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Edinson Volquez and ineffective high heat

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The hanging curveball to Brandon Crawford wasn't the only reason why Volquez came up short in the Wild Card Game.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The hanging curveball that Brandon Crawford hit for a grand slam will receive much of the blame for Edinson Volquez’s poor outing in the 2014 NL Wild Card Game, but this was not the only aspect of said pitcher’s outing worth examining and second guessing. It is difficult for the observer to tell whether the multitude of fastballs up and out of the zone were a part of the game plan or a result of excessive hype by the pitcher that caused him to overthrow; in any case, the 12 fastballs thrown up and out of the zone were collectively ineffective during this game.

Volquez throws both a sinker and a four-seam fastball – the former at a 46.3% clip, and the latter at a 27.8% clip – and stayed fairly close to those ratios during the Wild Card Game. His offspeed usage was also in line with his 2014 norms, but his fastball locations were not.

He typically moves his fastball around to all parts in and around the zone, including 15.34% of total fastballs up and out of the zone. That percentage rises to 18.96% against left handed hitters, a very high percentage for any pitcher, but especially for one who throws a sinker a plurality of the time. Volquez took this approach to lefties even farther in the Wild Card Game, as 11 of his 12 high heaters were thrown to lefties – with no success.

When Brandon Crawford stepped to the plate with no outs and the bases loaded in the fourth, the game was already close to lost as the Pirates held a mere 28.9% win expectancy prior to his at bat. Sure, no runs had scored yet and if Volquez didn’t hang the curveball perhaps he could have escaped the situation, but that would have required an act of Houdini. Thus, instead of shaking our heads about the home run, we should further explore how the table was set for Crawford’s big blast.

Apart from Crawford, Pablo Sandoval and Brandon Belt gave Volquez the most trouble in this game. Judging by his extreme usage of the high fastball to these hitters – a total of eight in their first four combined plate appearances (where the leverage was the highest) – it seems fair to say that throwing high heaters to Sandoval and Belt was in the gameplan. However, after that gameplan failed him the first time through the order, Volquez went back to it during the second time through the order, with equally poor and more devastating results.

In Sandoval’s first plate appearance, Volquez went to the high heat twice while ahead in the count, at 0-1 and 1-2, but missed with the pitch both times. Let back in the count, Sandoval fouled off a curve, then grounded a single up the middle. After a lineout from Hunter Pence, Brandon Belt stepped to the plate. Volquez again got ahead of the hitter 1-2, again went to the high heat, and again missed with the pitch. Two pitches later with the count full, Volquez went back to the pitch and missed, giving Belt the free base. He would escape that jam, but two innings later he was not so fortunate.

The fateful fourth inning began with Pablo Sandoval at the plate, and, like before, Volquez got ahead of Sandoval 1-2 and missed with the high heat. With the count even, Sandoval foul off a pair of pitches then lined a leadoff single to right. This put the Pirates win expectancy at 45.4%, a small drop that could be easily overcome if Volquez could retire the next few batters. Hunter Pence followed with a single to left, putting runners at first and second, dropping the Pirates’ win expectancy to 38.2%, and raising the run expectancy for the inning from 0.75 to 1.35.

This brought Brandon Belt to the plate for a high leverage plate appearance (2.57, to be exact), which began with another high heater that missed for ball one. Volquez went back to it on the second pitch that missed badly, and Belt happily let it go by for ball two. Three pitches later and with the count full, Volquez came with the payoff pitch that was another fastball up and out of the zone. Ball four.

Though Crawford’s home run in the ensuing plate appearance made the deficit a reality, the walk of Belt was a huge turning point in the game. The run expectancy for the Giants jumped almost a full run to 2.18, while the win expectancy for the Pirates fell 9.3% to a mere 28.9%. The total win probability added for Volquez during this outing was -.253, and with the walk having a WPA of -0.93, this means that over one-third of the net WPA lost by Volquez occurred during his second walk of Brandon Belt. In a one-game playoff with the season on the line, that’s an incredible figure that leads one to wonder why three of the balls in that walk came via pitches that were clearly not working for him that night.

I have already described many of them, but here is a table of all the high heaters thrown by Volquez in this game, that demonstrates his ineffectiveness with the pitch.

Inning AB Batter Bats Balls Strikes Zone Location Result PA Result
1 1 Blanco L 0 0 0 Ball Flyout
2 1 Sandoval L 1 2 2 Ball Single
2 1 Sandoval L 0 1 4 Ball Single
2 3 Belt L 1 2 0 Ball Walk
2 3 Belt L 3 2 0 Ball Walk
2 5 Ishikawa L 0 1 4 Ball Strikeout
4 1 Sandoval L 1 2 2 Ball Single
4 3 Belt L 1 0 2 Ball Walk
4 3 Belt L 0 0 2 Ball Walk
4 3 Belt L 3 2 3 Ball Walk
5 3 Sandoval L 1 1 2 Ball Strikeout
6 1 Pence R 0 0 2 Strike Walk

(Note: For zone location, 0 is up and in to a righty and 4 is up and in to a lefty)

Volquez threw the high heater in many situations, ranging from 0-0 on the first pitch of the game to 3-2 on the second biggest plate appearance of the game. The offering was only successful once, however, and that was long after the damage had been done. None of the other high heaters resulted in a single strike, as the Giants’ hitters exhibited great plate discipline in letting the pitch go by.

It is odd that Volquez would continue to throw a pitch so frequently in a high stakes game with such little effectiveness. The offering consisted of 12 of the 47 (25.5%) fastballs he threw in this outing, a high number for any pitcher but especially for a sinkerballer who is not experiencing success with the pitch.

Perhaps it was a failed gameplan, and perhaps excitement caused him to overthrow; in either case, excessive use of an ineffective high heater was a major reason for Volquez’s poor outing in the 2014 NL Wild Card Game.

. . .

All statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Brooks Baseball.

Dan Weigel is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score and an Author of Minor League Ball. You can find him on Twitter at @DanWiggles38.