Chris Volstad has been among the greatest disappointments so far this year for the Chicago Cubs.
Not because he’s been so abysmally awful, mind you, but because a number of us, rationally or irrationally, had hopes that he might finally break through this year, and live up to his middle-of-the-rotation-or-higher potential. That included manager Dale Sveum and Chris Bosio (as well, presumably, as Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, who picked up Volstad in exchange for Carlos Zambrano, who needed to be dumped, but who is pitching quite well in Miami).
None of them – none of us – can be particularly happy with what Volstad has provided. The 25-year-old has made six starts, none of them quality. His best start was his first, in which he went five innings, gave up three earned runs on five hits and two walks. Not exactly a shining star, and that’s his best. Volstad has struggled, in particular, with men on base, which has made him susceptible to the big inning.
How much longer will the Cubs wait on Volstad, while guys like Randy Wells, Travis Wood, Chris Rusin and Casey Coleman pitch at AAA (or the bullpen, now, in Coleman’s case)? None are lighting the world on fire, save perhaps Rusin, who might have the lowest ceiling. But, at what point is it worth just giving someone else a chance, you know?
That point might be coming soon, if you listen to what Dale Sveum is saying.
“Yeah, you’re going to consider it,” Sveum said of a change in the rotation, according to ESPNChicago. “There are options and there’s things you can try and other people you can try. When that time comes we don’t know, but we’re obviously all frustrated with the starts and the innings, the five shutout innings and the one big inning. We’re all frustrated with that and trying to get a grip on it. After six or seven starts in we can’t get a grip on it.”
Sveum later admitted that he’s already started thinking about what he would do if Volstad were removed from the rotation.
“You can do a lot of things,” Sveum said. “When are we going to [make a rotation change] that is another million-dollar question.”
For now, Volstad will at least get one more start, and the coaching staff hopes that Volstad completely scrapping his slider – or at least his version of the slider – will help.
“Well you work on it, come up with a different grip or something,” Sveum said. “Or use the curveball more, or more changeups to right-handed hitters or something. The slider, when it’s a strike, it’s hit, and when it’s a ball it doesn’t get swung and missed at.”
In other words: stop throwing it.
To my eye, one of Volstad’s biggest problems when runners are on is that his sinker gets very little sinking action, and it almost always starts up in the zone. I’m not sure if he’s having trouble with his location out of the stretch, but when a sinker-baller leaves his sinker up, he gets hit hard.
In any event, we’ll see Volstad at least one more time. Hopefully it will be the first of many consecutive quality starts. Finally.
If he doesn’t turn things around, the Cubs may have some issues with Volstad. The biggest of which is the inability to freely option Volstad to Iowa. Instead, if the Cubs wanted to park Volstad in AAA for a little while, he’d first have to clear revocable waivers. Under normal circumstances, even with his struggles, there’s just no way he would clear waivers – there is too much upside for cheap. Revocable waivers with a player like Volstad, however, do not present normal circumstances. Because the Cubs can just pull Volstad back if he’s claimed, and teams know the Cubs would likely do just that, they are less likely to make a claim (on the thinking that all they’ll do is piss the Cubs off, who will, at some indefinite time in the future, return the favor). So, who knows? Maybe he could successfully make it through to AAA after all.
I’m getting a bit ahead of myself, but let’s consider this a preview of the kind of complicated discussions the Cubs might soon have to have if Volstad doesn’t turn things around. And I didn’t even mention the bullpen.