Speculating on Vincent Velasquez
For dynasty leaguers, the offseason presents an excellent opportunity to acquire under-the-radar players before the fantasy pundits reveal their sleeper lists for the upcoming season. During the winter months, players can be improperly valued by your leaguemates for a variety of reasons, including poor surface stats, recency bias, and an uncertain role. Unfortunately, sometimes Jeff Lunhow single-handedly torpedoes your diabolical plan to take an undervalued asset off the unsuspecting hands of your leaguemate by shining a spotlight on one of your favorite sleepers. Today, we’re going to take a look at a player who meets (or met) all of the aforementioned criteria: Astros Phillies starting pitcher Vincent Velasquez.
Velasquez made his major league debut this year, joining the Astros rotation in early June. Over the course of seven starts he produced lackluster surface stats, pitching to a 4.03 ERA and winning only a single decision. After a brief demotion in July he returned in a new role, as the organization sought to add some depth to the bullpen. His performance as a reliever was solid in August, but he stumbled down the stretch, allowing 13 hits, 6 walks, and 9 earned runs in only 10 1/3 innings in September and October. While the late season move to the bullpen was prompted by Scott Feldman’s return from injury and the acquisition of Mike Fiers in a deadline deal with the Brewers, there was some speculation that it may be his ultimate role. But before we dismiss Velasquez’s potential to develop into an impact starting pitcher, let’s take a closer look at his peripherals.
During his time in the rotation, Velasquez showed excellent underlying skills. A 24.4 K% fueled a 15.4 K-BB%, both of which would have put him in the top 25 starters in the league had he qualified. While these numbers are based on a very small sample size, he demonstrated these skills throughout his minor league career, as he owned a 29.9 K% and 21.3 K-BB% over 260 innings on the farm. He has achieved these results with an intriguing repertoire that has induced above-average swinging strike rates with three different pitches, including a 95-mph fastball (8.9%), a curveball (13.2%), and an elite slider (23.1%). While his flyball-heavy profile wasn’t ideal for a park that inflates power, he escaped relatively unscathed by surrendering fewer home runs than one might expect. It wasn’t a fluke either, as his home run total was consistent with his expected rate per Baseball Heatmaps. His ability to induce infield fly balls at an above league-average rate also helped mitigate the impact on his ERA. Velasquez’s minor league track record also suggests that his true batted ball profile is likely to be more balanced, and a regression to previous ground ball rates can further improve his ERA moving forward.
Last month’s move to the pitching-starved Phillies was a good one for his role moving forward, as he’s far more likely to get a legitimate shot in the rotation. Velasquez’s checkered injury history does raise legitimate questions about his ability to handle the workload of a full-time starter, and he’s likely to face an innings limit in 2016 as he transitions to a starting role and continues to build post-Tommy John strength. That he hasn’t thrown an extreme amount of sliders in spite of the pitch’s elite whiff rate should ostensibly help him stay healthy going forward. This is a good thing for savvy dynasty leaguers.
Velasquez will most likely cost you more today than he would have a month ago, but there is still a profit to be made here. According to recent NFBC ADP data, he is currently being taken as just the 92nd starting pitcher off the board in re-draft leagues, following Mike Leake, Andrew Cashner, Nathan Karns, Josh Tomlin, and a slew of other pitchers who do not possess his upside. So despite the recent trade that landed him in a more favorable situation, the market still has enough questions regarding his performance and health to discount his 2016 projections significantly. Heavily investing dynasty league resources in pitchers can be perilous, but Velasquez has the stuff to develop into a front-line starter and makes for a smart target relative to the price you will have to pay.