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Cubs Recap: The Volstad Enigma

Cubs Recap: The Volstad Enigma

I'm not going to write a typical recap on this one, the 8-2 loss speaks for itself.  There's only one thing on Cubs fans' mind right now...

What to do with Chris Volstad?

I can feel the frustration mounting with Cubs fans...

  • Send Volstad to the bullpen!
  • Does Volstad have options?
  • Call up Travis Wood!

Maybe some even want Carlos Zambrano back after they couldn't wait to get rid of him last year.

I don't know what the answer is here and I'm not sure Volstad or the Cubs do either.  He looks like a quality MLB starting pitcher throughout most of every start, and then suddenly, at any given time, he loses it.

There's nowhere to send Volstad except the bullpen, but given that most of his problems have come with men on base and pitching out of the stretch, it doesn't seem like a great solution either.

Everything about Volstad's results (0-5, 6.92 ERA) scream that he shouldn't be in the rotation.  Yet,  his secondary numbers (before today's start) contradict it:

  • 2.73 BB/9 IP
  • 0.55 HR/9 IP
  • 3.38 FIP
  • 4.13 xFIP

Those numbers speak of a competent starter who should be getting better results than he is.  The stuff is there too.  He's throwing a good hard sinker, a slider, and a change-up -- and for most of the game, they are working well.

For most of the game.

I'm not going to re-hash the "one bad inning" thing.  Everyone knows that by now.  There's also the curiously low strand rate of 46.3% when he's been at over 70% previously for his career.  I've mentioned that before as well.

The only thing that matters is why it's happening.  Is it pitching from the stretch? Does he change his approach when he gets into trouble?  Are there questions about his mental makeup?

Whatever it is, the Cubs need to find out what it is and help him get on track.  Volstad is a 25 year old pitcher with above average stuff and good command -- he should be part of the Cubs future.

That's all well and good, but this is a results-oriented society and people expect results.  There comes a time when promise and potential need to translate to performance.  With Volstad, we see long glimpses of a very good pitcher and then one short, but painful glimpse of a pitcher who is....well, terrible.  And the one inning where Volstad is terrible has been enough to cost him the results that fans are demanding to see.

This Cubs brass, however, has been more about process and big picture thinking.  The enigmatic Volstad figures to be one of their toughest tests when it comes to their overall vision.  Will they be patient and see the process through or will they succumb to the pressures of a fan base demanding short-term results?

Filed under: Analysis

Tags: Chris Volstad

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  • If I'm the Cubs' hierarchy, I have to decide if there are better starting pitcher options in the organization. If there are, use them and try Volstad in the 'pen or send him to the minors if you can.

  • My idea is this: Watch tons of video and identify the problem (if they haven't already), then skip one start to see if they can work with him on the side to fix it and maybe clear his head a little.

    They can't realistically send Volstad down to the minors. Despite his problems, I believe he'll get claimed if the Cubs try to put him on waivers to send him down. They can try, because in his case they can take him off waivers if someone claims him -- but if it doesn't work, they'll need a different solution.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I think that's a good way to split the difference between sending him back out for another massacre (pointless) and putting him on waivers (risky). It'll suck to play with a 24-man rotation, but that's life as a rebuilding team.

    It's similar to the Lendy Castillo dilemma. Obviously, you want as many high-potential guys in the organization as you can get. But you don't want to get too greedy to where you're playing guys who are totally overmatched. A big, big part of the game is mental, and these shellackings will hurt the confidence of prospects, such that they may never reach their potential -- whether it's for the Cubs or for some other team. Inevitably, there will be a few prospects who get let go, only to star on other teams, but that's the risk you take.

    I'm not saying we've reached that point with Volstad, and maybe it's still worth trotting Castillo out a few more times, but we're getting very close to that point of diminishing returns.

  • In reply to Taft:

    edit: 24-man roster, not rotation.

  • It depends on the time frame. If you are talking about making a move now, then sorry, I disagree. Despite the positive vibes from the last homestand, this is still a season of throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks. Volstad's long-term worth to the Cubs is as a SP, and they should give him ample opportunity to work things out. If July rolls around and he still is struggling, then it may be worth evaluating who has performed the best at Iowa. There is also a better chance that he clears waivers, as well. I don't like the results any more than you do, but I think the right thing to do is to give Volstad a long leash.

  • In reply to CubsFanInNorway:

    Games lost now cost the Cubs just as much as games lost in September. Every time the Cubs start Volstad, they assure themselves of not winning that day's game. If the Cubs want to reach the postseason this year, they need to take that into consideration.

  • Playooooooffs!! Are you talking playoooooffs!

    I sure hope the Cubs management is not making decisions based on trying to win this year.

  • I really wish that the Fox stations in my area got this game. I haven't really had a chance to see Volstad this year. I wish I had more of an opinion on this situation.

    I like the potential, and I'm sure that the issue is correctable. The biggest worry is that no one seems to know what the problem is.

    Moving forward, I think more value needs to be placed on pitchers who can handle the bat. On the other hand, we're (unfortunately) moving towards having the DH across all of baseball.

  • In reply to Cameron Macpherson:

    Exactly...can't fix it if you don't know what the source of the issue is. I'm sure that the Cubs staff has a much better idea than we do.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Looks like they plan on either fiddling with the slider or going with the curveball more.

  • Coleman and Rusin were each pitching well as starters at Iowa.

  • We saw Coleman today. We kind of already know what he is. Rusin interesting, but Wood has better stuff.

  • Reminds me of the year Steve Trout had. He would be pitching a
    shoutout or nohitter for 3-5 innings then it happen. A walk, or
    error then 3-5 runs before you know it.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    Good memory...there's been a few pitchers who have had years like that. I remember Javy Vazquez was like that with the Sox for a while and then straightened himself out as the year went on.

    I hope that happens to Volstad.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Ha was thinking the exact same.

  • He reminds me of Javy Vazquez, but with inferior stuff.

  • Volstad is really frustrating. You almost wish he didn't show you the ability. You could easily write him off then. Coleman I don't have much use for. I was impressed though with T Wood when he pitched last Sunday. I would like to see him in the rotation one way or the other.

  • In reply to Tom Loxas:

    Agreed. If he was bad, you could just say well this guy doesn't have what it takes -- the thing is, he does have what it takes, at least in terms of stuff.

  • I'm afraid you're being a little simplistic about Volstad's problems. It's not a "one bad inning" thing, I don't think it's a problem pitching in the stretch. He's just not mentally tough. The minute you give him a lead, he immediately coughs it up. He doesn't pitch well when there is pressure, like runners on base in a close game. This problem won't change overnight. Sure, he'll probably pitch well against the likes of the Pirates or Astros, maybe some home games, but opening a series on the road against the Cardinals? Forget it.

    I'm not writing Volstad off, just saying that this year will be difficult to watch him. In time, he can mature and get mentally tougher, but it will take a year or so for that to happen. He is a talented pitcher, but will require a lot of patience.

    I love this blog by the way, by far the best I've ever read. It's even better than ChicagoTribune.com/sports which I've followed religiously, living in Cali now, for many years. Keep up the good work.

  • In reply to HefCA:

    First off you may be right on with Volstad. It may be entirely mental. If that is the case it may never change. The Cubs do however have to find out, though it may be a bullpen role in the end that suits him?

    Also thank you for the compliment! I know how you feel, I turn to Bulls Confidential (Doug) for a lot of my Bulls analysis.

  • In reply to HefCA:

    Thanks for the kind words, HefCA!

    I did consider mental makeup as a possible issue. It's something nobody wants to make public, but I have to think it's something they're privately concerned about.

  • I thought Volstad had an option and could go down to the minors. That would be (would have been?) my choice, and not because I have given up on him completely (well, I have but that doesn't mean they should). The point is that he is not fixing his problem in the bigs and can work on it in the minors with less pressure on him. As far as hiding him in the bullpen, it is starting to look like witness protection down there.

  • In reply to bruno14:

    No kidding Bruno that is an fugly bunch. We need some new faces I would say.

  • In reply to bruno14:

    Ha! Witness protection, I like it!

  • The Cubs could give him 2 more starts, but after that they wouldn't need 5 starters for a while because of off-days.

  • Interesting....wouldn't surprise me if Cubs were thinking the same thing.

  • Soon I will be ready to look at Rusin. Who cares if his stuff is less, maybe he can stay away from big innings. He gives few free passes.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    Polished guy....odds are against finesse lefties, but once in awhile they make it. Might as well find out at some point.

  • I think the best thing for Volstad now would be a short time the bullpen. His stuff is not bad, it seems mental more than anything else. Maybe in the bullpen he can get his confidence back and try to overcome his mental block. Sending him to the minors would do more harm than good.

  • In reply to Steve Flores:

    I'd give him a start or two, then see what happens.

  • I hope whoever starts tomorrow drills Braun in the first inning. I'm really starting to enjoy that.

    I think how/if/when they fix Volstad will say a lot about Chris Bosio as a pitching coach. Because everyone seems to be in agreement that the stuff is there. Personally I think the apt ( love that word....apt) comparison might be Eddie Curry. Eddie Curry had worlds of talent for a big man and the key was getting him to be aggressive. Attack the rim. Attack the boards. But Eddie was pretty much a big dumb Teddy bear. He couldn't "get mean". Same with Volstad. He needs to be more intimidating out there. He's 6'8". He has some heavy stuff. The first thing has to be fixing that slider that doesn't slide and rises up in the zone like grandpa getting out of his chair to pee. But next has to be just a sharper mental approach to owning the damn ball. Working faster would definitely help in that regard.....

    I also expect Soriano to be DL'ed soon. that knee looks like it's troubling him and the one or two days of rest ain't helping.

  • In reply to felzz:

    I like the Eddie Curry comparison. The Volstad slider analogy, though, is even better.

    The slider is not good. At least not consistent. Had a great curve as a prospect and it's been junked and I'm not sure why. It's harder to command, but it's not like he's commanding the slider well. I say he should bring the yakker back.

  • Maybe we could get Sutcliffe to work with him some more...he could use some of the Baron's mental toughness, that's for damn sure.Sutcliffe did say that Volstad had much better movement on his fastball than he ever had but he lacks the nasty siude that Sutcliffe had too..

  • In reply to Luigi Ziccarelli:

    It's hard to impart that kind of nasty streak on someone, in my opinion. It's part of your personality. Volstad is going to have to find that within himself.

  • The Nationals catcher went down with a possibly season ending injury. They may now have some extended interest in Soto. Thoughts?

  • In reply to StripClubDJ:

    I think any team that needs a catcher will consider Soto. The Cubs could move him but I don't expect a whole lot back. It's going to depend on how much faith they have in Welington Castillo out, especially with Clevenger out for awhile.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Castillo needs more time in the minors. He doesn't even know how to frame a pitch. Sad he got to AAA not knowing that, let alone the majors.

    I don't expect we'll get much back for Soto at all. I kept thinking when he starts hitting, we'll get some decent value out of him, but isn't he something like 2 for 29 throwing baserunners out? That hurts him more than his hitting.

  • Maybe it's mental, maybe it's not. Maybe it's pitching from the stretch, but I don't think so. I'm not sure about his stuff. I wonder if he doesn't have good enough secondary pitches? It seems that by the second time through the rotation he gets roughed up. That GS today...the batter was waiting for that exact pitch. It didn't move enough, just sank a little right into the wheelhouse. We all knew he had to try and get a ground out for the double play, so he would throw his sinker...just didn't sink enough. Maybe you're right John, he needs to return to the curve so he isn't so easy to guess on....

    That trade looks real bad right now. I know it's tough to say whether or not Zambrano would be pitching as well if he were in a Cub uni, or whether he had alienated too many in the locker room and would have been a distraction, but at face value based on $$ & performance - bad trade.

  • In reply to Cubswin4harry:

    It was a sinker, but he got that up and out over the plate too much. He has good movement on that two-seamer most of the time. I don't think that's his problem. The changeup has been solid, but the Cubs seem to think the slider is inconsistent. We'll see if that's what it is.

    Volstad did throw a couple of nice curves in that game, and that was arguably his best pitch when he was considered a top prospect. Maybe they need to bring it back.

    As for Zambrano, he's way outpitching his FIP. I dont think it can last but I do think he has a shot of pitching similar to the way he did from 2009- 2010, which was a solid starter, but talk that the "old" Zambrano is back is kind of over the top, in my opinion. At any rate , he's been better than Volstad so far.

  • I give him more time. At least to the All Star break if not longer. Just too much upside. But they need to be working with him the whole time, not just running him out there hoping he figures it out on his own.

  • Volstad is our most consistant starting pitcher.
    He always has one bad inning.

    However, we have a number of consistant relievers that you can count on to walk guys.

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