A Possible Farewell to Reluctant Ace Javy Vazquez

Javier Vazquez is working on a 25-inning scoreless streak, and he is hinting that this may be his last season:

I’ll come back as a fan and bring my kids to the stadium… Most of the players play until [someone] takes their uniforms off. For me, it’s not the way it should be… I love my family and I love my kids, and I want to be there with them. I want to see them growing up. And if I don’t, when I’m 50, I’m going to regret that, and I don’t want to regret that. I’ve seen it too many times.

This isn’t the first time that Vazquez has talked about retirement, but it’s the most explicit he’s ever been. Back in August, he told reporters that he and his family had come to a decision, and he would announce it after the season. It’s not that he doesn’t have it any more: he’s been simply brilliant over his last 18 starts, with a 1.91 ERA and a sparkling 106/19 strikeout to walk ratio in 117 2/3 innings. But the man is 35, he has three kids (ages eight, six and three), and as Craig Calcaterra writes: “The guy has made around $92 million in his career… If he truly wants to retire now, let no man say that he hasn’t earned the right to do it.”

Vazquez has earned the right, and he’s earned the money, but he has also left a lot of fans disappointed, most notably in New York. He’s famous for underperforming his peripherals: over the course of his career, his ERA is 4.23, but his FIP is 3.91 and his SIERA is 3.65. A week ago, Eric Seidman wrote that Javier Vazquez’s success was generally a function of his fastball velocity and his inability to strand runners on base (his career strand rate is just 70.8 percent).

Just how far from the norm has Vazquez’s performance been? Of all 30 pitchers in baseball history with at least 2500 strikeouts, Javier Vazquez has the highest career ERA, by nearly half a run. In second place is Chuck Finley at 3.85, and third is Mike Mussina at 3.66. He also has the fewest career wins of any 2500-strikeout pitcher, just 164, 30 fewer than second-place David Cone, thanks in part to spending nearly half his career in Montreal. Vazquez was one of the best strikeout pitchers in baseball history, yet his results were too often mediocre. Other writers have asked why. Now that he’s near the end, the time has come to take a good look at what he did, not what he didn’t.

Vazquez only made the All-Star team once, in 2004, though it wound up being one of his worst seasons, as he finished with a 4.91 ERA (4.78 FIP), chiefly because of an appalling second half when he posted a 6.92 ERA in 14 starts. He only received a single solitary Cy Young vote, in 2009, when Keith Law by himself gave Vazquez a fourth-place finish because every voter but two used their three votes for Tim Lincecum, Chris Carpenter, and Adam Wainwright. Vazquez essentially had four other very good seasons: his ERA- was below 90 in 2000, 2001, and 2003 with the Expos, and 2007 with the White Sox. During every other season of his career (except for his awful rookie year in 1998, and his bad 2010), he was between 90 and 110, between 10 percent better and 10 percent worse than the league, and he finished with a career ERA- of 96.

He never succeeded on the biggest stage. He gave up 18 runs (including six homers) in 15 2/3 playoff innings, including Johnny Damon‘s grand slam in the seventh game of the 2004 ALCS that effectively put a nail in the Yankees’ season. When he returned to the Bronx in 2010, the fans were none too willing to forgive and forget. Will Leitch even went so far as to suggest that their bile was contributing to his poor results. Vazquez was never shy about expressing himself, though: in 2002 in Montreal he wrote a letter to the editor that was printed in the Montreal Gazette calling out columnist Jack Todd for criticizing the team.

He never loved the spotlight, and he won’t mind leaving it. He once told the New York Times’s Jack Curry, “I’m the kind of guy that likes to be under the radar.” During his career, he nearly always was. And he probably would have preferred to fly under the radar in New York, too, rather than be subject to constant criticism for not living up to expectations. It clearly won’t be difficult for him to leave the game that pays his bills. But he certainly will be going out on his own terms. The reluctant ace is leaving no doubt that, at this moment, he is one of the best pitchers in the National League. “It’s a blessing, and I just thank the Lord for helping me finish the season strong like this,” he told the Miami Herald. “I’ve said this a thousand times, if I do retire the decision won’t have anything to do with the way I’m pitching.”




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Alex is a writer for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times, and is a product manager for The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @alexremington.


34 Responses to “A Possible Farewell to Reluctant Ace Javy Vazquez”

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  1. Ryan Vooris says:

    Is it possible that Vazque’s low strand rate is a function of his “nervousness?” It’s not the hugest of stages, like the playoffs or New York, but maybe he is a naturally anxious person. It would follow that with runners on base, he is distracted, overthrows the ball and feels rattled.

    It’s one explanation for the incongruency in his numbers.

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    • Telo says:

      I’d guess his monster HR rate is the biggest culprit of a slightly below average LOB. I’m almost surprised it’s not lower than 70.8% when he gave up 1.18 HR/9.

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    • delv says:

      I always assumed it was a mechanical difference when he pitches out of the stretch

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    • Patricio says:

      I honestly believe he just did not fare well under pressure. I don’t know why so many people in the sabermetrics community ignore the human element. Sometimes, it really IS just the person, and not just some reasoning explained by pitchFX.

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  2. Travis says:

    I’ll always love him as a Braves fan. His one year here, he had an amazing season and then was traded for Arodys Vizcaino, someone with an extremely bright future.

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  3. Louis says:

    This guy is incredibly underrated for having accumulated 55 WAR over his career.

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    • Telo says:

      A classic example of fWAR overestimating a player’s worth. I am neither in the fWAR or bWAR camp, I see the flaws and benefits of both, but this is a perfect example of FIP missing the big picture. Javier Vazquez was definitely not worth 55 wins in his career.

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      • Louis says:

        So, Yankees fan?

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      • Romodonkulous says:

        agreed

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      • Phils_Goodman says:

        Well, he’s right. 3.64 career FIP with Bases Empty, 4.20 FIP with Men on Base. fWAR overrates Vazquez because of his persistent deficiency from the stretch.

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      • JimNYC says:

        Here’s a question that will make even the most die-hard statistical analysis mavens feel a little bit queasy.

        Your a G.M. who gets to pick a guy before his career starts, knowing exactly how it will play out. Who’s career would you rather have: Javier Vazquez or Mariano Rivera? If your answer is Rivera, what does that say about the ability of WAR to accurately account for the value of relief pitchers? If your answer is Vazquez, you have to ask yourself… really? Do you really, truly mean that?

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      • kampfer says:

        Telo is indeed correct. The purpose of developing FIP is to eliminate noise from ERA. The noise in Javy’s career ERA is a better signal than FIP (noise is eliminated by randomization and replication), proving that FIP did a terrible job on estimating at least his true talent.

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      • Los says:

        Mariano River has also earned about $35 Million more than Vazquez and pitched in 1600 fewer innings.

        If I needed someone to pitch 3 inning for me, give me Mo and I won’t have a second thought. However, Vazquez has more WAR simply because he has had more opportunity.

        If the GM was given the choice between Javier Vazquez and 1200 innings of a replacement level reliever or Mariano Rivera and 2600 inning of a replacement level starter, would choosing Vazquez really be that difficult?

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  4. Hurtlocker says:

    Wow, the opportunity to retire at 35 with millions of dollars, spending all your time with your family, that is a pretty easy choice.

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    • Colin says:

      Definitely, wish I had those kind of options. I would go out and teach little league and play beer league softball at night. I could do that now I would just live under a bridge.

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      • Captain Obvious says:

        Tough call. Nice bridge, or one of those shitty falling down bridges we oughtta fix but don’t? It makes a difference.

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    • test says:

      I’d also like the chance to go play professional baseball at age 35 too…it’s a 6 awesome on one side, 6 awesome on the other side type of choice.

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  5. Corvelay says:

    A few years back I was looking at his career stats and noticed he had a pretty decent shot at 3000 Ks, ever since then I had been pulling for it just for the ‘which of these things is not like the others’ value. Only 1 All-Star appearance (and even better, it was during his ultimately disastrous first year on the Yankees) 1 top 10 CY finish (4th in 2009), but membership in 2nd most exclusive pitchers’ club. He would only be 35 at the start of next season and already has 2527 so he probably could have made it at a relatively young age, too.

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  6. BlackOps says:

    Biggest outcome of Javy’s career: poor Yankee fans.

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  7. vivalajeter says:

    I don’t have a list of 2,500 K players, but I’m thinking one reason he has the fewest wins is because he was fewer starts than just about anyone on the list? He’s at the very bottom of the list when it comes to K’s (2,525 or so), so it makes sense that members with over 3,000 strikeouts would have more starts (and more wins) than him.

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  8. Andre says:

    How bad have the defenses behind Javy been? Let’s not forget that defense influences ERA but not FIP

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  9. Bill says:

    This Yankee fans sez “Good Riddance”

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  10. Pie IX says:

    Jack Todd is a dick.

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  11. Bronnt says:

    You didn’t tell me Chuck Finley was involved! If the devil had a name, his name would be CHUCK! FINLEY!

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  12. CircleChange11 says:

    Honestly, I never fully understood or embracede the attention given to Javy.

    I am stunned that he has accumulated 55 WAR. What is that? A couple of good seasons from being Hall of Fame worthy?

    So, I did what I always do … check b-r.com for brWAR, and they have him at 39. Average them together, you have 47 WAR.

    47 WAR for a regular rotation starter of 14 seasons, including 10 of those (possibly 11) being of the ~200 IP variety seems realistic. He’s been a good, durable, occassionally very good (infrequently horrible), starting pitcher.

    55 WAR, IMO, is unacceptable to me. Not “unacceptable” in the regard that I’m so offended that I can’t even consider the thought without dry heaving, but unacceptable in that the measurement must be inaccurate somewhere.

    Not surprisingly, the difference in fWAR and brWAR has to do essentially with ERA (or RA) v. FIP. Over 14 seasons, Javy’s ERA is higher than his FIP. Given 7 different teams (counting the NYY twice) I don;t know that “team defense” or “luck” is the default answer. He’s had 3 seasons where his ERA < FIP, and in those years it's just barely less.

    In terms of true talent for a starting pitcher of 14 seasons, 7 different teams (6 organizations), and 2800 IP, I think the case could be made that ERA or RA is a better gauge of true talent than is FIP.

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    • I would tend to agree. But then again, after someone’s career is over, I would argue that a “true talent” estimator is less ultimately relevant than a fair, accurate, and complete measurement of what actually happened.

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  13. Mike Mussina says:

    Perhaps applesauce is the best supplement to gravy…

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  14. huisj says:

    The 5th, 6th, and 7th inning numbers are what many White Sox fans will remember about Vazquez. How many starts did he have for them in the three years there where he cruised along into the 5th or 6th and then lost it and hung a bunch of breaking balls and gave up a bunch of runs?

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/split.cgi?id=vazquja01&year=2006&t=p#innng

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      Yeah, that’s a damn drastic jump for the 3rd time through the order (NPC 51-75). It’s even way extreme compared to his career averages.

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