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Volstad, Travis Wood & Tony La Russa

By bullpenbrian at 05.13.2012 2 comments.

It’s time the Cubs removed Chris Volstad from the starting rotation and replaced him with Travis Wood.

Wood’s lone outing this season, a quality six inning start of 3-runs on 3-hits during last Sunday’s 4-3 win against Los Angeles, is better than anything Volstad has accomplished this season.

Meanwhile, Volstad’s inability to pitch out of trouble and avoid the big inning was in full effect Saturday afternoon as he allowed six earned runs in six innings, five of which scored in the sixth inning.

More to the point, it was exactly the kind of poor performance the Cubs didn’t need in the aftermath of Friday’s brutal 8-7 loss in 13-innings. But Volstad, as has been the case all season, failed to deliver.

Volstad is now winless in seven starts (18 dating back to last season) with a 6.92 ERA. He’s shown virtually zero improvement from his first outing to his last and the Cubs have yet to win a single game behind him.

I’m not suggesting the Cubs give up on the 25-year-old, but I am in favor of Volstad working out his kinks in the bullpen or sending him to Triple-A Iowa, albeit at the risk of losing him on waivers.

Perhaps only Carlos Marmol’s troubles has perplexed me more than Volstad’s this year. Take away the one bad frame Volstad allows each outing and he’s been a serviceable starter.

So what makes Volstad so vulnerable to the big inning? 

The great Tony La Russa believes there are six ways a starting pitcher becomes vulnerable, the first three of which come at specific points during the game.

1. The first batter of the game reaches base safely.
2. Two quick outs in an inning and the pitcher lets up.
3. The fifth inning. ‘Decision Time’.
4. Unpreparedness.
5. Mental & physical fatigue
6. Adversity. ‘Bases loaded & no outs’.

Volstad, not surprisingly, fell victim to each of the first three vulnerabilities Saturday afternoon.

Nyjer Morgan led off the game with a double and eventually scored to wipe out the Cubs early 1-0 lead.

Secondly, after recording two quick outs in the bottom of the third, Volstad allowed Jonathan Lucroy’s single to right field. That brought Ryan Braun to the plate, who fortunately grounded out sharply into a force play.

Third, despite escaping the fifth inning unscathed, Volstad began the sixth still in position for a decision with the score tied 1-1. But then adversity struck.

The Brewers put runners on the corners with no outs before Aramis Ramirez grounded into a force play that scored the innings first run.

The next batter, Corey Hart, wrapped a double to left field putting runners at second & third. Volstad then intentionally walked Travis Ishikawa to load the bases for Edwin Maysonet, who gladly deposited his first career grand slam over the left field fence–Big inning. Game over.

We can only speculate if Volstad is guilty of unpreparedness, or was suffering from mental & physical fatigue. That aside, it’s fairly obvious Volstad is vulnerable on several levels.

Travis Wood, however, is a more than comparable replacement and certainly gives the Cubs an equal, if not greater, chance at winning some ballgames.

Right now, that’s not something Chris Volstad appears capable of doing.

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2 Comments

  1. Spoda17 says:

    Well, I do agree that Volstad is not getting it done. I am puzzled by whatever the reason is, but I have to disagree with your take “The Great” Tony LaRussa (could never give him any props for anything, just a Cardinal thing). I think the list of reason is common sense, and I think that all pitchers are vulnerable at some point in almost every game; it is how they deal with it.

    Obviously, the good ones overcome, the average ones slip but fight through, and the bad ones slip and fall. I think Volstad has the stuff, but doesn’t have the mental toughness to fight through the adversity. The good news is that I think that mental toughness is something he can learn, and this is where people like Wood and Dempster’s value to the team is more than just pitching performance.

    Sending Volstad down now may kill his psyche, but I agree; one or two more starts, something has to be done. Even though we have been playing well the past few weeks, I have to keep reminding myself that this is a rebuilding/learning year, and we may need Volstad next year more than we need him this year.

    • bullpenbrian says:

      Good comment. Good points.

      I do take caution when calling into question a ballplayer’s mental toughness. Without knowing Volstad personaly or seeing how he prepares makes it tough to correctly nail done his mental makeup.

      For all we know Volstad may be as tough as nails mentally, even if his on-field performance suggest otherwise.

      Beat writers, however, who cover the team closely and have the opportunity to observe players outside the lines have more freedom to definatively say a player is mentally weak, which as of this posting I’ve yet to hear about Volstad.

      That doesn’t mean you or I are wrong in our assumptions about Volstad, but without knowing it for certain, it’s best to give him the benifit of the doubt.

      That said, occationally the eveidence is overwhelming, as was the case with Carlos Zambrano. Beat writer or not, even fringe Cubs fans could see Zambrano suffered from a serious lack of mental composure!

      You’re spot on identifying the condition of Volstad’s psyche as a key issue. I fully agree veteran leaders like Dempster & Wood are a valuable resources to a guy like Volstad.

      But I’d also suggest allowing Volstad to keep losing under the microscope at the big league level could be damaging to his psyche, as well.

      I also agree it’s important for the Cubs to stay the course of rebuilding and evaluate its players for long-term success. Of course, that can be tough to watch, and Volstad is a prime example.

      The latest report say Volstad will make his next scheduled start. I say, good for him. In fact, I’m very hopeful Volstad figures things out soon enough to become a trusted arm in the back end of the rotation.

      Although I’d rather see Volstad head to Triple-A immediately, I’m trusting the Cubs will decide the best course of action to help get this kid squared away.

      As for La Russa…I can understand your dislike for him. I would never call myself a fan of La Russa, but I do respect his excelence as a manager–even as a Cubs guy!

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