The Pittsburgh Pirates’ signing of starting pitcher Edinson Volquez to a one-year deal back in December likely did not move the needle for most baseball fans, and even the most hard-core fantasy baseball owners probably had a hard time thinking the move was noteworthy. After what was thought to be a breakout season in 2008 with the Cincinnati Reds (17-6, 3.21 ERA over 196 innings), Volquez underwent Tommy John surgery in 2009, got suspended for 50 games in 2010 after a positive test for performance-enhancing drugs and made just 21 starts over those two seasons. He was then traded to the San Diego Padres after the 2011 season, had a fully healthy, if unspectacular, season in 2012 (11-11 and a 4.14 ERA over 32 starts-182.2 innings) before being released last August and finishing last season with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Can a move back to the National League Central revive Volquez’s career and put him back on the radar of fantasy owners?
The Pirates earned a playoff berth for the first time in over 20 years in 2013, spearheaded by a pitching staff that finished third in the National League in ERA (3.27) and the resurgence of starters A.J. Burnett (10-11, 3.30 ERA) and Francisco Liriano (16-8, 3.02 ERA). Pitching coach Ray Searage deserves a lot of credit for the performance of the Pittsburgh pitching staff last year, and he has already expressed optimism about working with Volquez and an intent to “go back to basics” with his mechanics. With Burnett looking likely to retire at this point, Volquez should get every opportunity to earn a spot in the Pirates’ starting rotation.
The main drag on Volquez’s fantasy value is poor control (4.8 career BB/9 rate), but his walk rate actually fell below 5.0 (4.1) for the first time since 2008 last season. Volquez’s other peripherals are solid (7.5 K/9 rate and a 47.6 ground ball percentage in 2013) and have been relatively stable even as his career took a downturn, so better control under Searage’s tutelage could drive improvement in his ERA next season.
As long as he remains on track for a spot in Pittsburgh’s starting rotation, Volquez will be an intriguing late-round flier in both mixed and NL-only league drafts. 2008’s performance is not coming back even in a best-case scenario, but there is real potential for a significant return on draft day investment if things break right.
Brad Berreman is a Senior Writer at Rant Sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradberreman24.