Tuesday, April 17, 2012
NEW YORK—Joe Girardi offered up a prophecy Monday afternoon that he’d rather have not seen come true.
Just hours before his club took the field for the series opener against the visiting Twins—who have had remarkably little success at Yankee Stadium over the last 10 years—Girardi noted how formidable the heart of Minnesota’s order is again, with the resurgent health of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, and the addition of outfielder Josh Willingham.
As formidable as the heart of the Yankees’ order?
Losing to the Twins at home is not something that can be spun. They stink, and now the Yankees have to try and make up for it. Taking the next three games would be a start to that.
Thursday, June 10, 2010
Javy Vazquez: His change is for the better
As you may remember from SG’s Corrections post a few days ago, the numbers seem to confirm that Javier Vazquez is pitching much better lately. In his last 5 starts his strikeouts are up and his walks are down. He’s also been able to work deeper into games since May 12th, while yielding far fewer HRs.
After reviewing his last start against the Toronto Blue Jays on June 6th I noticed a change in his approach. The change was literally…a change. Vazquez struck out a season high 9 batters, 5 of which came on changeups (only 7 of his previous 40 strikeouts came via the change). For those of you not familiar with Vazquez’s repertoire, he throws 4 pitches: fastball, changeup, curveball, slider. He can throw all four pitches for strikes and he will throw both a two-seam and a four-seam fastball. His current slider developed later in his career and he has been using it with more regularity in the last 4 seasons. It is usually fairly tight and resembles a cut fastball at times. His curveball is probably his third most effective pitch in front of the slider, but when utilized properly it can be an effective out pitch (in 2009, he was very successful throwing his curveball in two-strike counts).
But I would argue that Vazquez’s most effective pitch is his changeup. He can throw it at any time in the count for a strike. What makes the pitch even more effective is the alternating velocities with which he can throw it, varying speeds between the high 60s and low 80s. This allows him to effectively use the changeup on consecutive pitches, sometimes throwing nothing but changeups against opposing batters.
A great example of the versatility of Vazquez’s changeup came in the May 27th game in Minnesota. In the bottom of the 5th inning, Vazquez gave up a leadoff triple to Orlando Hudson with the Twins already leading 2-1. The next batter was Joe Mauer. Javy’s first pitch was a fastball called a ball (although a robot umpire would have correctly called it a strike). He came back with a curveball for a called strike, followed by two fastballs that Mauer was able to foul off. His fifth pitch was a 78 mph change with 10 inches of break that Mauer laid off of. Vazquez followed up with an 83 mph change on the outside corner to get Mauer swinging. It was truly a nasty pitch, and a perfect example of the variety of ways he can use his changeup, both as a waste pitch and for a strike, as well as of just how deadly effective it can be late in the count.
The success demonstrated by Javy’s strikeout of Mauer makes the lack of changeups in other similar instances this season perplexing. Here’s the breakdown of his 2009 pitch selection:
However, this season he’s thrown his change 11.8% of the time while relying on his fastball 54.3% of the time.
This, of course, isn’t a huge drop off from last season’s numbers, but it may suggest he’s relying on his fastball more this season in spots where his off-speed pitches would perhaps be more effective. Vazquez had successful 2007 and 2009 seasons, throwing his changeup 14.2% and 13.2% of the time respectively. In 2008 he leaned more on a fastball-slider combination, relying on his changeup only 11.0% of the time, and the results were not as good. Power pitchers tend to make the slider an effective weapon, as it’s tougher to pick up after enduring a series of mid-90s fastballs.
However, Vazquez is not a power pitcher, never has been. His average fastball velocity has dropped every year since 2007 (91.8 mph) and currently rests at 89 mph this season. This is not so much a concern when you consider that many pitchers have fastball velocities below their average early in seasons as they work to stretch out their arms (and endure cold weather in the process). In addition, Vazquez has already shown this season that he can touch 92-93 on the gun when he needs to rear back in certain situations. However, Vazquez will be most effective when he’s able to mix in his changeup, particularly with two strikes. This is something he has not done consistently so far in 2010.
Obviously, the above information concerning his pitch selection has limited value based on the size of the data. However, what has interested me about the majority of his season is how Vazquez has tended to shy away from using what I believe to be his most effective pitch, particularly in two strike counts. I went back and compared his 2009 data to his first ten starts of this season and found some points of interest. Again, ten starts is a limited sample, so bear that in mind when comparing the two years.
In 2009, Vazquez allowed 20 total home runs, 7 of which came on two strike counts. So far this season, Vazquez has allowed 11 home runs and already 7 of them have come on two strike counts. Of those 7 two strike HRs he’s allowed in 2010, zero have come via the changeup. In fact, of all the 24 extra base hits that Vazquez has allowed so far, only 3 doubles have come off his changeup. And of the 12 doubles he has yielded so far this season, 9 have come with two strikes (the one triple he gave up to Orlando Hudson on May 27th came on a 3-2 fastball).
So why is Vazquez having so much trouble putting away batters with two strikes? Is he ignoring his most effective weapon when it’s most needed? It’s possible. I’m not privy to the scouting information that Eiland and the Yankees pitching staff rely on. Perhaps the almighty Binder suggests that certain opposing batters feast on Vazquez’s change, or changeups in general. But I find this highly unlikely. If the changeup is one of his most effective pitches and he has the opposing batter one pitch away from a strikeout, it seems like he should be throwing it more often. But looking over his pitch selection for all ten starts shows this has not been the case.
As noted above, Vazquez came close to matching his season changeup-strikeout total against the Jays. Actually, he was able to mix all his pitches extremely well in his last start, recording a strikeout on at least one of every pitch in his arsenal (5 on changeups, 2 on sliders, 1 on a fastball, 1 on a curveball.) His changeup often times determines the effectiveness of his other pitches. Take his April 14th start against the Angels in which his 6th inning strikeout of Hideki Matsui on a fastball was preceded by four consecutive changeups. The pitch sequence went:
1) 89 mph fastball up in the zone - Foul
2) 81 mph changeup down - Swinging Strike
3) 79 mph changeup down - Ball
4) 80 mph changeup down and away - Foul
5) 75 mph changeup down and away - Foul
6) 89 mph fastball up - Foul Tip for Strike Three
After those 4 consecutive changeups down in the zone, Vazquez’s 89 mph fastball up in the zone must have looked like it was shot from a Gatling gun. This is a great example of how his changeup can determine the success of his other pitches, yet one that we haven’t seen a whole lot of this season as Vazquez has been going to his fastball more late in counts.
After his horrendous start, I was really having a tough time justifying the Vazquez signing to myself and others. But his start against the Jays, preceded by three other successful starts, has me believing that the 2009 Javy Vazquez is still possible. The true worth of his changeup was on full display on June 6th. If he can mix it in more from here on out, especially late in the count, I believe he’ll have a successful final four months of the regular season. There’s always a chance the start in Toronto was simply a blip, and Vazquez will shy away from his changeup down the road. But hopefully not.
Change, after all, is a good thing.
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