It's Time to Send Down Anthony Volpe
by EJ Fagan
June 12, 2023
NOTE: The following comes from EJ Fagan's substack page and is shared with permission.
Please check out EJ's substack page for more great articles.
After a strong April, I wrote that Volpe seemed to be developing into a good or better major league player. Since I wrote that blog post, Anthony Volpe has hit .157/.202/.339. He has struck out 42 times in 129 plate appearances (33%), stolen just 4 bases and played okay enough defense at shortstop. His xwOBA is a little better (0.304 vs. 0.368 wOBA), but nothing to write home about.
He needs to go down to Triple-A.
The Fangraphs trends on Volpe make his struggles crystal clear:
Volpe has had a consistently awful strikeout rate all year. However, he was able to get by through the end of April by taking a ton of walks. At some point around the beginning of May, pitchers stopped letting him walk. He hit for enough power to stay respectable for a bit, but over the last two or three weeks, his production fell off a cliff.
How did pitchers adjust? I think it’s as simple as they stopped throwing him fastballs:
This seems like a classic rookie pattern. Pitchers don’t know how to pitch to a player, so they throw their fastball. Rookie hits fastball. Pitchers finally formulate a game plan. If the rookie can make the adjustment, they are successful. If they don’t, they will fail. Volpe hasn’t made the adjustment, and its getting worse.
The Alterative Meanwhile, Oswald Peraza is tearing up Triple-A. We already knew that Peraza was a better defensive shortstop than Volpe, but now he’s hitting .311/.384/.597 with just 21 strikeouts (16%). He’s continuing the breakout that began in the middle of last season. He’s now a career .272/.341/.478 hitter in 135 Triple-A games, with similar numbers at Double-A. Peraza deserves a promotion.
It’s easy to forget that Peraza was a top prospect in his own right. He’s just 23 years old. While looking through his splits, something jumped out: Peraza has only faced one (!) plate appearance against a pitcher who is younger than him. He’s not some old Triple-A veteran who is beating up on prospects still learning their craft. He’s the young guy, beating up on everyone else.
I’m pretty confident in saying that the New York Yankees will win more games starting Oswald Peraza than Anthony Volpe. In a tight wild card race, every win matters.
The Future of Volpe If the Yankees send Volpe to Triple-A, what happens next?
First, will a demotion hurt Volpe’s chances of emerging as a major league player? I hate it when sports commentators try to be armchair psychologists. Maybe. Maybe not. Players get sent down all the time. Peraza got sent down. He got back to work and improved. Aaron Judge, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Bernie Williams were all sent down for extended periods after their first call-ups. If Volpe has the talent and resilience to be a major league player, he will probably make the adjustment at Triple-A.
Volpe is still very young. Peraza has almost a full season at Triple-A and is still one of the youngest players at the level despite being a full year older than Volpe. The Yankees aren’t giving up on a player by sending him down. We all probably bought into the Spring Training competition hype a little too much. Volpe may have needed some Triple-A time all along.
The dilemma gets more complicated if Peraza performs well in the majors. Say that Volpe goes down, fixes his issues, and is hitting .300/.400/.550 at Triple-A through the trade deadline. Meanwhile, Peraza looks like a solid major league player, hitting .250/.310/.440 with excellent defense at short. Does Volpe take Peraza’s spot? If not where does he play? That’s a classic good problem to have, but the Yankees shouldn’t keep playing a worse option right now because they might have a better option in a few months.