If someone asked you who the best pitcher has been this season, what would your answer be? Zack Greinke and his 0.84 ERA? Johan Santana and his rejuvenated strikeout rate? Tim Lincecum and his continued dominance? According to LIPS ERA, you’d be wrong with all three guesses. Instead, LIPS ERA would herald the name Javier Vazquez:
2009 LIPS ERA leaders through 5/30/09
+----------+--------+----+------+------+----------+-------+------+-------+ | LAST | FIRST | GS | IP | ERA | LIPS ERA | K/9 | BB/9 | xGB% | +----------+--------+----+------+------+----------+-------+------+-------+ | Vazquez | Javier | 11 | 70.3 | 3.58 | 2.71 | 11.00 | 2.05 | 45.30 | | Santana | Johan | 10 | 66.0 | 1.77 | 2.72 | 11.73 | 2.73 | 31.29 | | Lincecum | Tim | 10 | 65.3 | 3.03 | 2.89 | 11.57 | 2.62 | 47.24 | | Greinke | Zack Z | 10 | 75.0 | 0.84 | 2.90 | 9.72 | 1.44 | 43.96 | +----------+--------+----+------+------+----------+-------+------+-------+
Vazquez doesn’t beat Santana out by much, but the fact that he is on this list (and at the top, no less) says something. While some fantasy owners would view Vazquez as the answer to a “one of these things is not like the other” question, I (and faithful readers of THT Fantasy) would vehemently disagree.
If you recall, back in January, I introduced a new method for evaluating pitchers called CAPS (Context Adjusted Pitching Statistics). CAPS focuses on strikeouts, walks, and ground balls—fundamental pieces to any analysis of a pitcher—and goes a step further by adjusting for the context under which they were produced. CAPS adjusts for the following:
- Past home ballpark
- 2009 home ballpark
- Past road ballparks
- 2009 road ballparks
- Past quality of opponents (neutralized)
- League switch adjustments
- Ground balls adjusted for league average line drive rate (called xGB)
CAPS showed that Vazquez would be entering a favorable new environment and had been unlucky, not only in terms of the usual BABIP, HR/FB, and LOB%, but also in terms of his peripherals (i.e. strikeouts, walks, and ground balls). Here’s what I said about Vazquez then:
No matter how much bad luck he faces in terms of HR/FB (which will greatly improve moving away from Chicago), BABIP, or LOB%, I can’t see Vazquez’s ERA being held above 4.00 as it has four out of the last five years. In fact, his QERA hasn’t been higher than 3.35 over the past three years, and there’s a good chance his actual ERA ends up there in 2009. Plus, with the strikeout adjustments, he could strike out over 230 batters if he reaches his usual innings total. Huge fantasy value to be had here.
Vazquez’s CAPS K/9 for 2006-2008 were 9.4, 10.1, and 9.7, respectively. While 2009 is still young, here we are on June 1 and his K/9 currently sits at 11.0. This puts him on pace for 250 strikeouts, above even my seemingly high prediction (to compare, ZiPS was the most optimistic of the major projection systems at 202). He obviously won’t strike out that many batters, but he is undoubtedly the real deal. If you weren’t a reader of THT Fantasy at the time or didn’t have the opportunity to draft Vazquez, then my reason for writing today is strictly for you. Buy Javier Vazquez now!
Now I’d like to throw out my own “one of these things is not like the other” challenge. While Vazquez surely belongs on the above list, what makes him different from the rest? Take a look at that ERA: 3.58. That is a high ERA for a guy as talented as he is. While he might never live up to his LIPS ERA—he always seems to struggle with at least one of his luck indicators—his ERA should decrease. He’s currently experiencing a bit of bad luck with all three of the luck indicators, and once it evens out a bit, Vazquez could easily post an ERA in the low-to-mid 3.00s. (And as a side-note, his DIPS WHIP is 1.02 to go with his massive strikeout numbers).
This means that Vazquez is one of the best pitchers in baseball but won’t demand the same price tag as a guy like Greinke. This is especially true since so many owners have been burned by him before and since he’s seemed to pitch inconsistently this year.
Right now, he should be at the top of anyone’s trade target list who doesn’t already own him. The only pitchers I prefer to Vazquez at this point are Santana and Lincecum and maybe Jake Peavy. One could make a case for Greinke and maybe Dan Haren, but I’d probably take Vazquez if push came to shove. Own C.C. Sabathia? Roy Halladay? Cliff Lee? Josh Johnson? If you do, I wouldn’t hesitate to make a one-for-one trade for Vazquez. You’ll likely be able to get him for less than that, but if it comes right down to it I’d make the deal and expect an upgrade.