Vince Velasquez has by far the best stuff on the Phillies staff. With a fastball that hangs around the mid-to-high 90’s and a nasty deceiving breaking ball, Vinny V has the strikeout stuff that you look for from a young pitcher of his stature. He has shown flashes of brilliance through his first few years in the big leagues, as seen through his career 9.96 K/9 (strikeouts per 9 innings pitched), and his handful of stellar starts, including his 16 strikeout complete game shutout against the Padres on April 14th of last season.
Although Velasquez looks and feels like a surefire future ace, he has continuously had the same problems, especially throughout this season thus far. He just hasn’t been able to stay consistent, leading to short starts with very high pitch numbers in those games.
The second leg of yesterday’s doubleheader against the Nationals saw Vinny V go 5 innings with 100 pitches thrown. He walked 3 batters and struck out 5 while giving up 3 runs and 5 hits. In his start prior to this one, which came on May 6th, also against the Nats, Velasquez threw exactly 100 pitches in this game as well. The difference between that start and this past Sunday’s start was that in the May 6th outing, he was able to pitch 7 innings while striking out 8 batters. It might look like a better start on the surface, but he ended up giving up 6 earned runs after allowing the Nats to get to him late. Longevity seems to become a problem for him once he gets deeper into games, and that inconsistency seems to kick in.
There is no doubt that Vince Velasquez is as promising as it gets for a young arm who should just be breaking out, but he just hasn’t been able to put it all together. This has all made people think about the possibility of giving Velasquez a new role on this team: closer.
Think about it. He can look like the best pitcher in baseball through an inning or two, but once he gets to the middle and later innings of the game, Velasquez shows his flashes of inconsistency. Is it time to make him a 1-inning guy?
This wouldn’t be the first time that a young stud moves from the rotation to the bullpen. Some of the greatest relievers of all-time, as well as some of the best in the game right now, began their careers in the starting rotation. Mariano Rivera, Dellin Betances, Zach Britton, and Wade Davis are just a handful of players who began their careers as starters, but ended up finding much more success in the bullpen. Even Hall of Famers like Dennis Eckersley and John Smoltz, who each spent over a decade as all-star starters, eventually transitioned to the 9th inning.
Imagine Velasquez coming in with a fresh arm and his whole arsenal of strikeout stuff to shut the door in the 9th for a bullpen who has been historically awful so far this year. There might not be a better time than the present to experiment with this idea.
The Phillies are in a position where they likely aren’t going to make the playoffs this season, and this is a time where they can experiment with their younger players to see what they’ve got for the years ahead. This is one project that could ultimately pay off the most for this team.
It is obvious that this team has plenty of starting pitching depth at the moment. With the injuries to Clay Buchholz and Aaron Nola, we have been able to see more from young starting pitchers such as Zach Eflin, Nick Pivetta, Mark Leiter Jr. and Jake Thompson, with Leiter Jr. and Thompson being in the bullpen at the moment, but mostly starting in the minors. They also still have more starting pitching depth in the minors, with players such as Ben Lively, Mark Appel, and 18-year-old right hander Sixto Sanchez, who currently sits at #61 in the latest top 100 prospects rankings from Baseball America, just to name a few. They have Nola rehabbing and almost ready to rejoin the rotation. They can afford to take a player such as Velasquez out of the rotation and try him in this new role without losing much in the starting pitching department.
It pains me to say all this, as I was Velasquez’s biggest supporter in the offseason. I had him due for a stellar breakout season, and I had him leading or amongst the leaders for the Phillies in most pitching statistics this year. If he continues as his current pace, though, he won’t get near what I, as well as everyone else, hoped for from him this year.
He could be a great closer. He could be an awful closer. One thing we know, though, is that we will never know if we don’t try it. I feel as though there isn’t a better time than right now to try this out. If it fails, send him back to the rotation. If it works, the Phillies look like geniuses. It might be time to pull the trigger.
Photo: Q Win(Via: Flickr)
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