Hector Velazquez has enjoyed a surprisingly good start to the year with the Boston Red Sox. But is there really a fire behind the smoke?
If you’re like me, or pretty much anyone, you were a little worried when Hector Velazquez took the hill for the Boston Red Sox in the fourth game of the season. Sure, it was against the Tampa Bay Rays, a dismal lineup. Then again, it’s Hector Velazquez, the eighth starter in the system.
5 2/3 innings of one-run ball with five strikeouts? Alright, that’s something. One start and three bullpen appearances later, and Velazquez is sitting with a 2.70 ERA and 1.26 WHIP in 16 2/3 innings. Not bad.
It’s a small sample size, so it’s worth digging a little deeper to see if these results can stand the test of time. The answer: ambiguous.
More from Red Sox News
- Red Sox Nation deserves far more from Fenway Sports Group
- Bizarre trade deadline comes back to haunt Red Sox after Nathan Eovaldi departure
- Red Sox’ Moneyball-style offseason continues with Corey Kluber contract
- Rich Hill’s Red Sox departure puts him within striking distance of unique MLB record
- Red Sox offseason takes another nasty hit with Nathan Eovaldi departure
There are some encouraging signs of some real growth from Velazquez. His HR/FB ratio has nearly halved from last season’s unsightly 16.7 percent mark to 9.5 percent. His walk rate is down to a microscopic 4.3 percent, good for 28th in baseball with a minimum of 10 innings. He’s pounding the strike zone early and he’s getting a few more swing-and-misses.
Another good sign: Velazquez is throwing harder than last season. His four-seam fastball, sinker, changeup, and slider are all up about two miles-per-hour. Sure, some of that may be due to his transition to the bullpen, but it’s nice to see.
His four-seam fastball is now up to 92.5 mph, yet Velazquez is choosing to use it significantly less. Check out the graph below; in red is his fastball velocity range, and in blue is the percentage of fastballs thrown.
Instead, he’s opting for the sinker more and more, trying to put the ball on the ground as much as possible.
The bad news? It’s not really working. Velazquez is inducing the grounder at a 39 percent rate and instead, hitters are squaring up the ball. 40 percent of contact against the 29-year old right-hander was barreled up, and combined with a low groundball rate, that spells trouble. It means that his deflated HR/FB ratio is unlikely to remain so low — balls will start to leave the yard.
More advanced metrics tell a similar story. Velazquez has ridden an 88.5 percent strand rate to his 2.70 ERA, but 4.01 FIP and 4.40 xFIP warn of regression.
Velazquez is what he is. A pitch-to-contact righty who doesn’t walk anyone. Successful pitch-to-contact pitchers, like C.C. Sabathia or Zach Davies, survive on a combination of high groundball rates (over 45 percent) and low hard-contact rate (under 30 percent). Velazquez has the opposite.
Can he continue to walk this tightrope, or will this successful run prove short-lived?