The new and improved Vazquez?


A couple of weeks ago, I declared Javier Vazquez‘s Marlins career essentially finished. Then he went ahead and did this:

First eight starts39 1/388.27.555.52
Last three starts1989.82.844.00

Sure, both aspects are small sample sizes, but there is no surprise that on one side of the coin, Vazquez pitched the worst set of eight starts of his career, on the other side he pitched as we might have expected to see him two or three years ago. There was a drastic difference in performance in his last three starts beginning from May 21, and it is highly suggestive that the difference may have something to do with the 1.6 mph increase in velocity on his fastball, which appeared suddenly and out of nowhere.

Let’s dig a bit deeper into the peripherals.

First eight starts10.512.62.6.333
Last three starts21.

Part of the disaparity in ERA can immediately described by the difference in BABIP. Given Vazquez’s career .296 BABIP and 2008-2011 mark of .294, it is safe to say to that he is likely to be closer to .333 than .180. Still, there is more to the difference than that; Vazquez is clearly getting more missed bats in his last few games than he was before. Can it all be the improved fastball velocity, or is there another factor?

Platoon splits

The first thing that immediately came to mind given this disparity in strikeout rate was Vazquez’s platoon differences. Remember, Vazquez has shown distinct differences in his ability to handle lefties this season, posting some abysmal numbers so far this season.

VazquezRighties (%)Lefties (%)
First eight starts84 (44.0)107 (56.0)
Last three starts28 (40)42 (60)

It seems opposing teams are sending similar numbers of lefty hitters at Vazquez. Given his visible struggles against them and the normal process of sending as many players as possible with the platoon advantage, this is not surprising. However, his response against this supposed strategic move is more than interesting.

First eight starts9.315.04.8.342
Last three starts26.

Those numbers are simply mind-blowing. Somehow, within the span of three starts, Vazquez went from being completely inept versus lefties to downright dominant. He ironically gave up a pretty similar number of home runs against them, but his strikeout rate jumped from atrocious to elite, along with a concordant drop in walks. The BABIP is completely ignorable given the sample sizes on either side, though it is notable that Vazquez throughout his career has had a good BABIP versus lefties (.287) that stayed pretty consistent in his bad 2010 (.280). Almost all of the problems versus lefties that served as a major contribution to the issues Vazquez has had were attributable to a drastic shift in strikeout and walk rates, and it seems that in just the last three starts Vazquez has completely reversed that trend.

More sample needed

Right now, we just cannot tell what is going on with Vazquez that has animated him. In three games, a number of things could have happened to make these results nothing more than a blip on the radar. Furthermore, Vazquez’s actual velocity increase may just be due to a number of environmental factors, such as the individual Pitch f/x monitors in Florida, Los Angeles, and Arizona. Another aspect could have been weather, as those three areas are fairly hot and fastball velocities generally increase a bit with higher temperatures. Still, on a team with a shelved ace and a slight chance at a playoff berth, any good sign is a positive to which to look forward. Count me among those who want to see more before making a definitive proclamation, but this is a good start to a potential Vazquez revival.