We reach the last of our pieces regarding the five Marlins starters by discussing the former top Marlins prospect that has failed to live up to the hype he once drew.
Volstad is a former first round draft pick with supposed potential but very little in the way of results. He has thrown 418 1/3 career innings in the majors since 2008 with a 4.47 career ERA and peripherals that do not suggest bad luck or drastic differences in his play. Essentially, over the last three seasons, Volstad has been who we thought he was based on his peripherals, at least according to some of the ERA retrodictors (career 4.60 FIP and 4.50 xFIP). Furthermore, there’s been little variance in Volstad’s xFIP marks since his 2008 debut; he has gone from a career low 4.35 xFIP in his awful 2009 to a 4.59 mark in both 2008 and 2010.
Knowing that Volstad is a former top prospect allows us to don the rose-colored glasses for a bit when we look at him. He will be only 24 years old in 2011, though that is not necessarily a harbinger of good things given how pitchers age differently than hitters. But Volstad has not shown any signs of being a significant force in the majors or minors. In the minors, he never had a full season in which he struck out more than 20 percent of his batters faced, with the only season even coming close being his first professional season working in the Rookie and New York Penn leagues. He pitched at least 100 innings in three different levels after that debut and never struck out more 17 percent of hitters in any of those leagues, topping out at 16.4 percent in High-A. He was never known for his strikeout stuff, building his game primarily off of a ground ball approach, but these low strikeout rates in the minors had to alarm the Marlins about his chances of doing well when he finally arrived in the majors in 2008.
When Volstad hit the majors, he was immediately the beneficiary of good luck in terms of home runs allowed; his strikeouts remained almost static while his walks unsurprisingly increased. In 2009, the exact opposite happened and he was swallowed whole by the luck dragon that season. It turns out that neither his 2008 HR/FB rate of 3.9 percent nor his 2009 rate of 17.8 percent were his true talent, and that a mark closer to 9.0 to 10.0 percent is more likely going forward.
But while the luck dragon has toyed with Volstad’s home runs, the rest of his game has remained essentially static. His career 14.5 percent strikeout rate is well below average and has been pretty consistent throughout each of his three seasons. Likewise, his 8.5 percent walk rate is similarly poor, particularly for a pitcher with so few strikeouts to his name. His .289 career BABIP looks unremarkable and likely to continue to regress towards the average. He has been the same basic pitcher each of the past three seasons, and that same basic pitcher isn’t very good. Among starting pitchers with at least 400 innings pitched since 2008, Volstad holds company with names the likes of Nick Blackburn, Vicente Padilla, Jorge de la Rosa, and Barry Zito in terms of ERA. Similarly, his 4.60 FIP lies next to such luminaries as Blackburn, Zach Duke, Kevin Millwood, and Bronson Arroyo.
All of that data points to a pitcher who, while solidly below average, would still be a worthwhile addition to the back of a rotation. In the past, Volstad was looked at as a third or fourth starter, but in his current fifth starter role, his production would be adequate.
Projection: 165 IP, 1.5 WAR
This is a projection based on an ERA of 4.51, attained by an average of various projections. Given what has been said about Volstad’s static performance on peripherals, I would be inclined to believe such a projection. It is not a pretty picture, but the Marlins do not need a great performance from their last starter. Furthermore, there are simply no other options available in the free agent market, and the team would much rather allow Volstad to work through any of his potential problems than sign a stopgap. Given the cheap nature of previously available options such as Jeff Francis, I question whether the Marlins should have gone with this strategy, but at this point any options remaining would be no better than Volstad. Like it or not, he is our fifth starter, and the team will look for him to pitch decent innings in 2011.