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2011 Marlins Season Review: Chris Volstad, the Disappointing

The 2011 Marlins Season Review rolls forward with a continuing look at the Marlins' pitching staff. With the injury to Josh Johnson, the rest of the staff was forced to pitch as many innings as possible, but once again Chris Volstad struggled to provide the Marlins quality innings. Volstad's issues were the same as they always have been, and while it may appear that he has taken strides to resolve that, those strides may yet be a mirage.

Chris Volstad 29 165 2/3 16.3 6.8 4.89 4.32 1.3 0.1

The Good

While Volstad may be labeled "disappointing," he did improve on a number of different things in 2011. His skill set never leant to him being a dominant pitcher, but he did improve on his strikeout, walk, and ground ball rates.

Volstad K% BB% GB% HR/FB%
2011 16.3 6.8 52.3 15.5
2008-2010 14.5 8.6 49.6 11.2

Those improvements did help to keep his FIP down to 4.32 for 2011. While that number may not be impressive (it was 11 percent worse than the league average), it did fit in with guys such as Luke Hochevar, Jeff Karstens, and Josh Tomlin. This is not the best company, but this is not the worst for a fifth starter type that Volstad was supposed to fill at the start of the season.

The improved ground ball rate and subsequent drop in fly balls also improved Volstad's ERA retrodictors that average out home runs per fly ball and depend more on batted ball types. Volstad's 3.64 xFIP and 3.84 SIERA are career-bests, and theoretically these numbers should indicate that Volstad is more likely to be closer to the low 4.00's in ERA next season than the 4.89 ERA he posted last season.

The Bad

The problem is whether or not Volstad can really maintain a home run rate equivalent to the one those ERA retrodictors like xFIP and SIERA are granting him. After all, in 2011 he still gave up 23 homers despite the improved ground ball rate. He also has a history of giving up an abnormally higher amount of home runs compared to the average pitcher; his career HR/FB rate is 12.3 percent, and the league average in this current run environment is closer to 10 percent than 11. Baseball Prospectus's Mike Fast has mentioned that in his research, he has found that home runs per contacted ball is a significantly better indicator of future performance on home runs allowed than the league average home runs per fly ball when looking at a sample of greater than two or three seasons. This means that one would use a pitcher's own career average over the league average if that pitcher has more than a few years under his belt, as Volstad does.

So not only did Volstad suffer through another season of allowing too many home runs, but the likelihood of him regressing more towards the mean and hitting those xFIP and SIERA numbers is a lot less likely than him simply regressing to his own mean. This tags along with his already significant problems in terms of skill set, notably that he does not strike out enough guys or walk few enough hitters to justify the weakness in his other numbers. Despite the ground ball improvement, his peripherals were still poor enough that he had the second-worst FIP among qualified starters in 2011 with a ground ball rate of over 50 percent. Only Fausto Carmona performed worse both on his peripherals and on ERA than Volstad among the top ground ballers.

All of this does not mean that Volstad was not valuable in 2011, as he totaled just under one Win Above Replacement when averaged between three WAR metrics. But at least in 2011, his 165 innings were just not very effective innings altogether, and the problems that caused these issues were the same problems that have always plagued Volstad.