Javier “Frustration” Vazquez

Growing up as a young Phillies fan, prior to my introduction to sabermetrics or advanced analysis, there were a few things I knew, essentially as facts: the Braves would win the division every year, Scott Rolen was an absolutely incredible fielder, and when the Expos had Javier Vazquez on the mound they were going to be tough to beat. I didn’t immerse myself in the numbers but perhaps the scout in me just knew that his ridiculous movement, repertoire and savvy out there on the mound was bound to baffle hitters.

As I became more sabermetrically inclined it hit me as a shock that his numbers were so, well, what they were. They weren’t bad. They weren’t below average. They weren’t average either. His numbers were above average but nowhere near what they should have been based on the way he looked on the mound and on the potential he possessed. Vazquez, as I would grow to understand, is the classic example of a pitcher whose stuff, savvy, and potential are never fully realized, but who will never experience a drought of suitors based on the belief that he can still figure things out.

Here are his ERA and FIP marks since 2000:

2000: 4.05 ERA/3.67 FIP
2001: 3.42 ERA/3.21 FIP
2002: 3.91 ERA/3.68 FIP
2003: 3.24 ERA/3.31 FIP
2004: 4.91 ERA/4.78 FIP
2005: 4.42 ERA/4.06 FIP
2006: 4.84 ERA/3.86 FIP
2007: 3.74 ERA/3.80 FIP
2008: 4.74 ERA/4.02 FIP

Notice anything? Perhaps that his FIP is just about always better than his ERA? Based on his controllable skills, Vazquez is a very, very good pitcher, but for whatever reason this does not always come to fruition in his ERA. Granted, ERA is not the best metric to gauge pitcher performance, but when a guy consistently posts lower FIPs you have to wonder what exactly is going on.

Each year he posts very good K/BB ratios and solid walk and strikeout per nine inning rates. Additionally, from 2001-07, his WHIP ranged from 1.08-1.29, so it isn’t as if he has allowed a plethora of baserunners. His strand rate in that span is around 72%, which is league average, meaning he hasn’t been drastically unlucky in that regard. All told, he has great controllable skills, doesn’t allow many baserunners, and strands around the average rate, yet something is preventing him from being an annual Cy Young Award contender.

He throws a two-seam fastball which is more closely associated with a sinker than a hard heater. Because of this we wouldn’t be wrong to expect good groundball numbers from Javy. Since 2005, however, his GB/FB has been under 1.0, which tells us that he has been allowing more flyballs than grounders. His home runs allowed could be a big factor in preventing him from being more successful: From 2001-2007, of all starters with at least 180 starts in that seven year span, Vazquez has the 6th highest HR/9.

Perhaps something in his location or use of pitches is catalyzing these home runs, or perhaps not. All I know is that he has been a very frustrating pitcher because he just looks like he should be so much better… and he isn’t. Not that he’s bad, by any means, but he should be a perennial all-star. Any thoughts? Or can anyone think of an equally frustrating pitcher?




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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.


19 Responses to “Javier “Frustration” Vazquez”

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  1. Josh Wexler says:

    Not on the same level, but Jon Lieber underperformed his skills quite a bit year after year. For his career, he had a 3.69k/bb ratio! (beating Javy’s 3.33). He also gave up a lot fewer flyballs than Javy (1.32 GB/FB since 2002). Those are also allstar caliber numbers. Yet, Lieber finished his career with a relatively middling 4.26 ERA, and- more importantly- was a huge perennial disappointment to my fantasy team.

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  2. Isaac says:

    You aren’t the only one frustrated and/or miffed with Javier Vasquez. Despite my indifference to the White Sox(Can’t you tell I am a north sider?), I have always become a fan of Vasquez since he came to Chicago. He has frustrated Sox fans to no end and thanks to his new contract, struggles and low win total this year, he has been getting a lot of media scrutiny and hs been the subject of plenty of talk time on the radio.
    I think hopes of him turning it around are now gone. If Don Cooper can’t squeeze the necessary adjustments out of a pitcher, nobody can.

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  3. Isaac says:

    Good example with Lieber. The only difference is that Javy has better stuff, but Lieber made up for that with better control. The ironic thing about Lieber is that after a career of underperforming relative to his peripherals, he has decided to flip the script in his walk year, as he has a 4.93 FIP but a 3.43 ERA.

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  4. melted says:

    AJ Burnett springs to mind, but his problems have been injuries moreso than anything.

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  5. dan says:

    Not a pitcher, but J.D. Drew comes to mind.

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  6. Eric says:

    Justin Verlander, Jeremy Bonderman. But I’m not from Detroit or anything. Really, I’m not.

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  7. dan says:

    Javy was pretty good tonight. EAT YOUR WORDS

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  8. Chris Miller says:

    A career .310 BABIP would probably explain part of it.

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  9. AJR says:

    Kip Wells had some flashes where he shoulda been good. Homer Bailey will end up being the same

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  10. taro says:

    Vazquez is an example of a guy with good “control” and not “command”.

    He could probably afford to be a little less aggressive with his stuff; he gives up a pretty healthy dose of XBHs.

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  11. Mike says:

    David Bush goes in the same category – or at least, so far, is on pace to join it. I think it’s something about the fly balls. Maybe they pitch up in the zone too much?

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  12. Sky says:

    Vazquez is pitching in a homerun-happy park in front of poor fielders. Could explain some of it.

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  13. Chris Miller says:

    I think that could explain a lot of it.

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  14. Big Steve says:

    Jeremy Bonderman is at the top of my list. With a career FIP of 4.10 and a career ERA of 4.74. More specifically he has an above average K rate and an above average walk rate, which gives him a good K/BB rate. He also sports an average groundball rate, which has contributed to his about average hr/rate. The best thing I can point to for his lack of success is a career babip of .317 (in line with his LD rate of 19.6 %), and his low LOB % (67.5% which corresponds with his high babip). Looks like the dude just gives up a bunch of line drives/ I don’t know if it’s something he is doing or just bad luck. Though in about 1000 innings one would expect luck to even out.

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  15. Sucker Bets says:

    RE: Bonderman
    Isn’t 19.6 LD% slightly below the league average (thus, a good number for him)? If I’m not mistaken, the 2007 average LD% was 20.3 so Idk if that can’t explain it.

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  16. brendan norton says:

    Kris Benson was always mentioned to have underperformed, but looking at his FIP and K/BB, i never really thought he had much going for him

    ………………. except for his wife

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  17. Big Steve says:

    Actually league average in 2007 was about 19.1 % * which was higher than the average ld rates the rest of Bonderman’s career.

    2006- 18.6 %
    2005- 18.3 %
    2004- 18.4 %
    2003- 18.5%

    This is actually a bigger difference than on may think. If you add .12 to these numbers to derive babip the difference does matter. If you use 18.6 % ld rate you would guess a babip of 306 compared to one of .316 with and ld rate of 19.6%. This would not account for the whole discrepancy, but its a start.

    *Line drive rates derived from hit trajectory numbers at baseball reference.

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  18. Big Steve says:

    Strike all of that. I guess baseball-reference had different batted ball data than fangraphs. According to BR Bonderman’s career ld rate is 18.3 %. I guess I have no idea why he has been underperforming except for his lob rate.

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  19. Chris says:

    I think a lot of his struggles are between his ears. He seems to not be able to pitch around errors or be able to put bad pitches behind him. I’ve seen him on cruise control for 4 innings, then an error or a homer completely derails him and he can’t even get out of the inning. I agree about his stuff, it’s excellent, but he loses command once something goes awry. Reminds me a lot of old Scott Erickson of the Twins. He too had fantastic stuff, but when stuff started going wrong, more often than not he couldn’t get it back.

    P.s. I just dropped him from my Fantasy team too….

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