In a lot of articles you see around saber-friendly sites like FanGraphs and Beyond the Box Score, you’ll see posts talking about how it is still too early to derive many conclusions from what we’ve seen in this young season. However, for some players, it is just too difficult to resist making a decision about their performance. For example, if there was a pitcher who, at this stage in the season, was sporting an ERA upwards of 6.00, would you say he was finished?
What if he had a FIP or other defense-independent ERA retrodictor that had him at around the same level of bad pitching production?
It would be a little more convincing, but I would not yet say he was finished. There is still a lot of luck in things like strikeouts and walks this early in the year.
What if I told you that this pitcher had actually sported this sort of performance not for 20 or 30 innings this season, but closer to 190 innings over the past year and a half?
You would be perhaps more inclined to say that he was done as a major leaguer, but there could still be some uncertainty.
But what if there was a logical, physical reason for his downturn in performance, an aspect of his pitching that has persisted throughout the time period that could be the root cause of his problems?
The evidence then would certainly point to this pitcher being finished as a major leaguer. I’m going to go ahead and say what some others have already mentioned: Javier Vazquez is finished. He is no longer a major league starter, and the Marlins would be wise to come up with a contingency plan fast, because he cannot compete any longer.
Just as evidence of what I am talking about, here are Vazquez’s numbers between the three-year period of 2007 to 2009 and his numbers since the start of the 2010 season.
Those numbers are telling and a stark contrast. Vazquez has gotten worse at every major pitching category since his amazing 2009 season with the Atlanta Braves. The difference is so great as to make it seem like he is two completely different pitchers, and indeed he is. Unlike many early starts that turn out to be mirages of various different types, we know (and so did the Marlins back when they signed Vazquez) that Vazquez’s velocity had dropped and that there was something physically different about him going into the season. The question the Marlins were undoubtedly considering was two-fold:
1) Can he recover his lost velocity?
2) Can he pitch effectively at the decreased velocity?
At this point, all signs point to “no” on both accounts. Look at the pitch-by-pitch results over the season and change versus the 2007 to 2009 period.
|Player||Pitches||Ball%||Called Strike%||Swing Strike%|
All of those percentages were based on a per-pitch level. As you can see, it almost feels as if Vazquez has replaced swinging strikes with balls in play and balls, contributing to the two main problems that I discussed last week: he has lost control of his pitches and he can’t fool anyone with them. Hitters are making more contact than ever before and perhaps Vazquez has attempted to compensate by staying closer to the edges of the plate in order to avoid hitters bashing his weakened fastball. Unfortunately, that has drastically cut down on his strikeouts and increased his walks.
Given that we know a physical reason for his struggles and have seen almost a full season’s worth of bad results from an aging pitcher, it may very well be clear that Vazquez is finished as a quality major league starter, and the Marlins might have to pull the plug on the experiment very soon. Vazquez’s game is not fooling any hitters, and there is no sign that he can recover from this. The problem is that the Marlins have no immediate replacements available. Last season’s injury replacement All-Star, Alex Sanabia, is out with his own injury and won’t be ready until the end of May at least. Sean West just made his first start with Triple-A New Orleans and could be called up in case the Fish give up on Vazquez. Elih Villanueva, last year’s Marlins Organizational Pitcher of the Year, is off to a rough start in Triple-A, but he could be an option as well. The same could be said for Brad Hand, who is among the best pitchers the Marlins have left remaining.
At this point, I would not bat an eye if the Marlins relieved Vazquez of his duties and sent him home. He has yet to show one flash of decency in the 2011 season, and his decreased velocity seemingly is not coming back. He refuses the idea that he is injured, which makes his performance appear all the worse. With the Fish still a fringe contender for the division and Wild Card, the team has to consider cutting ties with him earlier than they did with NatE. Robertson last season, because at least Robertson was still able to get hitters out and still maintained control. Vazquez and his once-great repertoire has apparently fallen apart completely.