The Pirates have officially announced that Edinson Volquez will start the Wild Card game against the Giants.
This comes as no surprise, of course, given the way the weekend unfolded. Maybe Volquez will dominate -- it's just one game, and anything can happen. But I don't like that Volquez is starting, and I think the situation pretty clearly called for the Pirates to rest Gerrit Cole yesterday and start him Wednesday. (I originally said Francisco Liriano should start, but let's leave him out of this, since he's had walk trouble recently.) Cole hasn't had a great season, but his peripherals and stuff match up with the general perception that he's an excellent young pitcher. The macro view of Volquez, meanwhile, is that he's a mediocre starter who had a good year in Ray Searage's pitching factory.
Pirates fans don't take the macro view of their team that often, of course, because they follow the games closely. And the macro view isn't always right. The micro view of Volquez is that he's had a very good year overall, with a 3.04 ERA. He's also pitched well recently, whiffing 10 Braves in his most recent start and posting a 1.08 ERA in September and a 2.11 ERA in August.
Well, fine, but sometimes variance makes a trend seem a lot stronger than it actually is. The fans care that Volquez posted a 1.08 ERA this month, but the game itself does not care nearly as much. Volquez's peripherals haven't undergone any sort of dramatic change in the past month. He had a 3.97 xFIP in August and 3.75 in September, numbers that aren't that far from his season total of 4.20. Cole's xFIP for the season, meanwhile, is 3.25 (with a 3.35 xFIP in August and 2.55 in September).
This is granular stuff, of course, and anything can happen in one game. Unfortunately, the Pirates' entire season does depend on this one game, and I can't think of any indicator -- statistics, stuff, common sense -- that makes Volquez a better, or even an equal, choice compared to Cole. The Pirates took a questionable gamble on a division championship yesterday and lost, and now they have to start a guy in a must-win game who they signed last offseason as a reclamation project. There was more to the Pirates' decision than numbers, of course, and I understand Clint Hurdle's need to increase unity and motivation in the clubhouse by going for it yesterday. But the end result was foreseeable. The Bucs have gotten good value from Volquez so far, but now they're pressing their luck.