Good News: Hitters still can't figure out Vance Worley's sinker

Vance Worley's sinker continues to be an effective pitch for him. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

Perhaps the most disconcerting aspect of this weekend was that the Phillies lost despite getting the types of performances from their starting pitching that made you think their offensive shortcomings might be overcome. In 20 innings over three starts, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Vance Worley combined to hold the Pirates to just two runs and 12 base runners -- nine hits and three walks -- while striking out 14.

But let's not dwell on the negative for the time being. Instead, let's look at Vance Worley's outing, and the hope it provides that he might avoid the dreaded sophomore slump.

One of the keys to Worley's rookie success in 2011 -- he went 11-3 with a 3.01 ERA, 8.1 K/9, 3.1 BB/9 and 0.7 HR/9 in 131 2/3 innings -- was his ability to freeze hitters with the wicked action on his sinker. Of his 119 strikeouts last season, 55 percent were recorded on called third strikes, by far the highest percentage among National League starters.

How ridiculous is that ratio? Since 1988, when Baseball-Reference's pitch data starts, the only other NL starter to record at least 55 percent of his strikeouts via called third strikes is former Brave Jaret Wright, who posted a ratio of 55 percent in 2004.

Worley can't possibly do that again, can he?

Well, he did yesterday, getting three strikeouts looking and two swinging while holding the Pirates to one run on five hits with one walk and five strikeouts in six innings of work. In fact, Worley's start in Pittsburgh was one of the most efficient starts of his career. Last year, the right-hander threw an average of 3.92 pitchers per plate appearances. Yesterday, he averaged just 3.39.

Unfortunately for Worley, the Phillies needed some insurance runs when his turn in the line-up came up in the top of the seventh. At the time, I disagreed with the move, since Worley had just 79 pitches and the Phillies had a 2-1 lead and I don't have a ton of confidence in the seventh and eighth inning relief options right now.

On the other hand, Worley probably only would have made it through one more inning. His highest pitch count of the spring was 79, so he wasn't in a position to throw a 100+ pitch complete game. So we still might have ended up where we did.

Regardless, if the Phillies rotation can limit opponents to one run every 10 innings, it won't matter much what the offense does.

Anyway, here are the Top 10 NL starters in terms of % of strikeouts looking from 2011:

1. Vance Worley 55

2. Cliff Lee 41

3. Dustin Moseley 39

4. Tim Stauffer 38

5. Mike Pelfrey 37

6. Derek Lowe 36

7. Jason Hammel 36

8. Kyle Lohse 33

9. Livan Hernandez 33

10. Roy Halladay 32

And here are the Top 10 NL starters in terms of % of all strikes that were called strikes from 2011

1. Vance Worley 34

2. Kyle Lohse 33

3. Derek Lowe 32

4. Tommy Hanson 32

5. Cliff Lee 31

6. Dustin Moseley 31

7. Ryan Vogelsong 31

8. Yovani Gallardo 31

9. Jhoulys Chacin 31

10. Tim Stauffer 30