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Volstad Winning in Iowa (No Joke) But Not MLB Ready


Charlie Sheen is synonymous with winning.

Chris Volstad is not – especially not in a Chicago Cubs uniform.

So I can imagine the shock and awe on your face when I say Volstad is 2-0 in AAA Iowa. Its true! I wouldn’t dare lie to you, fellow Cubbie faithful. (I have seen your wrath first hand. You all scare me)

Volstad came to Chicago as kind of a “throw away” player from the Miami Marlins deal for Carlos Zambrano. The real value in that trade was getting rid of  the club house fire-cracker and picking up Volstad (or any warm body who can throw a ball half decently) was just icing on the cake.

It was also called a chance at redemption for Volstad after boucing between the minors and the majors with the Marlins for several years. Consistency was never really his bread and butter – and sadly it continued to be that way in Chicago.

After being plugged in to the number 4 spot in the rotation between Jeff Samardzija and Paul Maholm (ma-haul-um… drives me nuts to hear people say ma-holm) the stage was set for Volstad to show his new franchise what he was capable of and perhaps solidify a permanent spot on the big league roster.

Opportunity came knocking….

Chris forgot how to turn a door knob.

All metaphors aside, Volstad struggled in a big way going 0-6 during his short stint with the north siders. Despite having 8 starts, he pitched 41 total innings which averages out to roughly 5 innings a game. I’m not saying I could do any better, but I know that is not big league caliber pitching – especially for a starter.

Naturally, Theo and the rest of the Cubs’ brass decided enough was enough and Volstad was shipped out to Iowa to collect himself and work on the fundamentals.

It may be just what the doctor ordered for Volstad as he’s now 2-0 in as many starts. Even better yet, he seems to have his control back.

Great news! How much longer before we see Volstad back in a Cubs uniform?! Well, I dont want burst any bubbles, but to put it plainly, not for a while.

Volstad’s replacement Travis Wood has been steady. No signs of him leaving the bigs any time soon. Wood is also a crowd favorite in Chicago and its unlikely that Theo and Jed want to tick off Cubs fans anymore (considering how vicious and blood thirsty some of us are)

The real story lies within Volstad’s stats. Win-Loss is a nice fluffy stat with absolutely no value in my opinion, so lets ignore that all together. When it comes to pitching, there are 3 stats that are the most indicative of success: Earned Run Average (ERA), Fielding Independant Pitching (FIP) and Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP).

Volstad in 2012 with the Cubs:

ERA – 7.46

FIP – 3.95

xFIP – 4.56

Volstad in 2012 with AAA Iowa:

ERA – 3.46

FIP – 3.12

xFIP – N/A (stat isn’t scored in the minors)

The first thing people notice between the two sets of stats is the sharp difference between Volstad’s ERA in Chicago vs Iowa. It does need some attention, but it’s not where the story lies. I want to focus on FIP.

For some of the more casual baseball fans who are asking “What in the sweet hell is FIP?!” relax. I’ve got you covered.

FIP is a pitching stat that looks purely at strikeouts, walks, home runs and hit by pitch (assuming universal umpiring). Its a much more refined way of looking at a pitcher’s true talent vs ERA which encompasses the pitcher, the fielders, the stadium, the baserunners, the umpire, luck, and even potentially the scorer.  FIP is simply a cleaner stat.

Volstad’s ERA in Chicago was high 7.46, but his FIP was a half decent 3.95 which means that defensive support was not being provided by the team in behind him. No shock.

Comparing his major league 3.95 FIP vs his minor league 3.12 FIP is a true tell. Volstad has the tools to get the job done, but taking into account all the other factors is a must. Iowa isn’t exactly a powerhouse defensively this season, but considering they’re a AAA team, their league and their roster, they’re arguably better off than the Cubs. Also when looking at his AAA FIP, you’re not facing nearly as many powerhouse hitters so a slightly lower FIP is to be expected.

You may say “A 3.12 FIP is very respectable. Whats wrong with that?” and you’d be half correct. A 3.12 FIP is quite respectable at a major league level. Down in AAA, its not quite enough to crack the majors.

The problem isn’t his FIP being too high, its the lack of differential between the majors and AAA.

Ideally, any solid MLB pitcher should be able to churn out a ~2 FIP in AAA. Volstad is not doing that cruising right along as his old pace. So what’s the issue?

It boils down to one thing that bridges any professional sport: consistency.

Volstad has a history of floating between AAA and the majors having been sent to the minors at least once each year in his last four seasons. He just cant seem to maintain a steady level of pitching, and that simply wont fit in to a major league rotation. You need quality starts from all 5 of your starters and Volstad, as of right now, cannot provide that on a start to start basis.

Its great that Volstad can get a couple of Ws and maybe get his confidence on the mound back, but when it comes down to it, he just isn’t the right fit for the job yet.

He continues to be stale on the mound, producing the same results day in and day out. His prospective ceiling was quite high, but he seems to have plateau’d. That’s not going to cut in the majors.

Expect him to stew in the minors for a while to try and find his pace. I can’t see him being called up unless there’s some sort of dramatic change in his game or one of the Cubs’ starters is injured.

Maybe… just maybe something will click during this stint in AAA with a different ball club.

But I’m not holding my breath.