Let’s start with some quotes…
Part of Vazquez’s inability to win at home so far can be attributed to hard luck, but part of it can also be explained by his tendency to be victimized by one bad inning.
Vazquez’s problem has been one bad inning, usually the fifth or sixth.
He holds the patent on the Really Bad Pitch and is currently litigating for trademark rights to the term “One Bad Inning,”
—ESPN (Keith Law)
This time, Javier Vazquez didn’t have reason to be frustrated about that one bad inning that doomed him courtesy of a number of soft singles.
Javy has three quality pitches, but the one thing that has got him into trouble this year is just one bad inning, a hiccup. … When he avoids that, he has been dominant.
Javier Vazquez had that one bad inning syndrome thing we had heard so much about when he came over here, though, like Frenchy said, it wasn’t like they hit him hard or anything.
Vazquez has a reputation as a “1 bad inning” guy. Now, I have yet to find anyone who has actually studied his game lines to see if he’s prone to clumping his hits and walks together (producing more runs than expected for that numbers of hits/walks), but it’s at least logically possible, and given his reputation, it’s worth investigating.
—Commenter “Mark” on my Vazquez article from Monday
On Monday, I talked about why I believe Javier Vazquez will be one of the top pitchers in baseball this year. A couple commenters were less than convinced, saying that even with the improved peripherals predicted by CAPS (and which he is currently displaying), he still may not get to that elite level. I pasted an excerpt from commenter Mark above, essentially summarizing what so many sportswriters have been saying for years. Today, I’d like to examine whether or not this is actually true of Vazquez or if it is simply incorrect conventional wisdom that has developed into a sort of conformation bias each time it happens.
To test the validity of the claim, I used the ever-useful Retrosheet to examine Vazquez dating back to 2004. There were a couple different ways to tackle the problem, but I went with what Mark suggested—how often Vazquez bunches hits and walks (and HBP) together, “producing more runs than expected for that numbers of hits/walks.”
To define “bunching,” I’ll say that it is any inning in which Vazquez allows more hits and walks than his WHIP would indicate. As almost every pitcher posts a WHIP between 1.00 and 2.00, every inning in which he allows two or more runners will be examined. In my calculations, I broke things down by the percentage of time Vazquez allowed at least two, three, four, five, six, and seven hits and walks in an inning.
[For those really interested, I made sure to use the number of instances in which a pitcher started an inning, not his total combined innings for the year (i.e. when a pitcher is taken out after recording just one out, this counts as a full inning for our purposes).]
In addition to testing Vazquez’s numbers, I also ran the numbers for league average. I wanted to test a group of pitchers with similar peripherals to Vazquez as well, but I couldn’t quite get it done in time. I may post those results in the future, though it’s entirely possible they don’t differ too terribly much from league average.
If you’d like to see the results for each year individually, click here.
Overall, the results don’t lend too much weight to the arguments that Vazquez is prone to bunching his hits and walks together. He has been better than average in allowing two, five, and six H/BB innings and below average at three, four, and seven H/BB innings, but not by a whole lot (he also never allowed more than seven, while some pitchers allowed as many as 11). In addition, there doesn’t appear to be any recognizable year-to-year trend. He was almost exactly league average in 2004 and 2005, terrific in 2007, and poor in 2006 and 2008.
The fact that he is below average in the three and four H/BB innings might lead us to believe that this is what sportswriters are seeing, but what we’re really looking at is just 0.7% more three- and four-runner innings than league average. That comes out to 1.5 innings per season (assuming 210 innings pitched). Plus, in the really damaging five- and six-runner innings, he’s a bit better than league average.
The net result of his 2004-2008 work is actually the bunching of 1.6 fewer hits and walks than league average per 216 inning appearances (his average number pitched since 2004). If you want to exclude the innings with two hits and walks (which are much less likely to end in runs scoring), he would still only be bunching 5.4 hits and walks more than league average. Exclude the three H/BB innings? Drops to 5.1. Hardly seems condemning, and although it would be useful to see what similarly good pitchers are doing, I think it’s relatively safe to say that Vazquez isn’t some super-magnet for quick, sudden blow-ups.
More likely, I’d wager we’re seeing at least some degree of confirmation bias. After all, a full 16 percent of Vazquez’s innings have resulted in three or more hits and walks. That raw percentage is pretty high. While this comes with the territory for all pitchers, because Vazquez has such a reputation for it, it gets noticed and pointed out much more often when it happens to him.
I may delve a little deeper in the future, but for now, I think this should definitely give us something to think about. At the very least, it means we shouldn’t rule out the possibility that he’ll pitch like an ace for the remainder of 2009. In fact, I think it makes it a little more likely.