Impact: Javier Vazquez Heads Back to the NL

New York Yankees starting pitcher Javier Vazquez throws a pitch to the New York Mets in the first inning of their MLB inter-league baseball game at Citi Field in New York, May 21, 2010. REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)
The Marlins and starting pitcher Javier Vazquez have agreed on a one-year contract for the 2011 season. This is great news for fantasy GM’s. 

Despite always being viewed as a pitcher with tremendous stuff and potential, Vazquez has a career ERA of 4.26 with a 1.25 WHIP. In 2009 with the Braves, Vazquez finally turned in the ace-level season that many thought he would put together annually. Following a trade to the Yankees, Vazquez found himself back in the American League in 2010, the league in which most of his career struggles had occurred.

In 2010, Vazquez saw a noticeable drop in velocity, which was the root of his problems. Without the good velocity, Vazquez was unable to overpower hitters or even just sneak a good fastball by in a key situation. As a consequence, his HR/9 rate shot up to 1.83 (32 HR allowed in 157.1 innings) and his K/9 fell to 6.92, his lowest K/9 since 2004, his only other season with the Yankees. 

Of course, rejoining the Yankees in 2010 was the perfect recipe for failure. Throughout his career, Vazquez has had problems with the home run ball as well as notably worse numbers against left-handed hitters. In his 66.1 innings pitched in Yankee stadium in 2010, Vazquez allowed 2.44 home runs per nine innings and 10 of his 18 home runs allowed in Yankee Stadium were surrendered to left-handed hitters.

Now, Vazquez attempts to reestablish his front-line value by heading back to the National League and to a ballpark that is far less favorable to hitter than Yankee Stadium. In fact, Joe Robbie, er, Pro Player, er, Dolphin…(scratches head, ponders)…ah yes, Sun Life Stadium, actually suppresses home runs according to ESPN’s park factors. That didn’t exactly help Ricky Nolasco last season, but it is almost certain to help lower Vazquez’s HR/9 in 2011.

Moving to the NL is always a plus for starting pitchers. Last season, six of Vazquez’s 32 home runs allowed came against designated hitters, which he will no longer face, and he had a 2.88 ERA in four inter-league starts with a 2.43 K/BB rate.

The key to getting a better feel for Vazquez’s 2011 projection will be watching his velocity during spring training. Vazquez entered 2010 with his velocity down from his career averages and saw a further drop from about July through August. If he shows improved velocity this spring, he can be looked at as a nice bounce-back candidate and possibly a value pick on draft day 2011.