Hector Velazquez has been one of the more important pitchers for the Boston Red Sox this year. He’s currently 4-0 with a 2.38 ERA and 1.28 WHIP in 22.2 IP, and he’s been vital to their success early on, yet not a lot of people are talking about him.
Similar to Tim Wakefield in years passed, Velazquez has played a few different roles for Boston this year. He’s been a starter, a long reliever, and even a situational arm. In 8 total appearances, he’s made made 2 starts and 6 relief showings. In his 2 starts, he’s combined for 10.2 IP, allowing 11 hits and 2 walks for just 3 runs while racking up 10 K’s. In relief, 4 of his outings have been at least 2 innings, and 2 have been 3 innings or more. He’s allowing Alex Cora to save the rest of his bullpen’s arms by eating longer stretches of innings when the starter exits earlier than desired, and that can be a crucial asset over the course of a long and strenuous season.
Pointing to his success, Velazquez has averaged 6.35 K/9 and only 1.99 BB/9, while carrying a 93.3% LOB rate. In fact, he’s prevented any baserunner from scoring in all but 2 of his appearances this year. So, how is he doing it?
For one, he’s throwing the ball harder. His average fastball and splitter velocities are up almost 1 mph over 2017, and his slider is clocking in at almost 2 mph faster than in 2017, on average. He’s also varying his pitch selection much more this year. In 2017, he threw his slider and splitter at 5% and 19.9% clips, respectively. This year, however, he’s throwing them at 11.3% and 25.8%, respectively, meaning he’s using his secondary pitches much more often and in many different situations in the count.
(Photo credit: Boston Herald)
The best part about all of this? Velazquez probably isn’t even at his best yet. He’s currently allowing a .267 opponent’s batting average. Throughout his career (including his time in Mexico), that number is .251. He’s also only striking out 16.5% of the hitters he faces. That number is also a regression compared to his 18.1% career mark (again, including his time in Mexico). Lastly, in his previous outings with the Sox in 2017, Velazquez induced only 34% of his pitches to be hard hit, compared to 37.8% this year. All of this suggests that he’s only going to improve as the year progresses, and if that’s the case, he’ll be forcing Alex Cora to make a decision about whether he’s best where he is, in the bullpen, or if he’s be better suited to take the mound as a starter.
Either way, though, Velazquez shouldn’t be overlooked any more. He is indeed a pivotal player in Boston’s playoff run this season.