Vincent Velasquez Has Almost Everything

There’s no point in lying about what the Phillies are. The fans know the Phillies aren’t going to be very good. The front office knows they aren’t going to be very good. I’m sure even the players understand on some level this team isn’t going to be very good. It’s not about competing in 2016. That’s abundantly clear, and that’s OK, because it’s kind of liberating. Some of the pressure comes off, and you play or watch baseball with development in mind. It’s all about the future, and it’s all about imagining which current players could be a part of a future Phillies contender.

Hello, Vincent Velasquez. It’s not like Velasquez has come out of nowhere or anything, since he was the key to the Ken Giles trade, but he’s been something of a wild card. Velasquez arrived with a lot of uncertainty, just another powerful arm with question marks. Then, Thursday, Velasquez delivered one of the better starts the Phillies organization has seen. By the numbers, that’s not even exaggerating. He was, granted, pitching against the Padres — a Padres lineup without its best hitter — but Velasquez was completely untouchable. Something is becoming clear here in the early going: Velasquez has almost everything working for him.

I’ll show you a few things. A changeup? Velasquez has a changeup. It’s gotten good reviews in the past, even though he hardly needed it against San Diego.

A breaking ball? Velasquez has a big breaking ball. He has what’s almost a 12-to-6 curve, and compared to last year, this 2016 curve is getting more drop. Last season, 1% of Velasquez’s pitches dropped at least eight inches according to PITCHf/x. This season, he’s at 17%. He’s moved from something of a slurve to more of a true hammer, and he somehow has control over it.

There is a slider in there, too. Velasquez doesn’t use it much. He’s known mostly for his fastball. He definitely has a high fastball:

But there’s also the matter of Velasquez’s zone fastball. This might be the very biggest deal. Observe:

For the record, that was pitch No. 113. It was 96 miles per hour. That’s another good sign — in Velasquez’s first-ever complete game as a professional, his velocity held up. He showed no signs of wearing down. He had so much strength left, in fact, that the Phillies let him take the mound in the ninth in the first place. But anyway, Velasquez wasn’t just showing a high fastball that was tough to catch up to. He was giving the Padres fits in the strike zone, and that typically requires a special kind of fastball. One more time — yes, Padres, I know. But Velasquez just recorded 20 swings and misses on his fastball alone. One game. That ties the high mark for anyone in the PITCHf/x era:

Velasquez knows he has a swing-and-miss fastball, and he’s starting to pitch aggressively with it. This is where his fastballs have gone so far in 2016:


You see the whiffs over the plate. But you might also notice that the fastballs are pretty well clumped together. There aren’t a whole lot of wild ones, outside of a few that Velasquez overthrew Thursday as he was getting deeper. I decided to come up with something we’ll call “Competitive Fastball Rate.” It’s like zone rate, except the boundaries are a little bigger than the strike zone. By my measure, last year, Velasquez threw 71% competitive fastballs. So far this year he’s up to 84%. That shows better control and better confidence in the pitch. It was clear on Thursday that Velasquez realized he could just blow the heat by the hitters. When you can do that, pitching becomes incredibly simple.

Plenty of pitchers are able to get swings and misses out of the zone. Velasquez looks like someone who could be able to get swings and misses in the zone, and that’s tougher. In that fastball swing-and-miss leaderboard, you see Scherzer’s name. Last year, among qualified pitchers, Scherzer generated baseball’s lowest rate of in-zone contact. Here’s a quote from Thursday’s postgame recap:

“There’s riding life in the zone with [Velasquez’s] fastball,” Padres manager Andy Green said. “It was explosive, reminds me of when I saw Scherzer going as well as he goes, and that fastball is literally exploding through the zone.”

Results like Scherzer. An independent comparison to Scherzer. Vincent Velasquez is not Max Scherzer, but he might have the same kind of fastball, and when you have that fastball, it opens so many doors. Scherzer has always put up a pretty high zone rate, because he doesn’t have to leave the zone to get whiffs. Velasquez has pitches to get hitters to chase, and he will throw them, but the fastball lets him be aggressive, and that lets him stay ahead. The whole thing kind of snowballs.

I don’t want to make too much of one complete game. Velasquez is going to have his hiccups. But he’s believing in his fastball, and he’s got a full repertoire. He’s refined a better hook, and it’s not like he didn’t get his strikeouts in the minors. Vincent Velasquez has almost everything. The one thing he doesn’t have is a clean health history, and there’s nothing he can do about that. That same health history scared off some potential offseason suitors, and it would be silly to suggest there isn’t any risk. The Phillies acquired Velasquez knowing his elbow could once again give him trouble. Yet it’s seeming like that’s the only way they don’t come out the winner of the Giles trade. To me, there are two options. One, Velasquez gets hurt. And two, Velasquez is a legitimate power starter. You always hope against any injury, and as long as Velasquez can take the mound, there’s no clear ceiling on his potential.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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Ruben Amaro Jr.
Ruben Amaro Jr.

I can’t wait until he pitches against us. It will give me a chance to finish up some crossword puzzles while I’m coaching first.

Jackie T.
Jackie T.