Rick Vandenhurk is a 27 years old right-handed pitcher that pitched for the Pirates AAA team this year. The tall (6-5, looks even taller than that) Netherlands native really struggled in his MLB career with the Marlins and Orioles. In 183.2 innings, Vandenhurk has a 122 FIP – with a walk rate of 11.3% to go along with a 1.62 HR/9IP and bad ground-ball rate. However, this year, he was the 4th best qualified pitcher in the International League according to FIP.
The Pirates claim that a mechanical adjustment upon signing in mid-April helped Vandenhurk improve into a better pitcher. AAA statistics are not always helpful. In fact, at times they seem to be more deceptive than informative. So I watched one of his outings from earlier in the year to find out if he was for real. Vandenhurk has a subtle hip turn in his delivery, where he hides the ball behind his body for a little longer than an average pitcher. He also has a pretty high leg kick and stride thanks to his body size. His fastball touched 95 and he got late swings against AAA lefties. It is a good looking fastball. The curve is not as good looking. It is slow without sharp break and he tends to hang it. It moves sort of like a slider (but it is too soft and he has a separate slider). His actual slider moves less, and is more of a downward slider. He had problems getting it down. Overall, he threw too many pitches in the middle of the plate. It is okay with the fastball with his good velocity, but it is a problem with his breaking pitches. It is hard to see him as a starter because he lacks a good off-speed pitch.
When the Pirates brought him up for a cup of coffee at the end of the 2012 season, he was throwing harder on average than he ever has before (93.6-93.8 MPH). So it seems that the Pirates are on to something when they say that a mechanical adjustment helped him improve his stuff. I have to imagine that he will get another minor league contract, but he should get a better look in the Majors next year, hopefully out of the bullpen where he can be effective.
Cory Wade was designated for assignment by the Yankees earlier this week, after he followed a strong 2011 (91 FIP -) with a poor 2012 (106 FIP -). He isn’t a hard thrower and really never has been with a 89.68 MPH fastball for his career. He saw a dip in velocity in 2012, as he went from 89.22 MPH on his fastball and 90.37 on his sinker in 2011 to 88.77 MPH on his fastball and 89.01 MPH on his sinker in 2012. While he hasn’t had an injury in the last couple of years, he has a pretty long history of shoulder issues, which is always a cause for concern. When he was sent down to AAA earlier this season, he had a big ground-ball percentage (52%), but didn’t get many strikeouts. This is a little strange, as in the Majors, he had a decent strikeout percentage combined with basically no walks, but a very pedestrian ground-ball rate combined with a frightening home run rate. The HR/FB % was much higher than his career norms in 2012. HR/FB % is not my favorite indicator of luck/randomness, but something is obviously up with such a difference. Perhaps the loss of velocity made him less effective and more likely to give up homers, or he could have just been unlucky, faced better hitters, or been a victim of Yankee Stadium. So I wanted to see what xOPS (using LD/GB/FB/K/BB rates) said about Wade’s last two seasons.
2012: .869 xOPS off the bat
2011: .846 xOPS off the bat
He saw a spike of line drives in 2012 and that really hurt him.
2012: .682 xOPS. Real OPS: .874
2011: .692 xOPS. Real OPS: .624
His superior K/BB in 2012 makes his xOPS better than it was in 2011! It seems that he had a lot of bad luck in 2012. He looks like a good reliever still, even with the velocity drop. Leaving Yankee Stadium could turn out to be a great career move, like it was for A.J. Burnett. The Yankees really have to be careful (like the Rockies and the Rangers), with what kinds of pitchers they get. Despite mediocre to below average stuff, Andy Pettitte has been effective in Yankee Stadium this year because he gets ground-balls (because he has excellent command). Wade and Burnett do not get ground-balls and Yankee Stadium really punishes pitchers that give up fly-balls to right-field. However, it isn’t that easy. When you look at his career splits, Wade is slightly more likely to allow a ball to be hit to left field than he is to right field. His OPS allowed is also worse on such balls than it is to right-field. Wade also had the ball hit harder off his bat this year: In 2011, he gave up 247.774 average feet per batted ball and in 2012 it was 264.248 average feet per batted ball.
He doesn’t really have any splits between lefties and righties in his career, as he has been effective against both. However, there was some kind of serious regression that Wade suffered this year. He was getting harder than he normally does. He still isn’t walking people and he missed some bats, but the problem remains that he was absolutely crushed at times. I usually don’t trust relievers with fastballs under 90 MPH that do not throw sidearm (or have some other trick), but Wade does have a bit of a track record with success. It will be interesting to see whether or not he gets a MLB contract or has to prove himself without a guaranteed deal.