Forget the Bullpen: Phillies Should Let Velasquez Go
"Get Ed Wade on the phone", the overly-simplified Brad Pitt utters in the Moneyball film in response to Jeremy Giambi's behavior that was keeping the Oakland Athletics team down. Billy Beane and Wade did connect on a trade that sent Giambi to the Phillies for utility player John Mabry in 2002. At the time, the deal was called a "shake-up" by ESPN.
In last night's 6-0 defeat by the St. Louis Cardinals, starter Vince Velasquez gave the Phillies a reason to consider a similar shake-up just shy of 17 years later.
For some Phillies fans, it brought about the oft-heard chorus "send him to the bullpen" that has followed Velasquez around for most of his career. The conversation has frequently been that he should lay off constantly going for strikeouts.
But the big takeaway of last night's loss was not the ability of the flame-throwing starter or that the Phillies failed to score against Cardinals starter Miles Mikolas. It was Velasquez's refusal to listen to his catcher.
After the game, newcomer J.T. Realmuto expressed frustration with Velasquez, who frequently refused to follow the lead of his catcher. Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadephia had some comments from Realmuto that were very nice, but show Velasquez simply is not willing to cooperate:
“I felt like we had him set up pretty good for a breaking ball there,” Realmuto said. “It looked like he was on the fastball the whole at-bat. Again, Vinny had confidence in his fastball. He wanted to use it.”
Velasquez sure did. And some of those fastballs with two strikes ended up in the seats for home runs.
“I’m a power pitcher. I do try to put away guys with fastballs. I just have to learn how to balance and use the other pitches to throw guys off.”
Or he could simply listen to his catcher.
The Phillies paid a high price for Realmuto, who cost the team their best pitching prospect, Sixto Sanchez, along with major league catcher Jorge Alfaro, and pitcher Will Stewart. The high cost was paid so that there would be a catcher with a track record and who has some clout in the major leagues. The Phillies did not pay this price for Velasquez to ignore it.
This was not the first time Velasquez did not trust his catcher. In one Velasquez's early starts, manager Gabe Kapler said on the Phillies Radio Network pre-game show that Velasquez needed to "trust" Realmuto. So this is nothing new.
But what should be new for the Phillies is a winning attitude, and Velasquez appears unwilling to embrace that. Since this was not the first time, perhaps the Phillies should ensure that it is the last time. The club was already willing to send a message by optioning Nick Pivetta to Triple-A; it may be time for another one.
Phillies manager Matt Klentak should get on the phone and make some calls today. Velasquez's attitude is helping no one, and a team ready to win cannot tolerate such behavior. Sure, he has talent. Sure, he might put it together someday. But the Phillies are supposedly ready to win. That means they should move on.
The Phillies have a 40-man roster spot available, and left-handed starter Cole Irvin at Triple-A has now completed a full season's worth of starts at the Triple-A level. He is 16-4 in 32 Triple-A starts with an ERA around 2.50 when factoring in last season and this season.