Vance Worley is poised for his second unofficial start for the Minnesota Twins today.
Compared to the other recent additions to the rotation, the 25-year-old right-hander’s first outing in the Grapefruit League was very positive. He worked two innings, allowed a pair of hits but didn’t allow any runs. Feedback from his new manager was good.
“I like him. He looks like a gunslinger with that windup,” Ron Gardenhire told reporters following the team’s 5-4 victory over the Pirates. “It looks like he’s ready to draw a pistol. I always liked guys like that.”
Of course, first impressions are sort of Worley’s thing. It is meeting people a second and third time that the newest member of the team needs to work on, as you will see.
Heading into the 2012 season Worley grew concerned that the rest of the league was going to catch on to his sinker, a pitch that had been wildly successful for him in 2011 when he finished 11-3 with a 3.01 ERA in 131.2 innings and took third in the Rookie of the Year voting.
“I need to develop a change-up this spring so I can have it ready for this season,” Worley told Yahoo.com’s David Brown, “The whole league knows I throw a sinker now, and my cutter is OK; it can be good at times. But definitely I need a third pitch.”
True to his word, Worley set out to install the change as his third pitch. Up to that point in his career, his version of the change was the standard “circle” grip, named such because when the pitcher’s thumb and index finger make the “OK” symbol and the ball is thrown with the aid of the three remaining fingers. Still, the results on the pitch in 2011 were lackluster. Because he threw this change at a high velocity (averaging 84.7 mph according to Fangraphs.com) he had little separation between that and his sinker and cutter (thrown on average at 90 mph). Opponents smacked the change around to the tune of a .309 average.
Even coming off his solid rookie campaign, Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee reiterated the need for Worley to add an additional pitch. “Hitters will adjust after seeing him,” he told the media. “He has to adjust, too.”
Worley had the good fortune of being employed alongside one of the best pitchers in the game, Roy Halladay. Just a few years prior, Halladay learned a new change-up grip that helped win him the National League Cy Young Away in 2010. Rather than the circle grip he split his ring and middle fingers out wide on what would have been a prototypical two-seam fastball grip, a less wide version of the split-finger fastball. What the former Cy Young winner did was develop a “split-change” that had heavy sink and enough speed variation to make it extremely effective.
In camp in 2012, Worley hoped to come away with the new version of his change-up but despite the fact he had shaved a tad off of the velocity (down to 83 mph), he still did not feel comfortable throwing it frequently throughout the year.
Nevertheless, Worley had success despite not missing bats was due to his deceptive delivery and outstanding movement on his sinker/two-seamer. He froze opponents regularly, ringing up a baseball-high 57% of his strikeouts looking. What’s more is that umpires (with some help from his catcher) gave him nearly 10% of his pitches not swung at and thrown OUTSIDE of the strike zone a strike. That’s well above the league average of 7%.
It appears, at least judging by the statistics, that opponents figured out not to be fooled as much by the movement or deceptive delivery the second or third time around.
Worley’s splits may show signs of how he was affected by his shallow arsenal. According to Baseball-Reference.com’s pitching splits, Worley labored as the lineup continued to turnover in 2012. After the first time through the order, the spectacled one held the opposition to a 620 OPS coupled with a 22% strikeout rate. This success would slide significantly as the game progressed. The second time through the OPS increased to 863 while his strikeout rate dropped to 17%. The third time around, the floodgates would open as his OPS allowed spiked to 971 while his strikeout rate came in at 13%.
With a lack of a solid third pitch, was the shifting numbers a result of opponents zeroing in on his sinker and cutter? While those segmentations are small sample sizes, the OPS allowed in the second and third time through the order were noticeably higher than the league average.
As Worley said prior to the 2012 season, he was in need of an additional pitch. He threw a solid cutter, one that had the highest percentage of swing-and-misses among his repertoire last season, but that has been below average among all pitch types in that department.
There’s probably some hesitation as to why Worley had mistrust in his change. It is a “feel” pitch and, given the fact that he allowed three of the 12 home runs surrendered on the pitch while throwing it less than 8% of the time. Look at his intended location versus his actual location for this change when facing Pittsburgh’s Pedro Alverez:
Yes. That ball went way far, far away. The reason was that instead of down and away as desired, this slow mover went middle-in and allowed Alverez to nearly send that pitch back to the other side of the state of Pennsylvania.
If a pitcher does not have confidence to hit his spots consistently, that pitcher may withhold throwing that pitch. And it appears that Worley still does not have faith in that offering either. “My changeup is usually just terrible all around, all the time,” Worley told reporters after his first outing this spring. “So if I can not use it, I won’t use it.”
True, Worley only faced eight batters so he did not have the lineup turn on him and likely did not need to show them anything else. Yet switching to the American League, where, thanks to the DH, lineups are more robust, it should accelerate the need to refine that pitch. If he is able to hone that pitch, he may have better success against his opponent that second and third time through the order in 2013.
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