A Breakdown of Volquez’s Dominant, Emotional No-No

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Volquez pumped after throwing the first no-hitter of 2017. (Photo: Steve Mitchell, USA TODAY Sports)

What a night in Miami. Last night, Edinson Volquez of the Miami Marlins (yes, he’s on the Marlins, now) no-hit the Diamondbacks, striking out 10, walking two, and needing only 98 pitches, making it what the cool kids call a “Maddux” (a shutout of less than 100 pitches, something Greg Maddux did on the reg.) He faced the minimum 27 batters, as his two baserunners were erased on double plays. No doubt about it: Volquez was dealing on Saturday.

How did he get there? The 33-year-old Volquez has been a bit of a journeyman, signing with his seventh (!) team in the Marlins this offseason, inking a 2-year, $22 million deal, as the Marlins were looking for an innings eater to replace the tragic loss of their ace, Jose Fernandez. Volquez has provided just that the past few years: Since 2012, he has thrown at least 170 innings. But how have those innings been?

Going back even further, his most dominant season came all the way back in 2008, after he was famously traded by the Rangers for Josh Hamilton. Volquez put up an impressive 73 ERA- / 81 FIP- in close to 200 innings for a 4.3 fWAR season for Cincinnati. Meanwhile, Hamilton hit 32 bombs and put up a 4.2 fWAR season of his own, making the trade appear to be a resounding (and rare) win-win after one season. Volquez soon needed Tommy John Surgery in 2009, and returned in 2010, which was further abbreviated by a 50-game suspension for PEDs.

Only 2 of his last 5 seasons (2014-15) were above-average, based on ERA-. In 2014 with the Pirates (so clearly, chalk it up to Ray Searage voodoo magic), he posted an 86 ERA- (meaning he was 14% better than league average), despite his underlying numbers (116 FIP-) indicating he was a bit lucky (a career-low BABIP, career-high strand rate, and below-average HR/FB rate partially tell the full story). In 2015 with the Royals, with whom he helped deliver their first championship in 30 years, he posted his second-best season, tossing just over 200 above-average (86 ERA- / 96 FIP-) innings and tallying 2.6 fWAR.

But taking a step back, his career has been mostly meh. He has compiled a 4.41/4.28/4.24 ERA/FIP/xFIP in nearly 1,500 career innings, or roughly 11% below average. In his last few seasons, he has been below average at striking out batters, eliminating free passes, and keeping the ball on the ground. But, there is clearly still value in an innings-eating slightly-below average veteran, and he has now received two 2-year deals worth over $20M each from the Royals and now the Marlins.

Fast forward to last night in Miami. Volquez throws four pitches regularly, with a 93mph 4SFB and sinker, an 84mph change, and an 80mph curve. He throws his sinker most often, about 40%, and the other three roughly 20% each.
This year, only his changeup (per 100 pitches) has been above-average (+3.25 wCH/C), good for sixth-best in the league (Kershaw is first with 4.93 wCH/C…because, obviously).

Last night, he seemed to eschew his fastball in favor of his changeup. Per Brooks Baseball:

Volquez pitch breakdown

For simplicity’s sake, given that he threw 98 pitches, you can essentially take the “Count” column and make it a percentage. So, he threw his change more than usual, resulting in a season-high 9 whiffs. Meanwhile, his velocity on all of his pitches was more or less the same as his season numbers.

Let’s compare his changeup location for 2017 (left) to yesterday (courtesy of FanGraphs):

Volquez CH 2017Volquez CH during no-no

He really buried it in on lefties and away on righties yesterday. Overall, he had a season-high 36.5% swing rate on pitches outside of the zone, with contact only on half of those swings. Needless to say, his changeup was uber-valuable last night, at 10.3 wCH/C.

As far as movement, his horizontal and vertical movement on all of his pitches appeared to be in line with his other starts this year, save for one: The vertical movement on his curve was tied for the best this year. The end result: A 4.71 wKC/C, his second-best showing for his curve this year.

Finally, his release point looked pretty spot-on last night when compared to 2017:

output_NZzSdL

We like to analyze and break things down to try and figure out why something happened. Why is this guy suddenly hitting, why is this guy suddenly striking out a ton, and so on. As always, though, the numbers and data can only explain so much. We see that his best pitch, his changeup, was used more than before, and was on the money last night. But there is more to the story.

Before the game, Volquez dedicated the game to his late former teammate and friend, Yordano Ventura, who would have turned 26 yesterday, as well as to Jose Fernandez, the Marlins’ late ace. There are some incredible stories of what ballplayers have done during these big, emotional situations. Dee Gordon, never mistaken for a power hitter, crushing an emotional home run on the first pitch he sees after the passing of Jose Fernandez comes to mind. Bobby Mercer’s big game after the passing of team captain and friend Thurman Munson’s is another surreal example. We’ll never know what was going through Volquez’s mind yesterday, but undoubtedly emotions were high as he found a next level to pay tribute to Ventura, by pitching his heart out and delivering a historic, dominant performance…despite apparently rolling over his ankle on the first play of the game.

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