From 2003 through 2009 Javier Vazquez had thrown at least 200 innings in every season except for one and that was 198 innings in 2004, with the Yankees.
Vazquez had long been known in the Sabermetric world as a pitcher who always had great peripheral stats like K/9 and BB/9, whiff rate, etc, but never seemed to have the ERA, WHIP or W-L numbers to back it up. In 2009 Vazquez seemingly put it all together as he posted an incredible 9.77 K/9, 1.81 BB/9 and 5.41 K/BB rate, all of which led to a sparkling 2.87 ERA and 1.03 WHIP. This season, however, has been nothing short of a disaster. Is it the return to the American League? Is it pitching in home run haven Yankee Stadium? Is it the pressure of New York? Or is it something else?
All of the above mentioned possibilities could certainly be contributing to Vazquez’s struggles, but there are some numbers that could indicate something more. Something that hasn’t been a problem in Vazquez’s career so far.
Vazquez’s velocity is down. He had held an average fastball velocity between around 91 to 92 mph. This season his average fastball velocity sits at 88.9 mph. While that velocity is showing signs of creeping back up, it is still well below where it has been over the past two seasons.
The other obvious problem is Vazquez’s lack of command. He hasn’t posted a BB/9 over three since 1999. After five starts and 23 innings this season he has walked 15 (5.87 BB/9). In his last two starts the strikeouts have been down as well.
The lack of command combined with less velocity has led to a contact rate against of about 80 percent, right around league average. Vazquez is normally much better than league average at generating swings and misses.
What is causing these stats to become so skewed from Vazquez’s career averages? Could he be hiding an injury?
Both a drop in velocity as well as a loss of command can both be indicators of an injury. We saw a drop in command from Edinson Volquez through nine starts last season. Erik Bedard is another case where his command went from 3.16 BB/9 in 2006 to 2.82 in 2007 to 4.11 in 2008 and 3.69 in 2009. Bedard only made 15 starts in both 2008 and 2009. B.J. Ryan was a case where drop in velocity also met with a loss of command. He went from a 4.3 K/BB rate in 2006 to only throwing four innings in 2007, walking four in those four innings and allowing 13 hits.
This, of course, is nothing more than speculation on my part. But Vazquez is the type of pitcher that might try and pitch through any type of pain. He’s been a work horse for his entire career and he once again is a key member of the most scrutinized team in baseball. Again, these are not definite conclusions, just speculation on my part.
The Yankees are going to skip Vazquez’s next start. Maybe the extra rest will do him good. Maybe he can find his command and velocity going forward. Maybe, but then again, maybe there is something going on that we don’t know about. Only time will tell at this point.
Given Vazquez’s track record, he may be a decent buy low if you can get him at a rock bottom price, but proceed with caution. These are not the indicators of something good about to happen.