2016 Statistics: 189.1 IP, 5.37 ERA, 4.57 FIP, 6.61 SO/9, 3.61 BB/9
Age on Opening Day 2017: 33
Position: Starting Pitcher
The Yankees have been linked to big names on the free agent market lately, but it remains unlikely that they will go on a major spending spree this winter. Rather, this offseason might better resemble the offseason prior to 2015, which was highlighted by a few less high-profile signings. This starting pitching market is particularly barren, meaning the Yankees will have to dig deep if they want to fill out their rotation via free agency.
New York could opt to roll with unproven contributors like Luis Cessa, Luis Severino, and Bryan Mitchell at the back of the rotation. If they deem that too risky, it's possible the Yankees will attempt to fill a spot on the staff with a veteran free agent. Among the more interesting names could be Edinson Volquez.
Volquez is coming off of a highly disappointing season. After impressing in the first year of a two-year pact with Kansas City, Volquez regressed sharply, posting an 81 ERA+ in 189 innings. Volquez was dependable, making 34 starts, but he was ineffective once on the mound.
However, Volquez was very productive across the two preceding seasons. In 2014, Volquez had a 118 ERA+ in 192.2 innings for Pittsburgh, and followed that with an identical 118 ERA+ over 200.1 innings with Kansas City. He was worth over 5 rWAR combined during 2014 and 2015, profiling as a strong mid-rotation workhorse.
Entering 2017, Volquez's age-33 season, any team considering signing him has to weigh which Volquez is more likely to show up. Volquez’s advancing age lends credence to the idea that he is declining and unlikely to revert to the form he showed in 2014/2015, but some of his numbers from 2016 indicate that Volquez could still be an effective pitcher.
There's nothing groundbreaking about looking at a pitcher's peripherals and positing that he was a little unlucky, but that appears to be the case here. The .8 run gap between Volquez's 5.37 ERA and 4.57 FIP was 7th largest in the majors. Volquez's 65.7% strand rate was 2nd lowest in the majors, and while his .319 BABIP certainly wasn't outlandishly high, it did represent a 29 point jump from 2015 to 2016.
Somewhat promisingly, Volquez didn't suffer a huge drop in velocity. His average fastball velocity did fall a bit, from 94.4 mph in 2015 to 94.0 in 2016, according to Brooks Baseball, but that Volquez is still capable of sitting in the mid-90’s as he progresses through his 30's is a positive sign.
Plus, there's some evidence that Volquez could profit from cutting his fastball usage slightly. Volquez used a fastball on over 50% of his pitches last season, but opposing batters hit .332 with a .522 slugging against the pitch.
Volquez had more success with his secondary pitches. Opposing batters posted only a .215 batting average and .322 slugging against his changeup, and a .265 average and .388 slugging against his curve. Both the change and the curve generated groundballs and swings and misses at a better rate than his heater. Perhaps hitters would adjust and square up his offspeed offerings if Volquez eased off the fastball, but it seems possible that he could benefit by relying on his other pitches as he ages.
Volquez projects to earn either a one or two year guarantee, with an AAV somewhere in the $8 million to $12 million range. FanGraphs currently forecasts him for a 4.30 ERA and 4.36 FIP in 167 innings and a total of 1.9 fWAR. That seems like an optimistic projection given Volquez's 2016 struggles, but that kind of production would be well worth his likely cost.
In truth, if the Yankees shop towards the bottom of the pitching market (or anywhere in the pitching market, really) they are going to end up with a flawed pitcher. Volquez is coming off a poor season, but does hold the potential suggested by his 2014 and 2015 seasons. Should the Yankees hunt for bargains in the rotation, they could probably do worse than a veteran that can at least dependably log innings like Volquez.