Buy Low: Javier Vazquez

I’d first like to apologize for leaving you hanging this weekend. After promising a National League Waiver Wire column on Friday night, the weekend went by without one. Friday night (while just starting to write it, actually) I was surprised by those close to me with a weekend getaway. I was thrown into a car and driven away. While I had a wonderful weekend, I have asked that next time I either be given a little more notice or be taken to a place that offers WiFi. Anyway, I apologize, and I intend to make it up to you with a super sized Waiver Wire this Friday. The deadline has now passed in most weekly leagues, so writing it now would be useless for many of you, especially with next week’s column just four days away now.

On to Javier Vazquez. Vazquez is one of the most interesting pitchers in baseball. His K/BB has dropped below 3.00 just once since 1999, and his career K/9 is a healthy 7.81. Yet, Vazquez hasn’t posted an ERA below 4.00 since his 2003 season with the Expos. As of today, his ERA stands at 4.13. What gives? The most obvious explanation is bad luck, but can one be unlucky for three and half years? Or, are there other factors at play?

Some have speculated that certain players aren’t as unlucky as they seem. They say that these players do something when they pitch that that forces their ERAs upwards, something that doesn’t come across in their K/9, BB/9, K/BB, or GB%. Some of these critics speculate that these players make more mistake pitches than normal and will give up more hits and/or home runs than they should. Others indicate that these pitchers perform worse when runners are on base, allowing more of them to cross the plate. Perhaps pitchers with great control, who normally throw the ball in or near the strike zone, are more prone to giving up hits.

Honestly, I have a hard time buying any of this reasoning, at least with Javier Vazquez. We see that Vazquez has very good skills, but worse surface numbers than these skills would indicate. So we can narrow our possible solutions to this conundrum down to two:
1) Vazquez has simply been unlucky for the past three and a half years.
2) Vazquez isn’t as good a pitcher as his peripherals indicate.

It is easy to look at Vazquez’s good peripherals and sub-par surface numbers and claim that while it appears he is unlucky, an unlucky streak can’t possibly last that long… that some other factors have come into play. Let’s look deeper at the bad luck that has been thrust upon Vazquez and decide for ourselves.

There are three primary places to look when determining if a player has been unlucky: BABIP, LOB%, and HR/9 (or HR/FB). If Vazquez truly hasn’t been unlucky and is simply bad in one (or more) of these areas, we should see similar numbers across the board in all three of his “unlucky” years.

YEARBABIPLOB%HR/FB
Lg. Avg..30072.0%10.0%
2004.28469.2%12.5%
2005.31172.0%16.3%
2006.32165.8%9.3%
2007.28271.2%9.1%

The numbers, in all three categories, are scattered. There doesn’t seem to be any pattern to them, or any credence to the theory that Vazquez is doing something wrong. It simply looks like Vazquez is being bitten by bad luck every year, but different types of bad luck each time. Because it is different types of bad luck, I don’t see how that is his fault. If, say, his LOB% was consistently 65%, I might say that he performs poorly in the clutch. It’s not, though, and I think Vazquez will be fine.

In 2004, his numbers weren’t terribly different than the league averages. He was actually lucky with his BABIP, but also a little unlucky with his LOB% and HR/FB. It was his first year in New York, and that was the year his K/BB dropped below 3.00 (to 2.50), so his numbers that year are easily explainable.

In 2005, his LOB% was right on target, while he gave up just a tad too many hits. However, he gave up way too many HRs.

In 2006, he actually got slightly lucky with HRs, eliminating the theory that he is “Home Run prone” (his HR/FB level was also close to league average in 2002, 2003, and 2007 for those still skeptical). In 2006, his demise came from his high BABIP and low LOB%.

This year, all of Vazquez’s numbers check out. If we use David Gassko’s DIPS ERA v.3 formula from his article Batted Balls and DIPS, we see that Vazquez’s DIPS ERA is 3.90, not too far off from his 4.13 ERA.

This year’s numbers can be explained by his K/9 drop to 7.88, his BB/9 increase to 2.63, and his K/BB decrease to 3.0. These are his worst numbers since his 2004 Yankee season, although they aren’t quite that bad. I think Vazquez has a good chance of putting up numbers closer to his 2005 and 2006, making him a good buy.

While his 4.13 ERA isn’t bad, some of his outings have looked ugly, and many of his owners are getting disgusted with him. When they take a quick look at his ERA since 2004, they can’t help but notice that Vazquez just doesn’t seem to be able to get it under 4.00. We now know that this isn’t the case, though, which creates the perfect buying opportunity. Even people I know that use more objective means of evaluating players are starting to say that a guy like Vazquez just can’t be unlucky for this long… that he just isn’t as good as his peripherals. Bologna. Buy on Vazquez, and expect him to put up an ERA in the high-3.00s, a WHIP in the mid-1.20s, and a K/9 around 8.00.

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