Is this what it looks like when a pitcher tries to pitch hurt? There are five things about Javier Vazquez that make me nervous.
1. Loss of command
Courtesy of Fangraphs, we see the following:
In his 13 year career, Javier Vazquez has averaged 2.38 walks per nine innings. Prior to this year, his high was in 1998, his rookie season, when he walked 3.55 batters per nine innings. The following year, he cut the walks down to 3.03 per nine innings. Since then he has not walked more than 3 batters per nine innings, and last year he walked 1.81 per nine. This year Javier Vazquez is walking 4.7 batters per nine innings.
2. Loss of velocity
Everything has moved in the wrong direction. The fastball has decreased by 2.6 mph off the average and the changeup and curveball have both increased. Maintaining the velocity differential between the changeup and the fastball is crucial; instead of an average 11 mph difference between the two, he now has a 7 mph difference. This decrease in velocity has been consistent throughout the year, as this chart demonstrates:
Yesterday on RiverAveBlues Joe Pawlikowski addressed this topic in his excellent recap of last night’s action, saying:
It’s clear that Vazquez’s velocity has declined this season. His fastball averages 89.1 mph right now, down 2 mph from 2009, and down 3 mph from his superb 2007 season. That’s not completely unexpected. Vazquez will turn 34 in June, a time when many pitchers start to lose velocity. With four quality pitches in his arsenal — fastball, curveball, changeup, slider, plus a two-seamer — he seems like the type of pitcher who can adapt. That is, as long as he retains command of his pitches. So far this season, at least in terms of his fastball, he has not. We saw that on display again last night after the two-game reprieve.
While it is true that Vazquez has the repetoire to adapt and succeed, it remains to be seen whether the drop in velocity is simply the result of aging. It seems a bit sudden, a bit precipitious, a bit like there should be some factor that explains it, other than the fact that he’s seven months older in May than he was in October.
3. Deterioration in the quality of the pitches
Obviously. His pitch type values show a marked decrease in his fastball, his changeup and his curveball.
4. No help from the peripherals
Vazquez hasn’t been unlucky, unfortunate or cursed by the gods of BABIP. His BABIP is .310, one hundredth of a point higher than his career average of .309. His strand rate is 65.6%, slightly lower than his career average of 70% but nothing significant. His FIP is 5.86. His xFIP is 4.97, which means he’s getting a little relief from his HR/FB ratio of 15%, which is a few ticks higher than it should be. His strikeouts are down, his walks are up, and all of his ratios are looking very ugly. Vazquez isn’t the type of player you’re seeing on many stat-oriented fantasy baseball Buy Low lists, because isn’t a lot underneath the surface to like.
5. History of hiding injuries
This stupid article by NY Post scribe Joel Sherman, which will turn your brain to mush with nuggest like “Being the No. 4 starter on the Yankees comes with more pressure than being the No. 1 guy on at least 20 clubs” states what is now well-known in baseball circles: that Vazquez had a sore shoulder in 2004 and attempted to pitch through it. The results in the second half of the year were horrific: 6.92 ERA over 79.1 innings with 28 walks and 55 strikeouts. That’s a BB/9 of 3.18 and a K/9 of 6.25. His peripherals are worse this year.
This is what it looks like when a pitcher struggles. This may be what it looks like when a pitcher is struggling because he’s hurt. If he is hurt, then these factors will not simply sort themselves out, and he needs to take some time off. The Yankees are going to be in a dogfight all year with Tampa and Boston, and can’t afford to send a starter to the mound who isn’t 100%. If he’s not hurt, then I’m a bit dumbfounded. I have never bought the hype about him not being able to “handle the pressure” of New York. It strikes me as lazy thinking, an unverifiable way to frame stories. Javy was the second best pitcher in the National League in 2009. If he’s not hurt, where did he go?
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