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Demilio: What To Make Of Vince Velasquez Joining Pirates’ Rotation (+)



Pittsburgh Pirates, Vince Velasquez

It wasn’t necessarily the flashiest of moves, but the Pittsburgh Pirates have added to their rotation.

In a free agent market where starting pitching is at a premium — a dozen have signed for at least $20M this offseason — the Pirates decided to take a more modest approach.

The Bucs officially inked right-handed pitcher Vince Velasquez to a one-year $3.15M deal on Tuesday, making him the 2022 version of a low-cost rotation addition.

This comes on the heels of the Pirates signing left-handers Tyler Anderson and Jose Quintana to one-year contracts for 2020 and 2021 respectively.

Both those moves, while cheap, paid dividends for the Pirates. Anderson posted a 4.35 ERA in 18 starts for Pittsburgh in 2021. Quintana owned a 3.50 ERA in 20 starts last season. Both pitchers were flipped for young assets at the deadline.

Will Velasquez follow a similar road? It’s tough to say for sure, but let’s see what the 30-year-old offers the Pirates as a starting pitcher.

The 2010 second-round draft pick of the Houston Astros first really emerged on the radar in 2015 when he was considered a top 100 prospect in the league by MLB Pipeline.

It was that same season that Velasquez debuted with Houston, going 1-1 with a 4.37 ERA in 19 games/seven starts.

After the season, Velasquez was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies where he had a solid season on the mound, pitching exclusively out of the rotation.

In his first year across the Keystone State, Velasquez went 8-6 with a 4.12 ERA and 152 punch outs in 131 innings.

Unfortunately for Velasquez, he scuffled to a 5.25 ERA from 2017-21, pitching mainly with the Phillies before winding up in San Diego to finish 2021 with the Padres.

Velasquez signed with the Chicago White Sox prior to last season and saw action as both a starting pitcher and a reliever.

Most of Velasquez’s success last season came out of the bullpen, where he posted a 4.25 ERA and averaged nearly a strikeout per inning (34 strikeouts in 36 innings).

As a starter? Not so good. Velasquez owned an ERA of 5.26 — just over a point higher than his bullpen ERA — across nine starts. He allowed eight home runs in 39.1 innings as a starter as opposed to just three out of the pen.

For his career, Velasquez has been a steady mid-to-back-end rotation piece his first time through the order. He’s owned an even 4.00 ERA. That mark jumps to 4.82 the second time through and balloons to 7.82 when facing batters for a third time.

Another question mark when it comes to Velasquez’s role as a full-time starter — he hasn’t pitched more than 100 innings since 2019. His career-high in innings came the year before when he pitched 146.2 frames.

The salary seems to match the track record here. Velasquez has largely been a below-average starting pitcher for the majority of his career.

For the Pirates, they’re hoping they are able to make the necessary adjustments with the right-hander as they did with both Anderson and Quintana.

Both Anderson and Quintana were coming off low points in their careers. Fast forward to the present and both pitchers signed multi-year pacts this offseason. Anderson headed to the Angels on a three-year $39M deal while Quintana landed with the Mets at two-years and $26M.

Velasquez’s pitch arsenal, which includes a fastball, a slider, a curveball and a changeup, has long been admired. Even so, he still hasn’t been able to put it all together consistently.

Maybe he finally will with the Pirates. Then again, maybe not.

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