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August 18, 2004

Is this what we paid for?
by Sean McNally

The rumbles have started, and if you haven’t been caught in Olympic fever, you’ve probably already heard it: What’s wrong with Javy Vazquez?

Over the first 148.2 innings of his Yankee career, Vazquez has surrendered 68 earned runs, 24 homers, walked 37 and fanned 114. The first three are far more than Yankee fans expected when we traded Nick Johnson, Juan Rivera, Randy Choate and buckets of cash to Montreal for him and the last stat is lower than was hoped for.

So what’s the problem? Well, for one, these numbers aren’t that far out of whack with Vazquez’s career lines.

First, the homers. Javy gave up 28 taters in 2003 and 2002, so those numbers already look to be in jeopardy. His career high in big flies allowed came in his rookie year of 1998 when 31 times the home plate umpire threw him a new baseball.

Vazquez is also on pace to have his career worst groundball-to-flyball ratio. Through 23 starts, he has pitched to a 0.82 G/F. In 2000, Vazquez’s first year as a “frontline starter,” the right hander posted a 1.51 G/F ratio. Since then that figure has dropped to 1.28 then to 0.94 then to 0.83 last year.

So, problem one – Vazquez is putting too many balls in play on the fly.

Also this year, Vazquez is on pace to strike out about 173 batters (.77 per inning with an expectation he throws about 225 innings). That would represent a 70+ strikeout drop from 2003, but would be in line with his numbers from 2002.

His K/9 ratio is 6.9 so far in 2004. That’s just slightly worse than the 6.99 he posted in 2002, but a sharp decline from last year’s figure of 9.4. In addition, his K/BB ratio is the worst it’s been since before the 2000 season.

With his strikeouts going down, Javy is putting more balls in play, and as we’ve discovered, more of them are going there in the air.

Opponents seem to be getting on base more, as evidenced by a .293 OBA. This is up from the .276 OBA Vazquez surrendered in 2003. His career OBA is .306, so he’s still under that. Opposing batters are hitting .242 against him this season and slugging .423. Over the course of his career, hitters have a .258/.306/.423 line against Vazquez.

When a hitter does put the ball on the ground, the Yankee defense have turned just 5 into double plays – setting a putrid pace of 7.6 DPs for Javy’s mythical 225-inning season. So those base runners stay on base rather than getting erased by the pitchers best friend.

But what of all those base runners? Surely, Vazquez’s gopheritis must have put a great deal of them on the board. Not so fast my friend.

Of the 23 longballs Javy’s given up, 16 have been solo shots, which is good. Only one, a memorable first-inning blast by Carlos “God Bless America” Delgado, was a three-run jack and just seven were two-run homers. Fortunately, Vazquez has not given up any grand slams.

So in summation, Vazquez is giving up slightly more homers than his career numbers would suggest, he’s not striking out as many guys and the fewer ground balls he does induce are not being turned into double plays by his defense.

So the question remains – What’s wrong with Javy? In short, nothing. The guy was Montreal’s ace the last three seasons and he did it while giving up lots of homers, more and more fly balls and flip-flopping between being a great strikeout pitcher and being just an above average one.

Is it possible that Vazquez has peaked and is declining? Sure. But it’s more likely it’s just one of his “off” years, much like 2002 and in 2005, he’ll be ready to anchor the rotation.