Javier Vazquez and the Strike Zone

Javier Vazquez entered the 6th inning against the Tampa Bay Rays last night by walking Ben Zobrist. What ensued afterward was horrific for Yankee fans to watch, as he proceeded to hit not one, not two, but three consecutive batters, including Desmond Jennings and Willy Aybar on consecutive pitches. Here are the characteristics of the three HBPs:

1. 67 MPH curveball to RHH
2. 91 MPH fastball to RHH
3. 73 MPH curveball to RHH

It’s just been that kind of year for Vazquez. His K/9 is down from 9.77 last year to 7.10 this year. More concerning is his current 3.67 BB/9, a career high. He has also more than doubled his home runs allowed rate and increased his FIP from 2.77 last season (.297 BABIP) to 5.34 this season (.274 BABIP). Looking at plate discipline statistics, Vazquez has a career low in Zone% this season with 45.0% (compared to 49.4% from last season). Batters are also getting more contact this season when they swing (Contact% of 81.2%) compared to last season (73.3%). Both first pitch strikes and swinging strikes are down significantly.

A look at the density plots of each of Vazquez’s pitches may tell us which pitch Vazquez has lost control of this season. Vazquez throws a fastball, slider, curveball, and changeup. Let’s take a look at Vazquez’s fastballs against both RHH and LHH in 2009 and 2010:


The red points represent fastballs from all right-handed pitchers that hit the batter that season to give an idea of where the batter stands. It appears that Vazquez is throwing many more fastballs outside of the zone this season compared to last. Both fastballs to RHH and LHH are outside the zone more often in 2010. Let’s look at Vazquez’s sliders:


Against RHH, Vazquez is throwing a lot more low and away sliders, some of them presumably in the dirt. Against LHH, Vazquez is throwing a lot more inside sliders this season than last season, coming dangerously close to hitting left-handed hitters. Let’s look at Vazquez’s curveballs:


At first glance, it looks like Vazquez is hitting the strikezone more when throwing curveballs to RHH, as well as avoiding curveballs that land a foot below the strikezone. There do seem to be more high, hanging curveballs than before against both RHH and LHH. Finally, let’s look at Vazquez’s changeups:


Vazquez is hitting the strikezone more with changeups against RHH and seems to be throwing more outside changeups to LHH. A look at Vazquez’s pitch type values shows significant decreases in values for all of his pitches. With the exception of changeups, the run value of all of Vazquez’s pitches have been below average. Still, even if Vazquez is hitting the zone more often with his changeups, his wCH/C decreased from a stellar 2.56 runs above average per 100 changeups down to 0.03 runs this season, suggesting that Vazquez’s decline has more to do than just loss of control.



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Albert Lyu (@thinkbluecrew, LinkedIn) is a graduate student at the Georgia Institute of Technology, but will always root for his beloved Northwestern Wildcats. Feel free to email him with any comments or suggestions.


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rjandersonfan
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rjandersonfan
5 years 11 months ago

hey look, real analysis on javier vazquez!

don
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don
5 years 11 months ago

Took me a little while to figure out that that was all HBPs by all pitchers.

How many of the HBPs within the strike zone belong to Utley?

waynetolleson
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waynetolleson
5 years 11 months ago

All this analysis on Javier Vazquez is nice. However, sometimes, you simply need to watch a guy pitch to see the problem. Look at Vazquez’ body language. Look at the expression on his face.

Javier Vazquez is a perfect example of a player who just can’t handle the pressures of pitching in NYC. Additionally, Vazquez has lost 2.3 MPH off his fastball, making both his fastball and his off-speed pitches substantially less effective.

He can’t attack the strike zone with his fastball, leading to his falling behind in the count with much greater frequency. His off-speed pitches lack the bite they used to have. There’s not the differential between his fastball and off-speed pitches that there used to be. Because of the decreased fastball velocity, batters can look for his off-speed stuff, as they’re confident they’re not going to beaten by an 88-MPH fastball, even if they’re looking off-speed.

All of this has led to a huge crisis in confidence, resulting in Javier Vazquez’ being a virtually useless pitcher at the moment…

DT
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DT
5 years 11 months ago

“Javier Vazquez is a perfect example of a player who just can’t handle the pressures of pitching in NYC.”

I’m seriously considering this be the worst excuse ever when a pitcher fails. Seriously its most worthless and baseless “analysis” of whats wrong with a pitcher. You are right that his diminished velocity and etc has made him from all star to nothing, but to relate it to “the NYC Pressure” is just stupid.

waynetolleson
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waynetolleson
5 years 11 months ago

You might think the concept of pressure is stupid. I, personally, think it’s stupid to ignore the human element to the game. Pitching for the NY Yankees is different than pitching for another team in another city. It’s different pitching in an environment where you’re getting booed in the third inning of a game in April because you gave-up four early runs. It’s different getting pulled from the rotation repeatedly because you’re not performing. That doesn’t happen in Montreal, Atlanta, or Arizona, (or, at least, it doesn’t happen nearly as quickly).

I also think it’s stupid to ignore things like intangibles and mental toughness. If you’ve watched him over the course of his career, Javier Vazquez does not respond well in pressure situations. That’s why despite all his glossy K and K/BB numbers, Vazquez is a .500 pitcher.

The quality of Vazquez’ stuff has diminished significantly. Couple that with the fact he’s facing tougher competition, and playing in a much more intense atmosphere than that to which he was accustomed: it makes for a deadly combination.

Vazquez doesn’t have the stuff he used to have, and he doesn’t have the mental game to survive with his diminished stuff. That’s why he’s getting killed this year, just like he got killed in 2004. Some guys just can’t handle pitching in the Bronx, and Javier Vazquez is certainly one of them.

fredsbank
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fredsbank
5 years 11 months ago

boohoo, something my stats dont account for certainly cant be real

random
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random
5 years 11 months ago

“Javier Vazquez is a perfect example of a player who just can’t handle the pressures of pitching in NYC. Additionally, Vazquez has lost 2.3 MPH off his fastball, making both his fastball and his off-speed pitches substantially less effective. ”

I would say the second sentence is about 1000x more relevant to Vazquez’ performance than the first.

Also, looking at the pitch distributions, you can see that Vazquez’ control HAS been worse. For example, take his slider vs RHH. Good control with the slider against same-handed hitting is low and breaking away, trying to get hitters to whiff on it, which is exactly what he did in 2009. In 2010, that density has moved higher up and closer to the middle of the plate – in other words, his breaking pitch has become more hittable. You see the same issue with the rest of his pitches, in that they’re finding the fatter parts of the strike zone more often. He’s throwing too many strikes.

Brad Johnson
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5 years 11 months ago

Can frustration and pressure be adding to Vasquez’ struggles? Absolutely. However, we don’t have enough inside information to make that judgment call. What we do have enough info on is his deteriorating control and dropping velocity. We don’t NEED to determine whether it’s injury, bad work ethic, pressure, or any other proximate cause that’s resulted in his reduced effectiveness.

The human element is very important, but what I see again and again by people who trumpet this line is that they greatly oversimplify it. There’s a reason writers tend to ignore the human element, it’s impossibly complex to understand, especially with all the distance between us and the athlete. None of us know anything about Javy Vazquez, at least nothing that would tell us with some certainty what human element has limited his performance this season.

It might be the pressure of pitching in NY. But it’s impossible for us to conclude that.

waynetolleson
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waynetolleson
5 years 11 months ago

“…we don’t have enough inside information to make that judgment call.”

You don’t need “inside information.” Look at the expression on Vazquez’ face when he pitches. It’s plain as day that this man is feeling all sorts of pressure, that he’s constantly overwhelmed by the situation, that he’s unable to focus and execute his pitches.

This is exactly what happened to Vazquez in 2004, too. It’s not a coincidence that the two worst seasons of Vazquez’ career have come as a Yankee. Some guys are able to elevate their games under pressure, e.g. David Wells, Orlando Hernandez. Other guys crumble under pressure.

I was hoping that this year would be different, but it hasn’t been. Javier Vazquez is one of those guys who simply cannot perform in the Bronx.

Anon
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Anon
5 years 11 months ago

It’s the same exact expression he had pitching for the Braves. And the White Sox. And the Yankees. And the Diamondbacks. And the Expos.

My echo and bunnymen
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My echo and bunnymen
5 years 11 months ago

Booing not occuring fast in Atlanta, oh boy. Ignorance being preached by the ignorant. Visit good ole Turner Field before you speak.

MikeS
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MikeS
5 years 11 months ago

He was booed plenty in Chicago. Believe it or not, there are places outsode the Bronx that yearn for baseball success. Ask Lou Pinella about pressure in Chicago.

Matthias
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5 years 10 months ago

This season, Javy has pitched very similarly at home and away. While his FIPs are vastly different, that comes from a huge difference in HR/FB (double at home). In fact, his K/BB are actually better at home than on the road this season. StatCorner tells us that lefties hit homeruns like crazy at Yankee Stadium, and lefties generally hit better off righties, like Javy. In other words, it doesn’t appear as though Javy is pitching any better on the road than at home.

I would think the pressure of playing in New York, if it indeed affects a player, would be more pronounced in the stats at home in New York where the crowd’s boos are present during pitching. This doesn’t seem to be the case with Javy, as his stats are pretty much bad (this season) no matter where he pitches.

Jim Lahey
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Jim Lahey
5 years 11 months ago

Ya looks to me like he’s throwing changeups right down the middle this year, where as last year he was getting people to chase out of the zone… especially to RHH.

And is it me… or does he look like he’s awfully predictable this year compared to last? Pitches going to the same spots in the strikezone.. doesn’t seem to vary where he’s putting the ball much.. just trying to get it over and he’s getting rocked

Matthias
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5 years 10 months ago

Perhaps predictable because he’s not getting ahead, and facing more hitter-friendly counts. Here are some interesting splits…

1998-2009:
Strike percentage: 65%
0-1 counts seen: 63%
0-2 counts seen: 25.4%
2-0 counts seen: 11.7%
3-0 counts seen: 3.5%

2010:
Strike percentage: 63%
0-1 counts seen: 61%
0-2 counts seen: 21.5%
2-0 counts seen: 15.0%
3-0 counts seen: 5.8%

Javy is not getting ahead of hitters like he used to. He has seen reductions in the frequency of all pitcher counts, and increases in all hitter’s counts.

phoenixnyy
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phoenixnyy
5 years 11 months ago

obviously vasquez has lost the strike zone with his fastball especially. He is falling behind batters and is forced then to throw over the plate. And now that hes lost so much of his stuff, he cant beat batters with an 88mph FB in a 3-1 count like he could before. And so he instead tries to throw them something offspeed. Unfortunately for him, his offspeed stuff has lost so much movement that when he throws a curve or slider over the plate, he cant count on it breaking off the plate. It is fat in the middle of the zone and hanging and it he gets rocked. He has lost FB velocity so he cant attack with it and he has lost breaking stuff so it hangs more and he throws it over the heart of the plate, expecting it to break out but it doesnt. Consequently, he misses more and when he doesnt, he throws hanging breaking balls in the middle of the plate. He is done. He doesnt have the command to survive with decreased stuff like pettitte or moyer, and it shows.

thevauntedchris
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thevauntedchris
5 years 11 months ago

—–“You don’t need “inside information.” Look at the expression on Vazquez’ face when he pitches. It’s plain as day that this man is feeling all sorts of pressure, that he’s constantly overwhelmed by the situation, that he’s unable to focus and execute his pitches.”

While I think your argument is probably valid and reasonable to a certain extent, this type of statement doesn’t help your cause. Are you a professional face reader?

waynetolleson
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waynetolleson
5 years 11 months ago

“Are you a professional face reader?”

Why, yes, I am. Thanks for asking.

Eric
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Eric
5 years 11 months ago

I like your breakdown, but shouldn’t the question by WHY does he not have his good stuff anymore? I don’t think analysis is necessary to show that he’s not executing his pitches. That’s pretty obvious. It’s either injury, bad mechanics, old age, or the mental “human element” thing that you guys are arguing about.

Sky
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Sky
5 years 10 months ago

So 2010 generally has larger blobs, perhaps indicating poorer control. But the fastball and slider against lefties look to show a different intent, too. He’s thrown more inside fastballs against and fewer outside (backdoor) sliders against lefties this year.

Looking at his L/R splits, lefties are crushing him to a .900 OPS this year, when they hadn’t been over .800 in a long time. Righties have a .686 OPS, the second lowest number in a long time.

Lost velocity is obviously going to hurt, but it appears Vazquez’ loss of performance has occurred only against lefties. I wonder how much of that is a change in approach, not a change in stuff.

waynetolleson
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waynetolleson
5 years 10 months ago

“Lost velocity is obviously going to hurt, but it appears Vazquez’ loss of performance has occurred only against lefties. I wonder how much of that is a change in approach, not a change in stuff.”

If you’ve watched him over the years, Vazquez throws change-ups-, curveballs, and sliders that seem to float in the batters eyes. When Vazquez is on his game, those pitches drop like a stone just as they reach the strike zone, after the batter has started his swing. This generates a lot of swings and misses.

However, when he’s off his game, those pitches just hang-up in the strike zone, and Vazquez gets destroyed.

A big part of Javy’s success rides on his arm angle. If he doesn’t have his arm angle high enough, his pitches don’t have that sharp, downward break. Most of this season, not only has Javy been lacking velocity, but his off-speed stuff lack snap. Given that he delivers the ball at a three-quarters angle, lefties have a good view of the ball out of Vazquez’ hand. And when lefties are getting those hanging off-speed pitches, they’re crushing them.

Matthias
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5 years 10 months ago

Pitch F/x does indeed show less “bite” to his curve. It’s dropping about 2 less inches than last year. However his change is actually about the same, “dropping” 0.2 more inches. It seems the problem with his change has more to do with fastball velocity than with movement.

waynetolleson
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waynetolleson
5 years 10 months ago

Vazquez’ change is likely made less effective by the lost velocity on his fastball and the lost movement on his curve. Batters need not worry about the fastball or curve as much as they did in years past, which, in turn, makes his change-up less effective.

Oh, and there’s also the factor that Vazquez is one of those guys who will never succeed in NY, especially in the Bronx. (He’ll also probably never succeed in any big-game situation, either.) I see Vazquez on the mound. He looks nervous. He looks like he has no confidence that he’s going to succeed. Therefore, I have no confidence he’ll succeed.

Mat
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Mat
5 years 10 months ago

“You don’t need “inside information.” Look at the expression on Vazquez’ face when he pitches. It’s plain as day that this man is feeling all sorts of pressure, that he’s constantly overwhelmed by the situation, that he’s unable to focus and execute his pitches.”

Is it “plain as day?”. By plain as day you meant nonsense, correct? You need to go on a diatribe about how he’s not clutchy or gritty enough next.

waynetolleson
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waynetolleson
5 years 10 months ago

“By plain as day you meant nonsense, correct?”

No. By “plain as day,” I meant that you would have to be either completely stupid or so rigidly dogmatic and stubborn in your approach that you are not able to see that the concept of dealing with pressure is very real in professional sports.

Stats are wonderful. I love this site. It does a wonderful job compiling and presenting statistics. Statistics don’t play games. Players play games. Players are human beings, and are subject to the same things that all human beings are subject to, including dealing with stress, pressure, and controlling one’s emotions.

It’s such a shame that so many people like you fail to understand something that is so simple and obvious. Sadder still is how people like you seem to think that baseball players are simply robots with statistics that you plug into some mathematical function, and if only you enter the right numbers, the function will spit-out the desired result.

Rob in CT
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Rob in CT
5 years 10 months ago

I have to say, this season has been enough to make me waver on the “he can’t pitch in NY” thing.

He says he’s not hurt. If true, the diminished stuff would be due to bad mechanics. Bad mechanics that he’s been unable to fix all year? I don’t get it. He looks exactly the way he looked in the 2nd half of 2004. I thought that he was hiding some injury that season, but I don’t recall ever seeing confirmation of it. So what we appear to have is 1.5 seasons of awful pitching with no injury to explain it.

I *has* been established that Javy pitches worse with runners on (moreso than the average pitcher – all decline, I think). That’s been studied. He kinda sucks from the stretch, even when he’s having a good year. Well, this year he’s in the stretch pretty much all the time. It snowballs.

Danmay
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Danmay
5 years 10 months ago

I think it’s important to remember that some think Fangraphs is intended to always strive for sound baseball analysis with an emphasis on always improving while others are interesting in arguing their opinion.

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