• Vance Refrigeration: How Worley Will Succeed With The Minnesota Twins

    When the Minnesota Twins traded Ben Revere to the Philadelphia Phillies, they acquired one pitcher who can help the team immediately, Vance Worley, and another who is expected to contribute in the future in Trevor May.

    Because Worley is the known commodity who will be a member the starting rotation right away, let’s focus on him first and breakdown May next week.

    Affectionately known as “Vanimal” to the Phillie fan base, the 25-year-old Worley wound up being the fifth starter on a team whose rotation featured a stable of prized horses including Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay. On an average team, he’s likely a three or four-type starting. In the depleted staff in Minnesota however, until some additional moves are made this offseason, he could very well could be the second-best starter on the team.

    On the surface, Worley is very much a pitcher who fits the Twins’ mold: He throws strikes, he works ahead in the count and he pitches to contact. In fact, his 5.5% swinging strike rate last year was the third-lowest rate among all starters with a minimum of 130 innings pitched. That total fits in well with the Nick Blackburns of the world.

    Of course, the biggest difference was that Worley was still able to strike people out even if he couldn’t get them to swing-and-miss. His 18% strikeout rate last year would have finished ahead of everyone in the Twins rotation save for Francisco Liriano.

    So, if he’s not getting hitters to miss, how did he accumulate so many strikeouts? Jedi mind trick?

    In 2012 Worley’s strikeouts were largely a product of hitters failing to pull the trigger. As mentioned before, his swinging strike rate was well-below the major league average therefore he relied on painting corners and hitting his location. This past year, according to Baseball-Reference.com 57% of Worley’s strikeouts were of the looking variety. That mark was the highest among all qualified pitchers and surpassed the baseball average of 24%. In fact, no other qualified pitcher had more than half of their strikeouts looking.

    Interestingly enough, a higher amount of his strikeouts came against opposite-handed hitters rather than same-sided ones. Over his career, in the exact same number of plate appearances against both sides (597), Worley out-whiffed lefties (134) over righties (103). These reverse splits are related to the fact that he has caught more hitters looking versus getting them to swing and miss.

    Worley’s main weapon of choice against lefties is his sinking two-seam fastball. When he finds himself in a two-strike count, he will dial up this pitch more often than any other (40% of the time with two-strikes). This downward and glove-side run of this pitch combined with his excellent placement has allowed him to aim it at the hitter’s belt and watch it fade back over the plate, like this:



    The location and movement of this sinking two-seamer freezes opponents in their tracks. According to his profile at BrooksBaseball.net, with two-strikes, Worley has gotten strike three looking on this pitch 20% of the time he throws it.

    Perhaps because of his tendency to ride a pitch on their hands or throw soft stuff away, left-handed hitters had a difficult time pulling Worley. Possibly due to necessity of avoiding Citizens Bank Park’s inviting right field stands, he was able to keep hitters from going that direction often -- instead redirecting them back up the middle or to the opposite field. Unfortunately, Worley’s ability to do the same against right-handed opponents was non-existent as he was decisively average in his directional splits. The idea that a pitcher can control where a hitter hits the ball is debatable however if he is able to repeat this skill, the ability to keep hitters to the big park of the field, specifically at Target Field, so be beneficial**.

    **Then again, the Twins just traded away two very solid defensive center fielders and could employ a “Balls-To-The-Walls” defensive alignment in the outfield.

    Another interesting component of his game is the way that he has kept the ball in the park despite pitching in a very hitter-friendly ballpark.

    In his short career, Worley has allowed just 0.75 home runs per nine innings while the rest of the league has been closer to 1.00 HR/9. What makes this feat even more impressive is that Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park, known for its home runs and quick-taze security guards, has been a home run haven. Left-handed hitters, in particularly, have thrived there. According to StatCorner.com, the CBP has a Home Run Park Factor of 126, well above the neutral of 100. For comparison, Target Field vastly decreases the amount of home runs by left-handed opponents, carrying a 76 Home Run Park Factor. In theory, the transition to the home run-suppressing Target Field should help keep his home run rate down while switching to a league with an added offensive player in the lineup.

    So all of this seems positive. Yes, there will be some statistical inflation when he switches from a league in which he gets to face a pitcher holding a rolled up newspaper every ninth man up but his methodology and new environment should be able adapt quickly.

    The concern, however, is the health of his elbow.

    This past August, Worley would be shut down due to “loose bodies” in his throwing elbow and have season-ending surgery. While these procedures are described lightly and often referred to as “clean up” by teams, they can be symptoms of more ominous issues inside the elbow. The aforementioned Blackburn, who once had similar movement on his sinker, required this procedure in order to clean out some “loose particles” in his elbow in October 2010. Since then, Blackburn has been on-and-off the DL, had more surgery and has pitched with almost zero effectiveness. Like Blackburn did, Worley relies on touch and finesse which is provided by a healthy elbow.

    Now, that is only a disclaimer. Focus more on the fact that Worley has strong ground ball skills, ability to get strikeouts without needing to getting hitters to miss and is still young enough to be a part of the rotation for several years. In all, I say Twins landed themselves a decent middle-of-the-rotation arm.
    This article was originally published in blog: Vance refrigeration: How Worley will succeed with the Minnesota Twins started by Parker Hageman
    Comments 19 Comments
    1. glunn's Avatar
      glunn -
      Great article. Let's hope that his elbow holds up.
    1. YourHouseIsMyHouse's Avatar
      YourHouseIsMyHouse -
      Really, really great read. Solid baseball analysis and I've heard a lot of people complaining about him. His xFIP has been fine too and there is not much reason to believe he'll regress in Target. Pitching in the AL may be the most difficult part of the transition. Not only is Worley cheap, but he's under team control till 2018 as well.
    1. mnjon's Avatar
      mnjon -
      Thanks, Parker. Great analysis as usual. The thought of another Blackburn scares the crap out of me but I agree with YourHouse that Worley's secondary numbers look noticeably better than Blackburn's so that gives me a bit more hope.
      It's a weird feeling but this is the first starter the Twins have acquired that I'm excited to watch since Target Field opened. Don't get me wrong, Diamond was fantastic last year, but he wasn't expected to come in and slot right into the rotation (not to mention that he was a Rule 5 pick). The sad part is that Worley doesn't stand out in any way. He's just a pitcher with a decent track record.
    1. powrwrap's Avatar
      powrwrap -
      Nice work, Parker. Your use of video in your articles to illustrate your point is top-notch.
    1. Willihammer's Avatar
      Willihammer -
      Let's hope Doumit can frame that pitch!
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      **Then again, the Twins just traded away two very solid defensive center fielders and could employ a “Balls-To-The-Walls” defensive alignment in the outfield.
      Both Benson and Hicks are better defenders than either Apan or Revere Mastro is no maestro with the glove, but he is at least as good as Revere, IMHO. Revere is overrated because of all the Web Gems, many of which came after he got bad jumps on the ball and had to use his make-up speed to make circus catches.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      One notable difference between Worley's and Blackburn's surgeries is in the way they were handled. Blackburn's loose particles were discovered after the 2009 season. The medical staff decided not to remove them. Blackburn pitched with them (and in considerable pain) throughout 2010. That likely did damage to other parts of his elbow. If you remove the chips early, you can prevent further damage.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      Yes that is a key difference in the treatment of the injuries. Blackburn may actually be ruined now. Worley was taken care of appropriately.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      I like Worley a lot if healthy. A lot.
    1. AllhopeisgoneMNTWINS's Avatar
      AllhopeisgoneMNTWINS -
      That 2 seamer looks filthy! I dont think his elbow is going to be a problem. Lets hope im right!
    1. Don't Feed the Greed Guy's Avatar
      Don't Feed the Greed Guy -
      Parker, I read your article on the Strib site, and had to log in and thank you. This is an excellent piece of reporting on a journalist's short time frame. It includes video, fan-friendly anecdotes, and meaningful stats. Thanks for scooping us on "The Vanimal." Nice work.
    1. righty8383's Avatar
      righty8383 -
      One of my favorite pitches in baseball is the 2 seamer to lefties just like the pitch you see in the video Parker provides.
    1. Oxtung's Avatar
      Oxtung -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      One notable difference between Worley's and Blackburn's surgeries is in the way they were handled. Blackburn's loose particles were discovered after the 2009 season. The medical staff decided not to remove them. Blackburn pitched with them (and in considerable pain) throughout 2010. That likely did damage to other parts of his elbow. If you remove the chips early, you can prevent further damage.
      Worley injured himself May 11 of 2012 and pitched another 16 games and 90+ innings before being shut down for surgery in late August. So I guess it isn't just the Twins medical staff that is "incompetent."

      http://articles.philly.com/2012-05-2...teral-ligament
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      Mastro is no maestro with the glove, but he is at least as good as Revere, IMHO. Revere is overrated because of all the Web Gems, many of which came after he got bad jumps on the ball and had to use his make-up speed to make circus catches.
      Regarding Mastro, I'll recycle last spring's Ft Myers anecdote where he returned to the dugout after his half-inning in the field and Tom Kelly admonished him "let's keep the 360s to a minimum out there, OK?" I guess a bad route to the ball happens to anyone, but once a guy gets a knock on him like that it's tough to live down with the braintrust.
    1. Badsmerf's Avatar
      Badsmerf -
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      Both Benson and Hicks are better defenders than either Apan or Revere Mastro is no maestro with the glove, but he is at least as good as Revere, IMHO. Revere is overrated because of all the Web Gems, many of which came after he got bad jumps on the ball and had to use his make-up speed to make circus catches.
      Completely disagree. Span is a very good CF and Revere is a great CF. They are both pretty elite with the glove. If Revere had a better arm, he would be hands down the best in the game right now. Bad jumps? You obviously didn't watch this kid play very often. Revere consistently got to balls that I wouldn't have thought anyone would get to. You want to knock him, knock him on the bonehead plays when the ball bounced out of his glove. I don't get the hate here.
    1. Riverbrian's Avatar
      Riverbrian -
      Quote Originally Posted by Badsmerf View Post
      Quote Originally Posted by cmathewson View Post
      Both Benson and Hicks are better defenders than either Apan or Revere Mastro is no maestro with the glove, but he is at least as good as Revere, IMHO. Revere is overrated because of all the Web Gems, many of which came after he got bad jumps on the ball and had to use his make-up speed to make circus catches.
      Completely disagree. Span is a very good CF and Revere is a great CF. They are both pretty elite with the glove. If Revere had a better arm, he would be hands down the best in the game right now. Bad jumps? You obviously didn't watch this kid play very often. Revere consistently got to balls that I wouldn't have thought anyone would get to. You want to knock him, knock him on the bonehead plays when the ball bounced out of his glove. I don't get the hate here.
      I can't argue if Hicks is a better defender because I haven't seen him play. I can't argue with the poster cmathewson because I don't know if he has seen both Hicks and Benson play.

      I have seen Benson play in his Sepetember call up and he was decent. Comparing that small Benson sample size with the larger Revere sample size. Not even close... In my opinion.

      The bad jump thing. Sometimes sure... But not enough to tag him with it. Yet the tag seems to be there along with the base runners running wild thing. Objectivity left the building with some along time ago... And yes maybe with me as well... But I swear I'm trying.

      Now if Hicks and Benson are better defenders than Revere like Mathewson said. All I got to say is WOW!!! Make that double WOW!!! Because Revere already made me say WOW!!!
    1. stringer bell's Avatar
      stringer bell -
      Two threads in one! First I'll comment on Worley--In slo-mo that two-seamer looks hittable, but I'm sure it's an effective pitch. I think he'll be reasonably effective next year and given the Twins rotation, that is great news.

      CF defense--I saw quite a bit of baseball and Mastro is fast, but I don't think he is a great OF and I think he would be below-average in center. It is hard for a layman to judge what kind of jump fielders get, but my sense is that Mastro is below average there, he makes up for most of that deficit with good to great speed and his throwing is average. I saw Benson some in ST at both CF and RF and he made a couple of mistakes, but also made some outstanding plays. My guess is that he routinely gets better jumps than Mastro yielding more range with comparable speed, he has a real good arm as well. Hicks is reputed to be the whole package defensively--I only saw him hit on a minor league field--but I imagine he would still be a little raw.

      Gardy seems partial to the Jamie Carrolls and the Denard Spans of MLB--guys who turn outs into outs--over the fundamentally flawed (Plouffe, Nishi at SS), so I don't think any of these guys will win his favor until and unless they show they can make the routine plays 99.9% of the time.
    1. davidjcampbell's Avatar
      davidjcampbell -
      slightly off topic.

      I looked up some of Worley's 2012 starts and decided to watch one from July 25 when the Phillies hosted the Brewers.

      Some of you may remember Carlos Gomez hitting a long strike and trotting around the bases this summer... Worley was the pitcher during that humorous at bat.

      video here

      spoiler alert: Gomez strikes out looking on the very next pitch.
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      I see in MLB Trade Rumors that Philly is looking for a fifth starter now that they traded away Worley. Looking for low risk, high upside. Any way we can pump up Nick Blackburn's reputation and get a prospect or two for him? This guy can be an absolute all-star with a change of scenery. Right? Right?
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