Vance Worley is the Weirdest

Vance Worley is something of an oddity. Not only is he one of the few begoggled pitchers in the big leagues (though their ranks swell), he is a control pitcher of the highest degree. Not blessed with the tremendous “swing and miss” stuff scouts and fans drool over, Worley gets by on deception and, I think, dumb luck.

Earlier this season Worley posted one of the strangest pitching lines I’ve ever seen: he struck out 11 Padres while only registering 10 swinging strikes. Worely’s outing in San Diego also saw the Phillies right-hander throw fewer than 60 total strikes while registering more than 10 strikeouts, a very odd thing indeed.

This game was out of the ordinary for Worley, to be sure. He strikes out more than 21% of the batters he faces, which is unbelievable when you consider his paltry 5.8% whiff rate. He is somehow striking out a well above-average amount of hitters while missing a well below-average number of bats. He is an enigma and he isn’t going away.

The percentages for Worley tell part of the story, the raw figures present a more compelling case for Worley’s singular weirdness. Because of a brief DL stint earlier this year, Vance Worley has made just 12 starts, totalling 74 innings pitched. His 66 total strikeouts in those 74 innings give him his 8.03 K/P rate.

66 strikeouts in 74 innings is good. 68 swinging strikes in 74 innings is not as good. In fact, it is quite bad. To compare, Stephen Strasburg registered 67 swinging strikes over his first four starts in the month of June. Yu Darvish coaxed 68 whiffs in his five June outings. Those are among the bat-missingest starters in baseball but it suggests Worley is doing something…unusual.

Unusual things like manager just two more total swing-and-misses than total strikeouts for the year. 66 strikeouts, 68 whiffs. What is this, I don’t even. Only Bartolo Colon claims a similar ratio (55 Ks to 56 swinging strikes) but he can all agree his long ago sold his soul to the devil, rendering his numbers inadmissible and possibly wicked.

How does Worley do it? How can he earn so many called strikes that leave hitters baffled? The 140 qualified starters in the big leagues this season average 45 more swinging strikes than strikeouts – Worley has two yet he is at least an average pitcher in 2012 (FIP- of 96.)

One idea: he has naked photos of every working umpire in the league today. The below image shows Vance Worley’s called strikes in two-strike counts next to the league’s calls in that same situation.

Courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info

Vance Worley gets his share of high strikes. I think he actually gets the entire Phillies staff allotment. Part of Worley’s success with two strikes (he holds batters to .177 wOBA, compared to a league-wide two strike wOBA of .248) comes from his kitchen sink approach – Worley throws fastballs, sinkers, cutters and sliders with two strikes.

If this willingness to get weird when the strikeout is near gives him an edge, credit to Worley. If pitching backwards puts both hitters and umpires off-balance, consider Vance Worley on the cutting edge of baseball inefficiencies. The above heat map shows Worley’s uncommon willingness to work the same side of the plate against both lefties and righties, another unconventional approach.

Or he’s just a guy who gets a big strike zone for now. A guy who cannot (or does not) miss bats is up against it in the big leagues. Worley’s ground ball numbers are good but his home run rates are more Henderson Alvarez than C.J. Wilson.

At the very least, we must acknowledge Vance Worley is a very weird pitcher. The goggles and the bizarre approach might just earn him a place in my heart. Better to be weird than boring, somebody decidedly weird and probably bored once said.