The Plight of Vance Worley

vance worley

Allowing more earned runs to cross home (16) this spring than his innings (10.2) and strikeouts (5) combined (15.2) — while conceding nearly two hits per inning pitched — Vance Worley disproved the theory that spring training statistics are largely irrelevant last week when it was announced he would be placed on waivers by the Minnesota Twins, a transaction first reported by CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman.

Considering his underwhelming statistical output last season with Minnesota — 7.21 ERA, 1.99 WHIP and 1.67 K/BB in 10 starts (48.2 IP) — along with past injuries, it’s really no wonder the Twins viewed Worley as a liability rather than an asset this spring, even considering his relatively cheap $510,000 salary for 2014. Other big league front offices seemed to agree, as the now 26-year-old cleared waivers Friday afternoon and will stay with Minnesota’s triple-A affiliate in Rochester.

Breaking through to Philadelphia’s starting rotation full-time in 2011, Worley accumulated more bWAR than any other finalist for the NL Rookie of the Year award that season after posting a 3.01 ERA and 1.23 WHIP in 25 games (21 starts). His ERA jumped to 4.20 and his WHIP to 1.51 in 2012, however, which may well have set the tone for his disappointing 2013 campaign in Minnesota.

What transformed Worley from a future staple in a big-league rotation to a waiver-claim player that no team seems to want? Look no further than his splits in hitters’ and pitchers’ counts.

Worley Hitters and Pitchers' counts

While Worley experienced statistical regressions both ahead and behind in the count, those regressions were significantly more accentuated in hitters’ counts. In 2011, opponents posted a .282 average against him (well below the .337 league average mark) in those situations, slugged just .397 (third-lowest among starters with at least 130 innings) and posted a home run to fly-ball rate of only 3.1% (fourth-lowest).

Those metrics progressively worsened in each of the next two seasons, leading up to a .465 batting average (third-worst among starters with at least 48 innings in 2013), .814 slugging percentage (11th-worst) and 21.4% home run to fly ball rate in hitters’ counts that was notably higher than the 13% league average mark.

What caused opponents to compile such gaudy numbers in these situations? Worley’s zone rate when behind in the count decreased from 56.4% in 2011 to 52.3% in 2012, and fell to 47.2% last season. This follows the trend of qualified starters last season that says as your zone% decreases, opponents’ batting average, slugging percentage and HR/FB% increases. You would think that throwing more pitches in the zone in hitters’ counts would equate to better results for hitters, but that wasn’t the case last season.

It didn’t help that Worley threw fewer first-pitch strikes, putting him behind in the count more frequently, either.

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My advice to Vance Worley: Pinpoint the strikezone early in the count and trust your stuff in hitters’ counts.