May 5, 2009 at 11:35 am by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves, Pitching, Player Analysis, Slow Starts
I’ve made it no secret that I’m a fan of Javier Vazquez. I like him. I like watching him work. The way he mixes his pitches is very unique. I like the fact that he throws strikes and nearly always gets ahead in the count. I expected good things when he came to Atlanta. The secret is, I was silently hoping for great things, as many others were. While he has been good, not great, this is about what I expected.
After last night’s game, Vazquez is 2-3 with a 4.19 ERA and a league leading 50 K’s in 38 and 2/3 innings. Last season, Vazquez, with a terrible defense behind him, in a hitter’s park, facing tougher hitters and a DH in the AL, and with Ozzie Guillen constantly publicly berating him, Vazquez posted a 12-16 record with a 4.67 ERA, 200 K’s, 61 BB’s, and a WHIP of 1.32 in 208 and 1/3 innings. He figured to improve based on switching to a more favorable set of circumstances. We’ve seen Javy improve, but not like I’d hoped he would.
Vazquez’s numbers are nearly all up from last year. For instance, his home run rate is down from 2.8% to 0.8% (partially due to pitching in a less homer-happy park against weaker hitters and no DH, but also because he’s pitched better), his strikeout rate is up from 22.5% to 31.3%. His walk rate is down from 6.9% to 6.0%. His XBH% is down from 9.7% to 5.2%, and his ratio of XBH to Hits is down from 40% to 23%. Yet his ERA is only slightly better. Let’s take a look at why.
1) No Double Plays.
Vazquez has faced a batter with a runner at 1st and less than 2 outs 23 times, but is yet to record a double play. While 1 extra out seems meaningless, double plays ARE quite significant because they frequently silent, if not erase, rallies. Looking at each inning as a separate event makes them even more significant because once your defense has turned a double play, 2/3 of the innings’ outs have been erased. The currency of baseball is outs, and using 2 of them in 1 play is ALWAYS favorable for the pitcher. In his career, about 10% of the time he has a double play opportunity he records one. This year, we’re sitting at 0%.
Vazquez isn’t allowing the ball to be put in play very much. When you’re striking out 31.3% of the batters you face, it stands to reason that not many people will be putting the ball in play. However, when the ball is put in play against him, it has been falling for a hit at an abnormally large rate, both this year and, to a lesser extent, in his career. This season, the batting average on balls in play against him is .366, up from .318 last year and his career average of .304. I don’t view this as a trend, but rather a result of 3 components.
- Bad defense behind him. It is no secret that the Braves have been terrible in the field this season. They’re currently 26th of 30 in defensive efficiency. Vazquez hasn’t benefited from this, as the Braves have been particularly bad when he’s on the hill, turning only 63.4% of the balls put in play into outs. Vazquez wold be a whole lot worse if it weren’t for his excellent K/BB ratio.
- Vazquez’s LD% is way up this season. Ground balls and fly balls rarely fall for hits, but line drives rarely don’t. That’s why smart hitting coaches want their hitters to hit line drives. Vazquez has allowed 21% of his batters to hit line drives off of him in his career and only allowed 18% to do so last year, but he’s currently up to 27%. This is pretty alarming and he needs to work on bringing it down, but it alone isn’t enough to account for the .366 BABIP.
- Bad luck. I mentioned fly balls and ground balls rarely fall for hits. Well against Vazquez, they’ve nearly all fallen for hits. That’s an exaggeration, but I’ve never seen someone give up so many ground-ball singles, infield singles, bunt singles, bloop singles, broken bat singles, etc. A lot of funny things happen in baseball when a round ball hits a round bat, which are out of both the pitcher’s and hitter’s control. Singles that aren’t line drives are generally more luck than skill/ability/whatever you want to call it. A hitter breaks his bat, a ball flys over the 2B head and drops 4 seconds later just out of the reach of the 2B and RF. The hitter wasn’t trying to do that, he just got lucky. It’s a quasi-random event and you can’t blame the pitcher for giving it up. If anything, you can blame the defense. Once the ball is put in play, the defense is charged with the task of turning it into an out. The failure to do so shouldn’t reflect the pitchers’ performance.
Overall, I like what I’m seeing from Javier Vazquez. Hopefully, the defense will pick it up and he’ll get his LD% down and have a decent shot at being one of the best pitchers in the league. I think the ability is there. He’s no Johan Santana, but he’s capable of putting up Santana-like numbers for a season. I’d like that season to be this one (or next, if we decide to not start scoring runs).