Vazquez’s career revival miraculous to behold

There aren’t a lot of things to enjoy about the Marlins this year. I’ve found myself buried in work for other media and from medical school and am having a hard time keeping up with the losses the Fish have piled up this year. But as we watched Javier Vazquez pitch and record a win and his 2500th career strikeout as part of a 6-0 shutout of the New York Mets last night, one thing for which Marlins fans should be thankful is the ability to bear witness to the one of the most amazing career revivals in league history.

Through April and May, we declared his career dead. But surprise, surprise, it turns out we were wrong:

Vazquez IP FB Vel ERA FIP
First eight starts 39 1/3 88.2 7.55 5.52
Last 19 starts 115 1/3 90.7 3.36 3.53

The stats do not lie. Everything that Vazquez has done since that May 21 start has been dramatically different from the beginning of this season. Indeed, the start of 2011 for Vazquez was such a long time ago both time-wise and statistically that it hardly seems like more than an extended slump rather than the career-ending performance that was being discussed earlier this year. In fact, if you looked at the this season’s ERA, FIP, and xFIP and compared them to any of his non-New York Yankees seasons since 2005, you would have a hard time distinguishing this from any year other than his lone season with the Atlanta Braves. This season’s performance has improved so drastically that the overall peripherals are not all that different from his career marks.

Vazquez K% BB% HR% BABIP
2011 22.4 7.1 3.0 .292
Career 21.2 6.4 3.2 .296

The numbers, once again, speak for themselves. It is as if the first eight starts of this year never happened, or at least never happened in the context of a career appearing to collapse right in front of our very eyes. Those eight starts could have very well been sporadically placed among the 2011 schedule and we would none the wise about the supposed “collapse” and “rebirth” of Vazquez. Why is it so special then? Because there was reason to believe a collapse was imminent, if not already happening, and there was some adjustment that led to a return to the Vazquez of old.

Context for collapse

Had this eight-game stretch happened in the middle of the season, the narrative may not be the same. But that horrific stretch did not happen in the middle of the year, but at the beginning of a season following a tumultuous campaign during which he struggled for the second time in New York for the Yankees. This time, it looked like he was done for, as his velocity had fallen and continued to fall into 2011. There was a very compelling reason to believe that Javier Vazquez was finished as a major leaguer. He was walking more guys than he struck out and hitters were simply not fooled by his offerings, as evidenced by his miniscule whiff rate.

This was not some run extended stretch of games when a pitcher would struggle but his peripherals would support a performance riddled with bad luck. It was not a classic run of games when the pitcher “just didn’t have his best stuff” but was otherwise surrounded by solid performances. This was a stretch of more than a season during which a physical attribute (velocity) declined steadily and took everything, from his runs allowed numbers to his peripherals, down with it. There was a justifiable reason for pessimism over Vazquez’s continued success.

A sign of coaching success

Remember that article about pitching coach Randy St. Claire pointing out that Vazquez was not using his lower body in his delivery? I was elated to find out that those changes went into effect some time in late May, exactly when I had begun tabulating a change in Vazquez’s performance. And to top it all off, it sounded as if the changes discussed were “real” and not some post-hoc explanation derived to explain a visible change in performance. Vazquez’s traditional numbers actually did not change much in June; he had a 6.39 ERA in April, a 5.67 ERA in May, and a 5.52 ERA in June, even after the supposedly positive changes. Yet his FIP was a Javy-esque 3.82, which fell right in line with where he has been for most of his career.

The explanation for the positive change was almost too perfect to be true, but if the Marlins had devised a post-hoc explanation, they likely would have discussed changes that may have been made in June and not late May, which would encompass a full “bad” month of starts. The narrative fit so perfectly and plausibly that it was hard to deny it. As much as I hate to blow coaching “adjustments” and “midseason changes” out of proportion, I could not help but do it for Vazquez because the timing fit all too well and the numbers agreed. And if the only thing that St. Claire ever dose as the Marlins’ pitching coach is fix a starter who could end up throwing 180 innings for the Marlins this year and may even consider a short-term return next season to help anchor the rotation, than he may have well earned his paycheck for the season.

Folks, I believe in Javier Vazquez. He’s back.

Topics: Javier Vazquez, Miami Marlins, Randy St. Claire

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