There’s no denying that Velasquez has a great arm. Making that arm work for him on the pitching mound has been an up-and-down endeavor for the 28-year-old, however. The six-year veteran is set to make somewhere between $3.8MM and $4.8MM in his final season before free agency – a palatable amount for a rotation arm should the Phillies ultimately decide to move him, especially without the hindrance of a long-term financial commitment.
Whether or not Velazquez qualifies as a rotation arm is a question that the Phillies themselves have waffled on the past couple of seasons. Out of 42 total appearances the last two years, 30 have been starts – but that’s compared to 69 out of 70 from 2016 to 2018.
Inconsistency has, in fact, been the constant for Velazquez. He mixes wipe-out stuff (10.5 K/9 over the last two seasons) with a too-high walk rate (9.1 BB%) and year-to-year arsenal uncertainty. His 93-94 mph fastball more-or-less sets the tone, but deciding on a second-best offering has been somewhat of a rollercoaster.
His slider, for example, had largely been an effective, if judicious selection for him his first few years in the rotation, but as it gained traction volume-wise, hitters took it to the tune of a .407 wOBA in 2019. His changeup, meanwhile, had fallen almost out of his arsenal entirely in 2018 and 2019 before finding its way back into the mix last season, when he threw it 14.3% of the time and limited hitters to a 26.7 HardHit%. He throws a sinker, sparingly, but it’s been thumped – except in 2016 and 2020 when it registered a .298 wOBA and 243 wOBA, respectively.
All in all, Velasquez has been good for roughly 1.3 bWAR per 150 innings over his Phillies tenure – though 146 2/3 innings in 2018 mark a career high. Still, he owns a 4.33 FIP and 4.21 xFIP, as well as an exactly-league-average 100 FIP- for his career. Even that, however, doesn’t really tell the tale, as he’s alternated above-average seasons and below-average seasons by that mark since joining Philadelphia’s rotation: 94, 125, 90, 115, and 91 from 2016 to 2020.
That there’s interest in Velasquez is hardly surprising. But pinning his value to the wall is difficult. To summarize: on average, he’s an average ML arm that manifests as either 9-10% better or 15-25% worse than average.
As of right now, he figures to start the 2021 season right back in the Philly rotation behind Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, and Zach Eflin, right alongside rookie Spencer Howard. Rumor is there’s a new decision-maker in town, however, as well as a new pitching coach, so this is their puzzle to solve.