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Javier Vazquez through five starts, Part 1

On Wednesday, the Marlins are going to send Javier Vazquez to the mound to face the St. Louis Cardinals for the third game of the four-game series. Vazquez has been a point of contention among Marlins fans because of his questionable (at best) performance to start the season. Marlins fans are more than interested in finding out what we should expect to see from Vazquez going forward.

To that end, I figured I’d compile some of the Pitch f/x data for Vazquez and put it up as a visualization for Marlin Maniac readers here. In addition, I’d add some of my observations about what is going on. Obviously, a sample size of five games is going to come with the typical “small sample size” caveats, but let’s take a look at how Vazquez managed so far in 2011 and see if we can’t come up with any early conclusions about his bad start. What follows is his usage versus only right handers (in order to eliminate any performance bias in platoon advantage), encompassing 182 pitches.

Overview: Usage and Velocity

Pitch Usage% Velocity (mph) Horizontal (in) Vertical (in)
Fastball (FF) 46.2 87.8 -4.0 8.5
Curveball (CU) 27.5 74.2 7.3 -2.7
Slider (SL) 23.6 82.1 2.0 2.5
Changeup (CH) 2.7 82.6 -6.3 7.2

Pitch Results

Pitch Zone% Swing% Watch% Chase% Whiff%
Fastball (FF) 60.7 47.6 31.8 25.0 10.0
Curveball (CU) 60.0 46.0 48.1 30.4 21.7
Slider (SL) 60.5 37.2 37.0 6.3 12.5
Changeup (CH) 20.0 N/A 20.0 N/A N/A
Total 59.3 43.4 36.9 22.8 14.0

Just as a reminder:

In Zone%: Percentage of pitches landing in the defined strike zone
Swing%: Percentage of pitches swung at
Watch%: Percentage of pitches taken that were in the strike zone
Chase%: Percentage of swings taken out of the strike zone
Whiff%: Percentage of swings and misses out of total swings

This information I feel tells quite a bit about the early season struggles of Javier Vazquez. You can see that he is staying a decent amount within the strike zone (defined here as 20 inches wide, or 0.85 feet to either side), which is surprising given his supposed early season lack of control. If anything, his higher walk count has more to do with the lack of chases out of the zone, but a rate of around 23 percent is not so far off of the league average to cause the wacky walk rate that Vazquez is boasting this season.

The whiff rate is perhaps the most important aspect of this analysis; as expected, hitters are not only passing on Vazquez’s stuff, but they are also making contact on those pitches they do choose to offer at. Particularly alarming are the chase and whiff rates for his slider, a pitch that is typically supposed to finish off right-handers. Hitters are not only completely laying off the bad sliders, but they are also making far too much contact on the sliders they swing at, resulting in more balls in play and fewer strikeouts than you would like to see on a pitch designed to fool same-handed hitters.

Let’s see how Vazquez did against right-handers on balls in play.

Pitch BIP GB% SLGcon*
Fastball (FF) 18 33.3 .667
Curveball (CU) 13 46.2 .077
Slider (SL) 12 25.0 .250
Total 43 34.9 .372

*SLGcon: Slugging percentage on contacted balls, including home runs but not including foul balls

This is both a good sign and an ominous one. Vazquez is actually doing quite well on balls in play versus righties this season, limiting them to just a .372 SLG on contacted balls. All of Vazquez’s home runs have been allowed to left-handed hitters, leaving a select few singles and doubles allowed to righties, primarily off of Vazquez’s BP-speed fastball.

This highlights something that I only recently noticed about Vazquez’s incompetence so far this season: said incompetence has really been primarily against left-handed hitters.

Player PA K% BB% HR/FB% GB% BABIP
vs. RHH 54 13.0 7.4 0.0 31.7 .256
vs. LHH 66 10.6 22.3 14.3 18.2 .300

The problem with Vazquez may be as simple as this: because of his declining stuff, he may have lost all capability of getting left-handed hitters out, resulting in a complete meltdown versus southpaws. He is still performing significantly worse versus righties, but the numbers are at this point still passable; looking at last year’s stats with the New York Yankees, Vazquez posted respectable, if declining FIP / xFIP values against righties, but downright horrible numbers versus lefties. Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at similar stats to these against lefties to see if the pitch data confirms what we suspect is the problem.

Tags: Javier Vazquez Miami Marlins

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