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Stats corner: Can Pirates fix Volquez? Playoffs may depend on it

| Saturday, March 1, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

The Pirates have emerged as a sanctuary for underachieving pitchers. Once-broken starters like A.J. Burnett and Francisco Liriano returned to ace status thanks to PNC Park's run-smothering tendencies, strategically deployed fielders, strong-armed catchers skilled in pitch-framing and the guidance of pitching coach Ray Searage.

Over the winter, the Pirates bet $5 million — and possibly a return trip to the playoffs — on Edinson Volquez becoming Searage's next success story.

Volquez made the All-Star Game as a rookie with the Reds in 2008. He never has approached that level again, however, undergoing Tommy John surgery, battling his control and bottoming out in 2013 by posting the highest ERA (5.71) among qualified starters.

Judging by ERA alone, Volquez should be competing for a spot in Triple-A. But the Pirates are hoping the sabermetric principles that identified Burnett and Liriano as bounce-back candidates apply in Volquez's case.

Volquez's ERA should have been more than 1 12 runs lower in 2013, according to Expected Fielding Independent ERA (xFIP), which estimates a pitcher's runs allowed based on strikeouts, walks and an adjusted home run per fly ball rate. No qualified starter had a bigger ERA-xFIP split last season.

Better days ahead?

Pitcher, team ERA xFIP Diff.

Edinson Volquez, SD/LAD 5.74 4.06 1.68

Rick Porcello, Det 4.43 3.22 1.21

Edwin Jackson, ChC 4.98 3.86 1.12

Jeremy Hellickson, TB 5.24 4.17 1.07

Joe Saunders, Sea 5.26 4.23 1.03

Source: Fangraphs.com

Like Burnett and Liriano before him, Volquez struggled the year before joining the Pirates despite missing bats and inducing ground balls. All three had an ERA north of five but an xFIP around four.

Pitcher Year K/9 BB/9 GB Pct. ERA xFIP

A.J. Burnett 2011 8.2 3.9 49.2 5.15 3.86

F. Liriano 2012 9.6 5.0 43.8 5.34 4.14

E. Volquez 2013 7.5 4.1 47.6 5.71 4.07

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