 ERA/ 3.75 FIP/ 3.86 xFIP. That’s a solid 4th SP.

      • Well said, all around.

      • He was very good for that 1/2 of a season, and it netted him a nice contract along the way. But, outside of that, I see a pitcher who just does not seem to have the bulldog mentality and the ability to overcome adversity. He falls apart easily and consequently is prone to being lights out for 3-4 innings, than having one bad inning that ends up costing him the game. Not to mention that fact that he’s not very dependable physically – seems to always have a health issue that causes him to miss time. I think we can do much better than him for a #3 or #4 starter. Hopefully, Kingham or Taillon pushes him aside in 2015 or 2016.

      • I don’t know if that’s the best way though, because his 2012-13 numbers would heavily influence the career totals, and those come with the disclaimer that he was hurt and messed up his mechanics.

        • Still think that’s still data that has to be included in a projection, though. Regressed, certainly, but it still tells us something about him.

          Pitchers get hurt, a lot. If the line between Worley being a #2/#3 and fighting for a spot as a middle reliever is that razor thin, then I most certainly want to account for it in what I expect him to do moving forward.

  • I don’t often post because I’m just a fan, not a real baseball guy, but I’ve been a Pirate fan all my life. I was 12 years old when my Dad took me to the opening game of the 1960 World Series, so I’ve seen it all. I just want to say that this is the first year in a while that we haven’t had a hole in the starting rotation. Three years ago it was James MacDonald. Two years ago it was Jonathan Sanchez, and last year is was Wandy Rodriguez. Now, the rotation is solid and if anyone should falter, there’s a bunch of guys ready to step in . . . that’s depth! The positions are solid with potentially the best outfield in baseball, good defense in the infield with good bats (No more “Take the Strike, Ike” at first), a strong bench and a healthy bull pen. Now, with the minor leagues starting to bring us our future starters, all this team has to do from now on is just get hot in September and watch where things go. Thank you Neil Huntington. BEAT ‘EM BUCKS!

    • No, you haven’t quite seen it all, and that is not to diminish your experience as a Pirate fan. You had to see the Kiner Pirates, the O’Brian twins, Vic Janowicsz and all that happened after Ralph left and what lead up to the ’60 Series. That is/was seeing it all.

      • Wow, Leo. You just won’t allow anyone to say anything on here without knocking them down a peg, will you? You must be one miserable person to be around.

        • You obviously haven’t read too many of my comments. There are quite a few comments here that I agree and disagree with, but since they are based on reality, I don’t get argumentive about them. And since I never have disagreed with you on this site, why are you complaining ?

  • What this says to me is do everything possible to keep Ray Searage here, he works miracles with pitchers.

  • This trade was without a doubt the best cash only trade in baseball, regardless of what worley does this year (I think he will be just fine) nh should get 5 to 10 for robbery.

  • “As for the numbers, what he did last year from an ERA standpoint probably isn’t sustainable”
    ______________________________________________________________________
    IMO “Isn’t” is not the right word, he can do better, I would not be surprised if he Pirates also think he is in the “Isn’t” catagory. It is obvious that I hate that word in baseball, most anything is possible.
    As I have been saying since the end of last season this guy is one of the best pitchers the Pirates have and for some reason, certainly not stat wise, he is cast as a starter fighting with Locke for a 5th spot or a long relief spot, these are not the 70’s Orioles, there are no 20 game winners or even one 20 game winner on this staff, he is easily as good as Morton or Burnett and maybe not the upside of Cole, but there is no way this guy should be buried in the Pen pitching long relief.

    • Agreed. In my opinion he is better than Morton,Locke,and maybe Burnett. When is the last time Morton put up the numbers Worley did last year. Try NEVER. Yet he constanty get’s rated higher than Worley . Not sure where people get this Morton is a # 3 starter. It should be Liriano,Cole,Worley,Burnett and Morton battling with Locke for the #5 spot. An actual competition. Not just give Morton the spot because of his salary. I’ll `take Locke at his best (1st half of 2013) over any Morton time frame. I’m baffled to why Morton is a lock for the rotation and Worley isn’t.

      • I think when Morton is right he is a 3 starter, problem is he can’t sustain it, Worley is much more reliable and I do think if I had to move one of Morton or Locke, it would be Morton. I think the pen for Worley or Locke is a step backward for both of them and the organization.

        • I agree. When he is right. But he’s the most inconsistent pitcher I have ever seen last so long for one team. There is only one time where I can make a case for him being a #3 starter. It was in 2013 when he returned from TJS. He was 7-4 with a 3.26 ERA. His average fastball velocity was over 93 mph. He’s taken a lot off his fastballs. He can fall apart in the blink of an eye. He starts plunking hitters and can’t command his pitches. I realize W/L isn’t a great stat but there is a reason he’s only had 1 season with a winning record and it was in 2013. He’s a borderline #5 starter/long reliever

          • You make a good case to move Morton.

            • If I could get a decent return, I’d trade Morton in a heart beat – never have been a fan.

          • I wouldn’t go that far, he is not a boderline #5 (have you SEEN most teams #5 starters???) but that being said, he is a “number 3” no, i don’t buy that. By definition, a #3 should have decent stuff but most importantly, consistency! A #3 should be counted on as an innings eater, and reliably, if not fantastically, go out and pitch 6 innings every start not allowing more then 3-4 runs on their wost day and 1-2 on their good days. This is not charlie Morton. Charlie has the TALENT to be a #2, but he really is a #4 in most rotations in the league, and I think Worley fits the #3 mold way better. If Locke could ever get himself straightened out, it would make Charlie good trade bait, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see that happen if he can come back healthy, maybe not until after 2015, but with Worley, Cole, and Liriano set and Taillon Kingham Glasnow coming up with continued depth from Locke…….you really dont have a need for Morton, he could bring a couple good young players to reload

        • The only problem with that scenario, if you think about it, is that the return on Jeff Locke would probably be a C prospect at best.In my own humble opinion, Locke is as good as gone before Opening Day.

          • I do agree that Locke would be the one to be moved, even though it should me Morton for several reasons. Moving a left handed pitcher with an ERA under 4 should bring a decent return, only the Pirates would have a pitcher this good and not know it.

          • Don’t forget leo that in the event of a trade the pirates will have several pieces to move, whether the centerpiece is locke or someone else I don’t think he will go alone.

          • I don’t think that you pull the trigger on that trade until you verify what you have in AJ this 1H2015.

    • Couldn’t agree with you more leadoff.

    • Tetrapharmakos
      February 23, 2015 2:24 pm

      IMO “probably” undermines your entire point about “most anything is possible.”

    • I’ll go even further. Using the phrase “probably isn’t sustainable” is a copout. Probably isn’t sustainable over WHAT period of time? Nothing is sustainable given a long enough time frame so lets step up to the plate and actually say what it is we are trying to say. It’s annoying. If you mean that the ERA is unlikely to be matched in 2015 given the same FIP, then say that….

    • He has a little greg maddux to him, just like Jeff Karstens did. Jeff was very underrated, but his injuries really derailed him

  • The fact of the matter is that a league-average or just slightly better pitcher is being slotted as the Bucs’ #5 starter. For all of us who lived through the 21 years of futility, it shows how far the front office has brought this team. And if Taillon and Glasnow work out as various prospect lists suggest, then the Bucs will have some very good pitching to be trading away to re-stock the cupboard in 2016 and beyond.

    • Nick Kingham too. He’s got a little better stuff than Worley. Obviously Worley is the better pitcher right now but Kingham should be ready this season. If everything works out as expected Kingham will be our #4 or #5 behind Cole,Glasnow,Taillon,and possibly Liriano

      • Agree, Kingham has too much game to overlook. I think he will be up in the June slot reserved for the annual Pirate Prospect. I think the Pirates would love to be extremely patient with Jameson Taillon coming off of TJ, and save him for a late season rush similar to how the Cardinals handled Michael Wacha in 2013.

        Worley, Locke, and Cumpton are valuable pieces for 10 to 15 MLB Clubs. They all are young & have helped the Pirates greatly, but the quality of the pitching coming from the minors is just too good to ignore. The Pirates have few position holes, but these three guys can be worth a lot to the Club in filling those holes with quality candidates for the future – a power LH hitting or switchhitting 3B would be a proper start.

  • I like Vance Worley. I was almost positive he was a 93-95 mph guy when he was philly? maybe not. I think he has to be in this rotation if he’s pitching like he did last year. I think he will be a 3.30 ERA guy rather than a 2.85 pitcher but, that is still darn good for what would be a #4 or #5 in the Pirates rotation.

    • According to Fangraphs, Worley averaged 91.5 and 90.2 with the fastball in his first few years in Philly. He may have touched 94-95 mph on occasion then. He has mostly been in the 89-90 mph average though.
      .
      One big difference (again according to Fangraphs) from last year and previous years is he used his changeup a lot less last year and used his cutter and curveball more (also he doesn’t have a slider anymore).

  • Yeah, I like Worley and hope he is in the rotation for a full season, we’ll see (I don’t think he’s pitched more than 133 innings in the majors, although he did pitch 182 1/3 innings combining MLB and minors in 2011). The thing about Worley is that his success is almost completely driven by his deceptive delivery, if he has that going he is good, if not then he struggles due to average stuff. I think he’ll be good this year though (and last year was legit).

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