Phillies 2018 report card: Starting pitcher Vince Velasquez

MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 03: Vince Velasquez #28 of the Philadelphia Phillies delivers a pitch in the fourth inning against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park on September 3, 2018 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 03: Vince Velasquez #28 of the Philadelphia Phillies delivers a pitch in the fourth inning against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park on September 3, 2018 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

After a disappointing 2017 season, Vince Velasquez showed signs of improvement before faltering in the final two months of the Phillies season.

Most Phillies fans know the story of Vince Velasquez by now. He has the stuff of a top-end starter, but inconsistency, injuries, and command issues have plagued him for most of his time in Philadelphia.

There has always been a notion that Velasquez would be better served in a bullpen role where his stuff can play up and his command issues would be minimalized. The calls to convert him to a reliever grew loud last offseason after he finished 2017 with a 5.13 ERA, 5.52 fielding-independent pitching, and 10.8% walk rate in just 72 innings. Despite this, the team left him as a starter this year, hoping he could turn things around.

As he has in previous years, Velasquez struggled in some areas and succeeded in others. Let’s dive into them and see whether or not he has earned a rotation spot in 2019.

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By almost all measures, Velasquez fared much better this year than last year. His strikeout rate rose while his walk rate fell. Velasquez also posted the lowest fielding-independent pitching of his three-year career in Philadelphia. His 1.34 WHIP was just one point higher than his low in 2016.

One issue Velasquez largely rectified this year was home runs.

He gave up 1.44 per nine innings in 2016 and 1.88 per nine last year. This season, Velasquez allowed just 16 in 146.2 innings or 0.98 per nine. Velasquez’s 10.1% home run to fly ball ratio was the lowest among the team’s starters and significantly below the league average.

Velasquez also did much better in terms of longevity. In 2016, Velasquez went six innings in 10 of his 24 starts. Last year, he only did that in five of 15 starts. This year, Velasquez pitched six or more innings in 12 of his 30 starts, about as often as he did in 2016.

While this doesn’t have anything to do with his performance, Velasquez stayed relatively healthy the whole year. The only time he suffered an injury was when he took a comebacker off his right forearm, leading to a 10-day stint on the disabled list. It wasn’t a muscular injury or anything worth worrying about long-term; just a freak injury that also happened to lead to one of the best defensive plays of the season:


Of course, Velasquez still had his issues this season. His performance fluctuated wildly month to month. He had a 5.70 ERA in March and April, 2.30 ERA in May, 5.81 ERA in June, 0.95 ERA in July, 4.15 ERA in August, and 10.70 ERA in September. He started the year off with a 4.02 ERA through July but finished with a 7.09 ERA in August and September. Velasquez could turn in a clunker or a gem, allowing four or more runs in nine starts and one or zero runs in 10 starts.

While Velasquez did trim his walk rate compared to last season, it was still quite high overall at 9.4% or 3.62 batters per nine innings. The league averages in these categories were 8.5% and 3.25 while Fangraphs considers 5.5% and 1.9 to be great. This is the issue that has so often led to disastrous starts by Velasquez; if he continues to walk batters at an above-average rate, he will fail to reach his potential.

As a whole, Velasquez’s numbers were not as good as his 2016 season, his best season as a Phillie. That year, he had a 4.12 ERA, 3.96 fielding-independent pitching, 3.67 expected fielding-independent pitching, 3.62 skill-interactive ERA, 3.38 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and 1.33 WHIP. This season, Velasquez finished with a 4.85 ERA, 3.75 fielding-independent pitching, 4.12 expected fielding-independent pitching, 4.00 skill-interactive ERA, 2.73 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and 1.34 WHIP. At this point, Velasquez is still pitching like a back-end rotation starter.

C. . Starting Pitcher. Philadelphia Phillies. VINCE VELASQUEZ

Velasquez had arguably the worse rotation of the five main Phillies starters this year, but it wasn’t a bad season overall. While it did leave a lot to be desired, he largely improved compared to his ugly 2017 season.

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Will he return?

Despite all his issues, Velasquez still has the potential to develop into a consistent mid-rotation starter. Even if he doesn’t fully reach that point, his performance through July is more than enough from a No. 5 starter. Depending on how the other starters in the rotation perform, that’s all the team may need from Velasquez.

Velasquez is entering his first year of arbitration eligibility; MLBTradeRumors projects him to make $2.6 million in 2019. He was worth $21.0 million this year according to Fangraphs, so even if Velasquez posts similar numbers, the team will be getting their money’s worth.

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Barring a major overhaul to the rotation this winter, it’s hard to imagine Velasquez getting moved to the bullpen. If he still can’t put things together after this season, the team may be tempted to convert him.