I came across a story this past weekend that caught my eye and made me wonder if I had previously jumped the gun on expectations for new Minnesota Twins’ pitcher Vance Worley. The story centered on the idea that Worley is effective the first or second time he pitches against an opponent, but struggles when facing the same opponent each additional time. The reason the article gave for these reoccurring problems was the fact that Worley does not have a quality third pitch. Worley is known for his sinker and cut-fastball, which he relies heavily on to succeed as a big league pitcher. While both of those pitches are plus pitches for him, they are also the reason that he has run into struggles when facing an opponent more than one time.
When teams have time to focus on hitting only two pitches—regardless of how good they are—their approach at the plate changes and they are more able to attack these pitches and look for them in specific counts. If a pitcher had a third—or even better, a fourth—pitch that they could throw with confidence, the hitter’s approach would be much different because they would have to take into consideration more options. A hitter’s approach will still be determined—mostly—by the situation and count of a baseball game and what type of pitch the pitcher likes to throw to certain batters, in certain counts and in certain situations; but if a pitcher only has two plus pitches that he has to work with, teams are able to focus on them and take advantage of them without fear of being surprised by another pitch that could potentially get them out.
There will be certain games where a pitcher can get by with two pitches because both are working extremely well and in some rare cases, some pitchers are so dominant with their two pitches that they can dominate with just two. Normally—though—those two pitches are not similar types of pitches and are instead a type of fastball and an off-speed or breaking ball. In Worley’s case, both of his pitches fall under the same category and he isn’t the type of dominant pitcher who can win consistently with just those two pitches.
Worley has admitted he needs to learn a third pitch and he currently is working on developing his change-up. Results so far have been mixed at best. He still is having a difficult time locating his change-up and his velocity on it still is too similar to his cutter and sinker to fool hitters. The article also discussed how Worley was learning how to throw a “split-change” that Philadelphia Phillies’ pitcher Roy Halladay has perfected, in hopes to decrease the velocity gap between his cutter, sinker and changeup. Although the “split-change” has decreased his velocity, Worley still lacks the confidence and control of it to use consistently throughout games.
I am not saying that Worley—with only two pitches—couldn’t be a successful pitcher for the Twins because Worley has demonstrated before that he can be effective with only two; what I am saying is that the Twins aren’t in need of a mildly successful starter, they are in need of a very successful starter and that is what they are expecting out of Worley.
Look at Nick Blackburn who is considered a pitcher who relies heavily on his sinker. He was successful—in stretches—during the early part of his career when he was facing teams for the first time. But over the past few seasons, Blackburn’s success on the mound has been limited. People point to injuries and his ability to control his sinker as the reason for his problems, but in hindsight, the real problem is that teams likely caught on to his sinker and he didn’t have any additional pitches that were good enough to get hitters out. It is for that reason that I fear a similar fate for Worley.
Worley has accepted this shortcoming of his and he is attempting to address it throughout spring training. Worley seems like the type of pitcher who is hard working and is a competitor on the mound. His deception with his pitching delivery and the pure “stuff” that he has are what makes him a solid pitcher in this league; I’ll say it again: the Twins don’t aren’t looking for “solid” out of Worley, they are looking for dominance.