Vazquez the Bust
As anyone who knows me realizes, I was never a fan of bringing Javier Vazquez back to the Yankees. I’ve always thought his failure to win during his last go-round, in 2004, was more mental than mechanical. Those suspicions were furthered when, two years ago while pitching for the White Sox, his manager basically threw him under the bus; challenging his manhood and daring him to be aggressive prior to a playoff start against the Rays. Javy’s response was, well, certainly not full of machismo:
“You know what? It’s not going to [change a lot of opinions] because I’m really the type of guy that when I retire, I’m going to be home in Puerto Rico with my family. I’m not looking to have to change minds if people feel that way.”
He then went out and proceeded to give up 6 runs on 8 hits, including two moon-shot homers, in a miserable 4 1/3 innings. Regardless of how much Kenny Williams may not like Ozzie spouting his opinions in public, he must agree with his manager. After all, the following off-season the White Sox shipped him to Atlanta in exchange for 4 minor leaguers. Of those, only Brent Lillibridge has had any lasting power at the major league level – that is, if you call a .177 batting average in 75 games over parts of two seasons “lasting power.”
Vazquez has been known as baseball’s greatest enigma during his career. When playing for 2nd-division teams, his stuff is electric and he posts eye-popping numbers. But the moment a contender trades for him, he goes into the tank. Consider this chart:
|Javier Vazquez||Teams in Contention||Teams not in Contention|
And you quickly appreciate what Ozzie and other baseball people have long realized: Javy has the stuff, but neither the heart nor the stomach to be a quality big league pitcher. So imagine my horror when I read this in Joel Sherman’s blog yesterday:
“The Yanks did not consider Javier Vazquez a perfect fit. There were members of the organization who felt it was never worthwhile to reunite with a player who had failed previously as a Yankee. There were members of the organization who thought Vazquez had, at the least, a bit of the loser gene; that knack to pitch below his stuff and to give up the crushing hit at the worst time.
‘But for their purposes, the Yanks saw Vazquez as the best possible situation. The Yanks were worried about how hard CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte worked last year between the regular season and postseason, and feared that there could be a diminishment in their stuff/effectiveness. Vazquez, they figured, would at the least be a league-average innings eater, at a time when that species would be of incredible value.”
If true (and I have no reason to doubt it; Joel Sherman has usually been dead right on his sourcing), then that means the sabermatricians in the Yankee front office won out over the baseball people – again. Because let’s face it, Javy Vazquez has been far from league average. His ERA now stands at a nine – dead last among 111 league starters who qualify for the ERA title; the league average is 4.75. I’d rather not get into the rest of the numbers. You can pick up today’s columns from Marc Carig, Paul Bourdet and Mark Feinsand if you’re masochistic enough for that. The most disconcerting thing about Vazquez is that the Yankees brought him back in the hopes that with a reduced role – being a league-average innings-eater – he wouldn’t feel the pressure that has always cooked his goose. Unfortunately, it seems as though Javy can’t get out if his own way. He should have realized from his first tour in the Bronx that blaming the fans for his failures is not the way to get them off his back. Yet, that’s exactly what he did after his last start at Yankee Stadium, when the fans booed him off the field. If he expects better treatment in his next start after those comments (likely on Saturday), then he’s living in fantasy world.
Look: it’s really very simple for Javier Vazquez to get the fans and media off his back. All he has to do is start giving some quality starts. You know, 6+ innings, 3 or fewer runs. String 3 or 4 of those together, and he can start to solidify his hold on the #4 rotation spot. The problem is, I don’t think he’s capable of it, at least not while wearing pinstripes. And already, the rumblings are being heard from the front office that it may be time to cut and run on the whole experiment. Even staunch supporters like Mike Francesa are beginning to jump off the bandwagon (which may be the first time I’ve agreed with him in a long time). The simple fact is, Javy had a horrendous April. But unlike past bad Aprils by CC Sabathia (a proven winner everywhere) or Chien Ming-Wang (who had been a winner before running the bases in Houston), Yankee fans have one indelible picture of Vazquez in their minds, and it’s similar to that of a cowed schoolboy who was just sent to the principal’s office. It doesn’t help him that he was traded for Melky Cabrera – a very popular player. But that’s his reality; he’d better start living it or find another city to play ball in.
The question the Yanks need to ask is, how many more starts are they willing to give him to demonstrate he has the heart, the mental toughness and the desire to pitch in New York? Is it one more? 5 more? 10 more? Right now, the rest of the rotation is pitching well enough to carry him, but nobody really expects Andy Pettite to keep pitching to a 1.29 ERA and nobody really expects Phil Hughes to throw one-hitters every time he takes the mound. Once they come back down to earth, the Yanks will need Vazquez. Will he be up to the challenge, or will they be forced into looking at other options?