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You've probably heard the story by now. On the very day that Vance Worley was told by Philadelphia general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. that he'd been traded from the Phillies to the Minnesota Twins, the 25-year-old pitcher had been planning to pick up an engagement ring from the jeweler so that he could propose to his girlfriend.
Worley, who had just signed a lease for a new house in South Jersey nearby Philly, suddenly had his entire life uprooted. He would be leaving the only organization he'd ever known and heading to the American League Central, where instead of pitchers the opposing lineups are rounded out by powerful designated hitters like Victor Martinez, Adam Dunn, Billy Butler and Mark Reynolds.
Tough break for a control pitcher with fringy stuff. And as it turns out, Worley's misfortune was just beginning.
Maybe while he was packing his belongings for the move to the Midwest, he dropped a mirror and shattered it. Maybe he walked under a ladder, or a black cat crossed his path. Whatever the reason, the right-hander has been snakebitten thus far for the Twins, experiencing tumult unlike anything he's seen in his career.
When he entered the fold, Worley instantly became the Twins' most accomplished starting pitcher, as reflected by his assignment to start on Opening Day. In parts of three seasons with the Phillies, he had compiled an 18-13 record and 3.50 ERA, and in 2011 he finished third for Rookie of the Year.
Yet the early results in Minnesota have been roundly disappointing. Through seven starts, Worley is 0-4 with a 6.95 ERA. In 33 2/3 innings, he has given up a league-leading 55 hits, contributing to a ghastly 1.90 WHIP.
After each poor start, Worley sounds like a guy who's more flabbergasted than frustrated. "The ball was coming out, doing what I wanted it do," he said after coughing up six runs in Detroit last week. "They just came out swinging."
While it might be easy to see a lack of accountability in the pitcher's remarks, it's also not hard to see some truth. He really is doing many of the same things that made him a successful pitcher in Philly. His velocity is the same, he's throwing strikes and his pitches are moving. He is by all accounts healthy and feeling good. His ground ball rate, at 50.4 percent, is actually far higher than his norm.
Still the hits keep on coming. Worley has been saddled with a batting average on balls in play of .407, which is the highest in the major leagues and 90 points above his previous career mark. That is a sign of dreadful luck. Sure, it doesn't help that the Twins aren't an especially great defensive club, and Worley has given up his fair share of hard hits, but nothing can explain such an exorbitant number. He's getting killed by bleeders and bloopers.
In addition, Worley's HR/FB rate of 13.9 percent is the highest on the Twins staff and the highest of his career. He's stranding only 61.4 percent of his ample base runners – the lowest mark of his career and the lowest of any Twins' starter save for Mike Pelfrey.
Certainly Worley needs to make some adjustments. Whether it's scouting-related or the nature of AL lineups, hitters have been more aggressive against him this year and he needs to find a way to leverage that rather than letting it beat him.
But he hasn't pitched anywhere near as badly as his numbers suggest, and over time if he keeps executing his game plan he is going to get better results. There's simply no way this run of poor luck can sustain, unless he incurred some type of voodoo curse over the offseason.
That isn't to say Worley is going to turn into a legitimate No. 1 starter any time soon, or even that he'll be able to match his NL success. His 12.7 percent K-rate leaves much to be desired and falls well short of his 20 percent mark in the Senior Circuit. Nevertheless, I think his 4.18 xFIP is a much better indicator of what we can expect from him going forward than his current bloated ERA.
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