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National League Wild Card Game: The new, improved Edinson Volquez

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The Pirates' starter in the Wild Card Game has a career 5.72 ERA against the Giants. Here's why that's mostly meaningless.


Edinson Volquez is a familiar foe who's been in the majors for 10 years. The Giants have faced him 11 times. They're 8-3 against him, and they've beat him eight times out of the nine times they've faced him since 2010. Considering the Pirates have Gerrit Cole (hard-throwing ace-type) and Francisco LIriano (slider-throwing metaphor), it would seem the Giants got something of a lucky matchup.

Don't believe baseball's lies.

In a never ending attempt to force my definition of baseball down your throats, allow me to try again. This is baseball:

It stares at you the whole time. That's the thing that gets me. Baseball makes eye contact when it tries to kill you, then it smiles, sticks its tongue out, and smiles some more. It is remorseless and bloodthirsty, and it has no reason why. It just is. That's why Volquez scares me. It's why he should scare you. Edinson Volquez seems like the perfect pitcher to end this bizarre season.

He also seems like a pitcher that a good team can beat, especially when he's matched up against that team's ace. Win, and the Giants further prove that they belong in the postseason. Lose, and they dropped a Madison Bumgarner/Volquez matchup, which is nature's way of dropkicking you past four of the five stages of grief and right into acceptance.

What we know

Volquez has a 3.04 ERA this season, the best of his career. It's just a tick above Bumgarner's, but once you factor in ballparks, you have to figure that Volquez has been even better at preventing runs this season. Those stats don't tell the whole story, though. Since getting drubbed by the Reds in mid-June, Volquez has started 17 games and posted a 1.85 ERA. That's outstanding, and it's not like his batting average on balls put in play (.276) was freaky low during that stretch. The ERA is a bit misleading because there are eight unearned runs that aren't getting counted -- just two fewer than the entire Giants bullpen this year! -- but you get the idea. He's been pitching extremely well, and the Pirates are confident in him for a reason.

If you think that ERA is an archaic stat for grampas and grammas, well, you're more confident. Volquez's FIP was 4.15 this year, and his FanGraphs WAR reflects that: They have him at being worth just under a win, giving him credit for inning-consumption, and little more.

Don't believe math's lies.

What he's doing

Volquez is one of the wildest pitchers of the last 15 seasons:

Rank (min. 1,000 innings)




Russ Ortiz



Shawn Estes



Edinson Volquez



Kip Wells



Hideo Nomo



Ubaldo Jimenez



Carlos Zambrano



Doug Davis



Matt Clement



Jorge De La Rosa


Oh, hello, old friends.

But Volquez's control has been much better over the last two seasons.

Percentage of plate appearances ending in a walk
2010: 12.7%
2011: 13.3%
2012: 13.1%
2013: 9.9%
2014: 8.8%

Volquez threw 47 percent of his pitches in the strike zone this year, which is actually above the league average. He's apparently turned the corner that Russ Ortiz and Shawn Estes could never turn. When he started throwing strikes, though, he stopped striking hitters out.

Percentage of plate appearances ending in a strikeout
2010: 24.4%
2011: 21.3%
2012: 21.7%
2013: 18.3%
2014: 17.3%

That's as the strikeout rate for the rest of the league has shot up, too.

People ...

/takes glasses off, puts them on conference table

We're dealing with an entirely different Volquez than we've seen before. The difference might be his sinker. According to FanGraphs, Volquez has thrown more sinkers than four-seamers for the second straight season, which correlates with his drop in walk rate. The Giants have drawn exactly three walks off Volquez in exactly eight of his 11 starts against him. They shouldn't expect that kind of gift on Wednesday.


This is the perfect matchup for the Giants in a one-game playoff. Not "perfect" in that Volquez is someone the Giants should hit hard -- but perfect as in this is exactly where the Giants should be after frittering away a huge NL West lead. They're up against a pitcher who has pitched well but isn't Clayton Kershaw. He's not Roy Halladay in his prime and he's not Chris Sale. The Wild Card Game is a punishment for playing like boobnoses for multiple months. Volquez pitching is a challenge to the Giants.

That challenge: Hit an imperfect, yet vastly improved, pitcher and the sins of the collapse are mostly erased The Giants join the rest of the playoff teams as equals, save one home game in each series.

Fail to hit an imperfect, yet vastly improved, pitcher and the collapse gets a cherry for the top. The cherry was found under the couch. It's brown now, and it smells like Axe Body Spray and overcooked broccoli. Eat it. EAT THE DAMNED CHERRY.

Or, if you want to skip to the real conclusion, don't screw this up, gentlemen. Don't screw this up.