Monday, April 26, 2010
What To Make of Javier Vazquez?
We’re four starts into Javier Vazquez Strikes Back, and it’s safe to say that so far it’s been even worse than the prequel. As someone who liked the Yankees getting Vazquez both times when the trades were initally made, I’m beyond frustrated at how he’s pitched so far.
Generally when a player is struggling, we can look at indicators in the underlying data that may point to something that should give us hope going forward. For hitters it could be something like an unsustainably low (BABIP)batting average in balls on play. For pitchers we can look at the same thing using a statistic like FIP, which regresses BABIP to league average and focuses on the things a pitcher has the most control over, namely home runs allowed, walks and hit batsmen, and strikeouts. FIP is scaled to ERA to allow for a direct comparison.
In Vazquez’s case, if we look at his FIP, we see he’s allowed five homers in 20 innings while walking/hitting 12 batters and striking out 18. That comes out to a FIP of 6.28, which is obviously pretty bad.
The homers are the big problem in Vazquez’s FIP, and we can see that so far this season he’s allowed homers on 18.5% of the fly balls hit against him. His career rate is 11.2%. If he had instead maintained that rate, his FIP would be a more reasonable 5.00, which is still not good.
Given the fact that it’s only been four starts, the sample size of the above data is just too small to be considered meaningful.
However, the biggest issue I see is the decline of Vazquez’s fastball velocity. Mike Fast, one of the leading Pitch FX analysts, had an article at the Hardball Times about the impact of velocity on a pitcher’s value. What he found was that starting pitchers improve by about a run per nine innings for every additional four mph. This year, Vazquez’s average fastball has been clocked around 88.8 mph, compared to a career value of 91.3. He was at 91.1 last year, so he’s lost something like 2.3-2.5 mph this season for whatever reason. If we assume that Fast’s estimate applies to Vazquez in the same way it applies to the typical pitcher, that means that whatever we thought Vazquez’s true talent RA was entering this season should now be .625 higher. So if we thought he was a 4.00 RA pitcher, he’s now more like a 4.625 pitcher.
A lot has been made throughout his career that Vazquez has been a disappointment, with stuff and peripherals almost always being solid but with actual results varying wildly. One of the things that gets blamed for that is inconsistent mechanics. So I thought it might be useful to find a similar poor stretch by Vazquez for the years we have Pitch FX data (2007-2010) and see if he went through a lower velocity period. I found a stretch in 2008 when Vazquez was with the White Sox that was pretty bad, so let’s look at that.
lwRA: linear weights RA calculated using context-neutral linear weights batting runs allowed
babip: batting average on balls in play calculated as ( H - HR ) / (AB - HR - SO + SF)
gb%: percentage of batted balls that were ground balls
fb%: percentage of batted balls that were fly balls
ld%: percentage of batted balls that were line drives
Vazquez wasn’t very good in 2008, but his stretch from June 6 through June 28 was particularly awful, almost 2010 awful. A big part of it was a high BABIP of .386 compared to .307 for the rest of the season. He also walked 11.2% of the batters faced during that time period, compared to 6.1% over all the other games that season. He struck out 20.1% of the batters he faced from June 6 to June 28, compared to 22.9% in the other games. In addition, his homers per fly ball rate was 10.9% compared to 5.9% in the other games.
So now, let’s see if his PitchFX data sheds any light on this.
|6/6/2008 - 6/28/2008||#||max||min||avg||ball %||stkS%||foul%||stkC%||In play, out(s)%||In play, no out %||HBP %|
#: number of times pitch was thrown as recorded in Pitch F/X
max: highest recorded starting velocity
min: lowest recorded starting velocity
avg: average recorded starting velocity
ball %: percentage of time pitch was taken for a ball
stkS%: percentage of time pitch was swung on and missed
foul%: percentage of time pitch was fouled off
stkC%: percentage of time pitch was taken for a called strike
In play, out(s)%: percentage of time pitch was hit into play for an out(s)
In play, no out%: percentage of time pitch was hit into play and not converted into an out
HBP%: percentage of time batter was hit by pitch
|All other 2008 starts||#||max||min||avg||ball %||stkS%||foul%||stkC%||In play, out(s)%||In play, no out %||HBP %|
He was averaging 91.8 mph with his fastball when he was getting hammered, and he averaged 91.9 mph when he was more effective. So nope, velocity wasn’t an issue. It actually looks like command of his non-fastball pitches was the bigger issue, comparing the ball% of his changeup, slider and curve between the two charts. I guess that could be a mechanical issue.
Since this didn’t show me anything in terms of Vazquez having periods of lower velocity, I decided to figure out his average fastball velocity for every start that has data in Pitch FX to see if he’s had similar issues in the past.
Of the 90 starts we have Pitch FX for, Vazquez’s average fastball velocity was less than 90.0 mph five times. I guess if we want to be hopeful we can note that two of those five starts were in April of 2009 and he eventually got back over 91 mph on average.
I really want to see Vazquez do well, because I think he got a bum deal in his first stint as a Yankee, but I’m just not sure it’s going to happen.
Page 1 of 1 pages: