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?