I just finished answering a question for one of the baseball preview magazines that will be hitting shelves over the next couple of months, and because it is one that we have not really addressed here, I figured I'd share.
The question: Was the Vance Worley we saw as a rookie the real deal or will he settle in as more of a mid-rotation starter?
It is easy to forget how integral a role Worley played in last year's 102-win season. Injuries to Roy Oswalt and Joe Blanton left the Phillies with a rotation filled with power at the top and uncertainty at the bottom. It never became much of an issue because of Worley, who went 11-3 with a 3.01 ERA in 131 2/3 innings, averaging 8.1 strikeouts, 3.1 walks and 0.7 home runs per nine innings as a 23-year-old.
But it is also easy to forget that Worley ended up in the minor leagues after struggling with his command early on. And as we look toward 2012, that command will hold the key to whether he is able to avoid a sophomore slump and build upon his stellar rookie campaign.
When Worley was promoted to the big leagues, he was projected as little more than a back-of-the-rotation starter or potential bullpen piece. The reason? He lacks a dominant off-speed out pitch. Last year, he was able to rack up strikeouts and hold opponents off the scoreboard because of the way he located his fastball, particularly his sinker.
That's all well and good, but command can be a fickle beast, particularly for a young pitcher without much experience against major league hitters. This year, you can expect opponents to be much more aggressive against Worley. Major league hitters adapt at lightning speed. If Worley can control his pitches the way he did last year, he should be more than capable as a No. 4 or No. 5 starter. But keep in mind that no qualifying National League starter prompted fewer swings-and-misses than Worley: just 10 percent of his strikes were swings-and-misses.
Perhaps more notable is the infrequency with which opponents swung at Worley's pitches. Hitters swung at Worley on just 42 percent of his pitches, the second-lowest ratio among 70 qualifying NL starters, per Baseball-Reference. That helped Worley because his command was so good: 34 percent of his strikes were called strikes, the highest ratio in the NL.
This isn't to say that Worley is destined for a mighty fall. But to avoid a significant drop-off in production, he will have to both maintain his command and adapt to hitters who now have plenty tape to watch.