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Volstad demoted, but why?


After last night’s debacle of an outing for Chris Volstad, the Marlins demoted him to Triple-A, bringing up Burke Badenhop. In the linked article, it is mentioned that in Volstad’s last 11 starts, he is 1-6, and the overall team record is 1-10. In addition, Volstad has a 5.22 ERA in that time span.

I’m as glad as the next guy to see the Hopper back in the majors, though I would have preferred Rick VandenHurk to brought up to start. However, while the callup is not disputable, sending down Volstad is absolutely questionable. While the results may have appeared ugly, Volstad’s performance so far this year has been just about what we expected given a little regression.

Take a look at these Volstad lines:

Volstad 1: 15.6% K%, 8.2% UIBB%, 49.5% GB%, .291 BABIP
Volstad 2: 16.0% K%, 8.1% UIBB%, 48.4% GB%, .298 BABIP

Volstad 1 is his 2009 line, while Volstad 2 is his 2010 line. I’m not here to pretend that those four stats are all that matters when it comes to evaluating a pitcher, but you have to believe that he is doing some very similar things as compared to last year if he is getting these sorts of similar results.

The one major difference between Volstad’s 2009 and 2010 seasons is the one difference everyone wanted the most: he’s allowed fewer home runs in 2010. Volstad has allowed 10 homers in 98 innings (420 non-IBB batters faced), a rate of 2.4%. Last year, that rate was 4.3%. According to BIS batted-ball classifications, Volstad has allowed essentially the same rate of fly balls in 2009 and 2010, and this season he has allowed only 9.7% of those fly balls to leave the park.

These results are so similar from this year to last that the skill-based ERA estimators of highest esteem, xFIP and SIERA, both generally agree on how well Volstad has pitched between this season and last season.

Volstad, 2009: 4.35 xFIP, 4.39 SIERA
Volstad, 2010: 4.43 xFIP, 4.42 SIERA

Combine that with a projected 4.45 FIP (4.60 ERA, if you’re interested) going forward by ZiPS rest-of-season projection, and you have the makings of a slightly below-average starter. In my last series preview, I had Volstad, based on projected FIP, as a .468 win% pitcher. That is not great for a starter, but it is most certainly above replacement level and definitely not someone who should be demoted.

In comparison, take a look at Nate Robertson, a pitcher who is significantly worse, but one who we cannot demote without designating him for assignment and exposing him for pickup by other teams. Robertson projects at a similar 4.43 FIP going forward, but also has the issue of a .328 BABIP to worry about. ZiPS has him at a 5.03 ERA the rest of the season. Based on xFIP/SIERA, that is not too far off of how he has pitched this year (5.00 xFIP, 4.92 SIERA).

So what has caused Volstad to give up so many runs so far this year? Part of the problem in that 11-game stretch was BABIP, as Volstad gave up a .346 BABIP after starting the year at .214. That sort of stuff fluctuates, but based on his career, we can guess a BABIP of around .300; ZiPS projects a .306 going forward. This sort of thing wasn’t Volstad’s primary problem, however. Essentially, he has been the same pitcher the last two seasons, with significantly different home run rates. If indeed he has regained some semblance of control over his home run issues, than whatever is “plaguing” him now was probably plaguing him last season. Now, the team is planning on sacrificing two weeks worth of his production for nothing? It makes me wonder what management is thinking at times. At this point, Volstad is nothing special, but it does not mean he is unproductive.