September 20, 2009 at 11:14 am by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves, Pitching, Player Analysis, Statistical Analysis, Transaction Analysis
Question: Which player acquired by a team this past off-season has been the most valuable? In other words, who has been the most valuable pick-up?
No, it’s not Mark Teixeira, he’s fourth with 4.9 WAR.
No, it’s not Matt Holliday, he’s third with 5.0 WAR (for both the A’s and the Cards).
No, it’s not CC Sabathia, he’s second with 5.9 WAR.
You can probably tell from the title of the post, but it’s Javier Vazquez, with 6.3 WAR. In fact, that 6.3 WAR makes him the 14th most valuable player in all of baseball, sandwiched between Derek Jeter and Ryan Zimmerman tied at 6.4 and Felix Hernandez at 6.2.
I think it’s safe to call this a career year for Vazquez, he’s still got a few more starts and you’re already looking at his best season, though he has had similar seasons. In fact, an argument could also be made for 2003 as his best season. In 2003, he pitched 230 and 2/3 innings with 241 strikeouts, 57 walks, a 3.24 ERA, and a 1.105 WHIP. His ERA+ that year was 139. This year, he’s pitched 204 and 1/3 innings with 222 strikeouts, 43 walks, a 2.91 ERA (143 ERA+), and a 1.042 WHIP. Two other times in his career has he had an ERA at least 25% better than the league’s (125+ ERA+), 2001 and 2007. 2001 was also an excellent season for his rate stats. In 223 and 2/3 innings, he posted 208 strikeouts, 44 walks (4.73 K/BB, second best of his career. Bested only by 2009’s 5.16(!) K/BB ratio), a 3.42 ERA (130 ERA+), and a 1.077 WHIP. He set his career high in wins (16) that season. In 2007, in the AL, he pitched 216 and 2/3 innings with 213 strikeouts, 50 walks (4.26 K/BB, 3rd highest of his career. The 4th would be the 2003 season, which I already discussed), a 3.74 ERA (127 ERA+), and a 1.140 WHIP. The most valuable season he’s had since 2002 has been 2009′s 6.3–making him by far the most valuable player on his team. The only other time he’s posted a WAR of 6.0 or better was 2003, posting 6.0. In 2007 it was 5.2 and they don’t keep WAR data for years prior to 2002, so I can’t tell what that number was.
What kept Vazquez from posting numbers like these in years past (especially with respect to the ERA) was a) bad luck, he’s had rather bad luck throughout his career, and b) bad home run rates. Vazquez ceased having the latter issue in 2006. I tend to believe that the Braves saw his decline in HR rate in 2006-2008 as, “this guy’s figured out how to keep the ball in the park”. In 2006, 2007, and 2008, Vazquez’s HR/outfield fly rate dropped to 9.7%, 11.1% and 9.8%, respectively, after being 18.5% in 2005 and 14.0% in 2004.
This year, Vazquez continues the trend he displayed in 2006-2008, posting 10.8% HR/outfield fly rate. What doesn’t continue is the bad luck. Every year since 2003 his FIP has been lower than his ERA with the exception of 2007, the season in which he posted a 3.92 FIP and a 3.74 ERA (0.18 FIP-ERA). His FIP-ERA was -0.46 in 2005, -0.90(!) in 2006, and -0.86 in 2008. This year’s -0.15 is a result of his 2.91 ERA and his 2.74 FIP (that 2.74 FIP is 3rd in baseball, behind Lincecum (2.25) and Greinke (2.41)). Throw away most of the luck and the Home Run problems and Vazquez is an elite pitcher. 14th-most-valuable-player-in-the-league good.
What concerns me going forward is the fact that Vazquez seems to be getting hit harder this year. His LD% is up to 21%, after allowing batters to hit line drives off of him 16% of the time in 2006 and 18% of the time in 2007 and 2008. His career mark is 20% due to some ridiculously high LD% seasons at the beginning of the decade (all 3 seasons 200-2002 his LD% was more than 24%(!)). Additionally, the percentage of fly balls that don’t make it out of the infield is down to 9%, after being 15% in 2007 and 18% in 2008.
Vazquez has actually been more hittable this year than in years past. He’s finally stranding an appropriate amount of batters (77%–highest since 2003) for his skill level. Though not a repeatable skill, he should be capable of repeating the result, as 77% is nothing out of the ordinary for a pitcher with a 4+ K/BB. So, really, this year’s numbers are more a product of Vazquez finally falling on some decent luck. He’s had bad luck in every sense throughout his career. In 2009, he’s overcome it.
Now that the luck’s removed, Vazquez is showing what he’s truly capable of. If the LD% and IF/FB% are an aberration, perhaps he’s capable of even better.
Regardless, Vazquez has been the most valuable pick-up of the off-season, no question really.