Vince Velasquez is young, energetic on the mound, and has electric stuff. The right-hander tosses a fastball averaging 94 MPH and when he has to, can add some extra giddy-up, topping out at 97.8 MPH. The flamethrower also has a deadly slider with a ten MPH difference from his fastball that drops off the table. His raw abilities caught the Phillies eye this past off-season, as Velasquez was the centerpiece in a trade that sent Ken Giles to Houston.
There are two knocks on Velasquez – one is his injury history. He hurt his bicep in a game back in early June against the Cubs after recording just one out. Velasquez would miss two-and-a-half weeks and returned in late June to shut out the D-Backs in five innings. The second knock is the amount of pitches he throws. Out of 59 qualified pitchers, Velasquez is 15th in the National League in pitchers per inning – averaging 17.0. Velasquez’s high pitch total contributes to his early exits in games – averaging fewer than six innings in 22 starts.
After coming off the disabled list in late June, the 24-year old tallied a 3-1 record with a 2.75 ERA in six starts. Since then, Velasquez has not registered a quality outing – sporting a 0-3 record with a 7.52 ERA in five August starts. This being Velasquez’s first full big league season, growing pains are inevitable.
CSN Philly’s Corey Seidman brought up an interesting proposition regarding Velasquez’s current role. In an article written last week, he introduced the possibility of Velasquez transitioning into a closer, if being a starting pitcher doesn’t pan out. This got me thinking into the pros and cons of Velasquez becoming a closer.
Lengthening the pen: If Velasquez became the closer, the games become shorter and the decisions are easier for manger Pete Mackanin. If the Phils have a lead after six innings, opposing teams will have to face a three-headed monster of a cool/calm/collected Jeanmar Gomez in the seventh, a dominant Hector Neris in the eighth, and the flame-throwing “Vinny from Philly” in the ninth to slam the door shut.
Less is more: By closing, Velasquez obviously won’t be throwing 100 pitches a game, thus lowering the probability of injury. Closing also means that Velasquez could pitch four, possibility up to five nights a week. By pitching less, we’ll see him more. The thinking is to become more of an impact in 60-85 games rather than 30-33. The Phils are only a year or two off from actually needing a closer again.
The swag: Velasquez fits right into the mold as a closer: he’s tough, he wears his emotions on his sleeve, and as Seidman discussed in his article, he certainly has “the look” and the game to be an intimidating closer.
The stuff: I mentioned it in the beginning of the piece: besides everything else, Velasquez has the stuff to become an elite closer. A high-90s fastball with a devastating slider, a good changeup and a cutter that shouldn’t be overlooked as well.
Uncertainty/Lack of rotation depth: The current state of the rotation makes Velasquez’s presence that much more important. Aaron Nola‘s struggles and injury along with Jake Thompson‘s forgettable first four outings are very discouraging. Zach Eflin‘s chronic knee issues is another cause for concern. The young starters have created more questions than answers during the 2016 season.
Emotion: Earlier, I stated that Velasquez wears his emotions on his sleeve, and described that trait as pro. I think it will become a pro, but Velasquez will first need to learn how to channel his emotions. He has to beware of being too amped to the point of overthrowing his fastball. Once adapting to the closer’s environment, the emotion will become an asset.
It’s comforting to know that Velasquez can still serve a purpose on the roster if starting doesn’t work out. Not many players have the talent to create that opportunity. Velasquez is too good to not excel in either role. He should be counted on as the Phils look to make their move for playoff contention in the coming years.