Originally posted on Phillies Nation  |  Last updated 11/10/11

When there’s no-one else in sight
In the crowded lonely night
Well I wait so long
For my love vibration
And I’m Vanceing with myself

It’s hard not to like Vance Worley. He’s got a mohawk and funny glasses, and while he might not have the best long-term career prognosis of any Phillies pitching prospect, it sure looks like, between being hit by line drive after line drive and sweating like an inmate in a Turkish prison, he enjoys life in the major leagues more than any Phillies pitching prospect. The Phillies picked Worley in the third round of the 2008 amateur draft out of Long Beach State, a university that has, in the past decade, turned out great baseball players the way The U turns out great defensive football players with criminal records. Worley might not have been as highly-touted as, say, Jered Weaver, Evan Longoria, and Troy Tulowitzki were coming out of college, but after going into spring training as the seventh man in one of the most-hyped five-man starting rotations of all time, Worley came not quite out of nowhere, but close, to outshine quite a few household names.

What’s more, between Worley’s creative grooming and a Twitter account predicated largely on his enthusiasm for muscle cars and sneakers, the righthander injected some much-needed color into a clubhouse known not so much for its hijinks as its dedication to self-abrogation and businesslike approach to the game.

Worley finished the season with 2.5 fWAR in only 25 appearances (21 starts) and 131 2/3 innings, with a 3.66 xFIP, a K/BB ratio of 2.59, and none of the fluky BABIP silliness that usually attends such a surprisingly effective rookie season for a starting pitcher (like, for instance, J.A. Happ in 2009). Worley’s go-to pitch is the backdoor two-seamer, the floating plastic bag of out pitches that starts outside and curves back in over the black like a hyperactive golden retriever puppy that suddenly runs out of leash chasing a pigeon. The practical upshot of this approach is that Worley–and I’m basing this on absolutely nothing in the way of empirics–gets more called third strikes than any pitcher in the history of baseball, allowing him to rack up an impressive K/9 ratio of 8.13 without really doing anything special in terms of getting hitters to swing and miss.

With the contract status of Roy Oswalt and the health status of Joe Blanton very much up in the air, Worley is all but certain to start 2012 in the Phillies’ rotation. However, Worley’s long-term status is tied largely to how long that schtick of massaging the two-seamer back over the outside corner keeps up. Certainly, Greg Maddux, who threw no harder than Worley does, made a career out of tailing the two-seamer back over the plate, but Worley doesn’t have Maddux’s control, or his change-up, or his slider, or any of the other pieces that made Maddux one of the greatest pitchers of all time.

Still, Worley exceeded the expectations of even his most ardent supporters–including me–in 2011. Despite being yanked in and out of the rotation, he allowed the Phillies to cakewalk through Oswalt’s injuries and made a legitimate case to be the team’s fourth starter come playoff time. And as much fun as it was to watch Worley walk of the mound time after time before his two-out, two-strike fastball even reached the plate, Worley seemed even more jazzed than the fans. Apart from the dizzyingly hyperactive Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino, ain’t nobody having more fun on the field than Worley.

Grade: 8.5/10 Worley, fairly or not, gets graded on a different curve than the likes of Kyle Kendrick. While anything that Kendrick did above and beyond going out there and not getting torn to shreds was a plus, Worley had higher expectations as at least a nominal pitching prospect. A fan base that’s lived through Kendrick post-2007 and Happ post-2009 should no better than to get carried away with a pitcher who had a good rookie season without knockout stuff, but after the Phillies won every game he started in June, July, and August, it’s hard not to. For right now, Worley probably slots in as the team’s No. 4 starter in 2012, and even if he regresses a little bit, he should fill that role admirably. I intend to continue believing that he can go on dancing between the raindrops until he proves to us that he can’t.

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