As of now, it seems very unlikely baseball will start until July at the earliest (don’t know what this means for my tickets, but hey, we will see). That seemed further confirmed at Kauffman Stadium and in Kansas City after this was posted last night:
While I still will post recaps of Spring Training, I wanted to mix it up and start a series of “appreciating” certain Royals over the past decade. During these tough times, it’s important to appreciate what we have, especially when at times it feels like the damn world is ending, and we are all going to be thrust into a “This is the End” scenario where we will be arguing about mundane things in isolation. So in this series of posts, I wanted to talk about certain Royals worth “appreciating” since 2010.
In this first post of the series (I’m guessing I will do about 10, but who knows…maybe more as this season continues to drag), I wanted to focus on Edinson Volquez, the Royals’ No. 1 starter during the 2015 World Series championship run.
It was never expected that Volquez would end up a Royal. After all, Volquez was a highly-touted prospect in the Texas Rangers system, who was ranked as the 56th best prospect in baseball heading into the 2006 season, according to Baseball America. After being famously traded for Josh Hamilton prior to the 2008 season, Volquez had one of his best seasons ever, going 17-6 with a 3.21 ERA over 196 innings while earning an All-Star berth that season. While Hamilton ended up thriving as a Ranger, it appeared that the Reds also got a nice package in the deal, as it seemed likely that Volquez and Johnny Cueto would be a formidable one-two pair at the top of the rotation for years to come in Cincinnati.
However, Volquez’s career took quite a turn after the 2008 season, as he injured his arm early in the 2009 season, received Tommy John, and missed the remainder of the 2009 campaign as well as the first half of the 2010 one. Volquez did decently coming back from surgery in 2010, as posted a 4.31 ERA over 62 innings with the Reds that year. Unfortunately though, Volquez fell back to earth the following season, going 9-12 with a 5.71 ERA in only 108.2 innings of work. With Volquez seemingly wearing out his welcome in Cincy, he ended up getting traded along with Yonser Alonso, Yasmani Grandal, and Brad Boxberger for Mat Latos to San Diego the following off-season. (Which in retrospect was such a lopsided traded for the Padres).
If there is one characteristic that describes Volquez’s career, is that he makes a good first impression on a new club, and that certainly rang true in Kansas City, but also San Diego and Pittsburgh, where he was previously before KC. In his first year with the Padres in 2012, he was named Opening Day starter, and ended up having his best season since 2008, going 11-11 with a 4.14 ERA and 4.06 FIP while pitching over 180 innings, his highest total since 2008 as well. Volquez wasn’t a shut down guy by any means, and he excelled on a pretty mediocre Padres club, as they finished the year 76-86. However, 2012 showed that Volquez had something left in the tank, even though his advanced metrics (1.66 K/BB ratio; pretty sub-average) demonstrated that he was only a good, but not elite starting pitcher.
Volquez really burst on the scene though during his age 30 season, as he had his third-best year as a professional according to WAR (2.5), as well as his best year overall on an ERA basis (3.04). With the Pirates, who went 88-74 that season and made the playoffs, Volquez went 13-7 and pitched 192 innings, his most since 2008. Furthermore, Volquez also became the Pirates’ No.1 starter, as he took the ball in the Pirates’ Wild Card game against the eventual World Series champion Giants. While Volquez took the loss in that game, it did show that Volquez had the potential to be a front line guy for a team even though he didn’t have front line stuff or metrics.
Which is to say, he fit the 2015 Royals team perfectly.
After the magical run of 2014, the Royals had to find someone to lead the rotation in 2015. James Shields helped bring the Royals back into contention, with solid 2013 and 2014 seasons, but Shields opted into a big deal with the Padres that off-season. (hmm…sound familiar Royals fans?)
Volquez fit the bill as the Royals’ replacement for Shields, though that certainly brought up mixed feelings among more analytically-inclined Royals fans. His K/BB ratio had only been over 2 once, which was during his lone All-Star campaign. He had struggled in the playoffs, as he not only lost the Wild Card game in 2014, but also got shelled in the Division Series in 2010 against the Phillies. Safe to say, Volquez didn’t have the “Big Game” James reputation, and some Royals fans wondered if the Royals should have shelled out a little more in order to keep Shields in Kansas City at least a little bit longer (though it seemed like Shields was intent on leaving the Royals).
Volquez signed a two-year, $20 million contract that off-season with the Royals, and with the Royals making a significant payroll increase to compete for another Pennant and eventual World Series, the pressure was on Volquez to produce as the Royals’ new No.1 starter. And that was not easy to say, especially with other starters like Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy waiting in the wings, who also had the potential to be No.1 guys.
Much like in Pittsburgh, San Diego and Cincinnati, the 31-year-old Dominican right-handed pitcher had his best season in Kansas City in his first season. The Royals needed Volquez to adequately replace Shields at the top of the rotation, and he did that and then some during the Royals 2015 championship campaign. Volquez threw over 200 innings for the first and only time in his career, and he also posted the second-highest WAR of his career as well at 2.8. Add that with a 13-9 record, 3.55 ERA, 3.82 FIP (first time under 4 in his career), and 2.15 K/BB ratio (only the second-time it was over 2), and one could legitimately say that Volquez was a critical piece to the Royals’ World Series run.
While statistically there was a lot to legitimize Volquez’s acquisition by Dayton Moore, some legendary stories also followed Volquez along, especially in the World Series. One of those stories included Volquez pitching game 1 of the World Series, even though his father had passed away that night (his wife told the Royals and the press not to inform him until after the game). Despite that situation lingering over him, Volquez stepped up and did his part, going six innings and allowing six hits and three runs with three strikeouts in the no-decision.
And if that was not emotional enough, just watching him deal in the wake of his father’s death, his press conference when he returned to the Royals after his father’s funeral only tugged at the emotions further.
Volquez didn’t get a win in the World Series, but he stepped in the series overall, putting up a 3.00 ERA in two starts during the series, and started in the clinching Game 5 of the Series in New York. For all that talk that Edinson didn’t have the pedigree that “Big Game” James had, he certainly did his part to prove those Royals naysayers wrong in 2015.
Much like previous tenures, year two of Volquez’s tenure as a Royal didn’t go as well as the first. One can only be a sub-2 K/BB ratio and find consistent success, especially when one depends on the defense and BABIP so much. Volquez posted a 10-11 record and 5.37 ERA, though he did pitch 189 innings that season. Advanced metrics suggested that Volquez was better than his ERA, as his FIP was 4.57, and his K/BB ratio was 1.83, not good, but not as terrible as some other seasons. With the Royals going 81-81 that year, and his contract expiring after the 2016 season, Moore let Volquez go, where he signed with the Marlins the following season.
Many Royals fans will forget about Volquez when they recall 2015. Royals fans will remember Cueto, Chris Young and Ventura and rightfully so, since they came up big during the most critical moments of the Royals’ overall 2015 run. While Volquez put up good numbers during the playoffs, he didn’t match the luster of those three, and unfortunately, Volquez will often get forgotten for his contributions in 2015, which is unfair to him since he meant so much to the club that season.
There won’t be a statue to Volquez at Kauffman Stadium. There won’t be a “Celebrate Volquez” day or even an individual spot in the Royals Hall of Fame. But I appreciate what Volquez did that season for the Royals and the starting rotation. I appreciated his Game 1 performance, and him putting his postseason demons behind him. I always secretly liked Volquez as a kid during his Reds and Padres days, and I am glad that he not only pitched for the Royals, but also produced as a Royal, even if it was a bit uneven during his tenure in Kansas City.
I think it’s time that Royals fans appreciate Volquez a little bit more as well, especially in these tough self-isolating times. I wonder what Volquez is doing now to pass the time.
Does anyone follow him on Twitter or the ‘Gram?