Edinson Volquez: Forever Royal

That sweet siren of free agency continues to break up the championship team.

It was announced late Monday that Edinson Volquez was the latest Royal from the 2015 World Series title team to exit, taking his talents to South Beach (sorry, that’s a tired phrase) to pitch for the Miami Marlins.  If you want to look at the fool’s errand that is free agency, consider he will earn $22 million for his next two seasons. That’s a raise from his contract in Kansas City where he made $20 million for two years.

Volquez provided the Royals with 2.0 WARP in his two seasons (exactly 1 WARP each year), but clearly stumbled in 2016. His strikeout rate was down. His walk rate was up. His home run rate increased, too. His DRA jumped from 4.66 in 2015 to 4.90 last summer. Among qualified starters, that was the 13th worst rate in baseball.

There are other warning signs beyond the obvious. Batters turned on more pitches last season against Volquez as their pull rate against him jumped nearly six percent. His swinging strike rate dropped

Basically, it was a smart business decision to let Volquez depart. There’s too much risk in a 33 year old arm that clearly took a step back last year. It was also a smart decision on the part of the Royals not to hang a qualifying offer on Volquez. Yes, he ultimately did better, but not by so much. And when you factor in the draft pick that would have been attached to him… Let’s just say the Royals knew what they were doing.

Anyway, the point of this isn’t to bury Volquez. He suffered through a dreadful 2016, but he was a massive part of the 2015 championship team. Let’s take a quick look back at a couple key moments of his Royals career.

ALCS Game One
6 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 0 R, 4 BB, 5 SO

Volquez helped set the tone in the ALCS opener against Toronto. He allowed a two-out baserunner in the first, fourth, and fifth innings, but was able to keep things under control. With the Royals holding a 3-0 lead in the top of the sixth, Volquez wavered, walking the first two batters of the inning. He rallied, striking out Edwin Encarnacion and Troy Tulowitzki, to escape the jam.

The Royals would win that game 5-0.

World Series Game One
6 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 3 R, 1 BB, 3 SO

This game isn’t so notable for the performance of Volquez, but the circumstances. His father passed away hours before he took the mound, the third Royal who lost a parent that year. He pitched not knowing. Yet everyone watching at home, and I would assume nearly everyone at the stadium, had heard the news. It was by turns inspiring and gut-wrenching at the same time.

He cruised through the first two innings, stumbled a bit in the third, then allowed a single tally in each of the next three innings. It was a high wire act notable for keeping his composure and his team in the game.

We know how this one ended.

World Series Game Five
6 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 5 BB, 5 SO

After traveling home for the funeral of his father, Volquez returned to the team and started the title clinching game. It was a rocky start as he surrendered a home run to Curtis Granderson to lead off the game. Volquez settled down, though, and cruised through the next four innings before giving up another run in the sixth.

We know how this one ended.

The 2015 postseason was notable for Volquez for an increase of velocity on nearly all his pitches. His average two-seamer was coming in around 95 mph, nearly 1.5 mph faster than his regular season average. His pitches seemed to have more bite, too. His performance was an example of an athlete elevating his game at the highest stage.

While his 2016 can only be considered a disappointment, his October of 2015 was integral in brining a World Series title back to Kansas City. He will always be Forever Royal.

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