The Vazquez Trade

Last night, the Braves decided to end all the Jake Peavy speculation and go in another direction – that direction was Javier Vazquez, as they sent a group of prospects to the White Sox for the talented but enigmatic Puerto Rican. With only 2 years and $23 million left on his deal, he’s significantly cheaper than Peavy, and they didn’t have to touch their major league roster or their top prospects in order to add him to their rotation. However, lower cost doesn’t always mean better value – so, let’s look at what the Braves should expect to get from Vazquez.

If there’s one word to describe Vazquez, it’s durable. He’s thrown 200 innings every single year this decade except for 2004, when he threw 198 innings. He’s made 32-34 starts in every one of those years. The man takes the ball every five days without fail. If it’s innings the Braves were looking for, they found the right guy.

The quality of those innings, though, that’s another story. As Eric noted a month ago, there’s not a pitcher in baseball who has underachieved as much in his career as Vazquez. His career FIP is an outstanding 3.93, but his ERA is 4.32 – four tenths of a run higher over 2,270 innings. Based on his BB/K/HR rates, Vazquez should have performed significantly better than he has in his career.

However, for whatever reason, he just can’t seem to strand runners to save his life. His career LOB% is 70.4%, which is pretty much dead on league average – but Vazquez isn’t a league average pitcher, and with his ability to miss bats while not walking batters, he should be better than average at runner stranding as well. Peavy, for instance, has a career 77.6% LOB% on a 3.51 FIP. The difference in strand rate is significantly larger than the difference in their core skills, and it’s why Peavy has won a Cy Young award and Vazquez has been traded numerous times.

Even with his inconsistency, Vazquez should be good for 200 innings with a 4.00 ERA or so in the NL, making him worth about +3 wins compared to a replacement level pitcher. That’s a solid addition to any rotation, but is he worth $11.5 million a year plus four young prospects?

Maybe. If he lives up to his talent, the Braves will be happy with the trade. If he continues to underachieve, though, we may be analyzing next year’s Vazquez trade at this time.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

13 Responses to “The Vazquez Trade”

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  1. Conballs says:

    You have to think Vazquez is going to pitch better simply based upon change in park and league. Even though CitiBank Park is somewhat of a mystery, every park in the NL East is skewed towards pitching except Citizen’s Bank. Also, with the elderstatesmen that have gotten injured, I think the Braves were desperate to obtain a guy who can guarantee 200 innings. That has tremendous value in itself. I think this is a win for the Braves right now.

    Typo: You meant Vazquez not Peavy in your 2nd to last paragraph.

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  2. BraveBronco0121 says:

    I think the “four young prospects” line is slightly misleading. Here’s who the Braves gave up.

    1. Tyler Flowers, C
    The centerpiece of the deal, Flowers has shown power, patience, and the ability to hit for average throughout his minor league career. He’s probably too big to stay behind the plate, so I’m thinking he’s a career 1B. That being said, he was old for his level (22 years old at High-A) and with his AFL dominance, his value is likely as high as it ever will be. Of the top prospects in Atlanta, he was easily the best candidate to be dealt for an upgrade. Think of it like this – as a first baseman, he’s nothing but a guy who mashed a league he was a bit too old for.

    2. Brent Lillibridge, SS
    To be honest, I don’t see him as anything but a utility man at this point. He is slick with the glove, but he’s struggled in the high minors as a hitter. Expendable.

    3. Jon Gilmore, 3B
    Impressive numbers, but he’s yet to play a month at the A level.

    2. Santos Rodriguez, LHP
    Like Gilmore, the numbers were impressive, but he was a 20 year old in the Appalachian League.

    To me, this is not a major package of prospects. Flowers is the most likely to make a major league team, Lillibridge hasn’t shown an ability to hit AAA pitching, and the other two haven’t even gotten past rookie ball yet.

    As to Vasquez, yes, I think he’s worth that. The going rate seems to be 5.5 mil/win over replacement, and at that rate I think Vasquez is reasonably worth about 15 million per year. In Atlanta, he’ll be in a friendlier park, pitching in an easier league, and in front of a better defense than he had in Chicago. He’s worth the money he’s making.

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  3. Terry says:

    Dave:

    What is the average difference between a starter’s FIP and his ERA on any given year and what might be the expected difference for a starter’s career?

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  4. Terry says:

    Just playing with some numbers for last season and the average difference between the FIP and ERA for all pitchers who threw over 120 innings was 12.3% of his ERA.

    The difference between JV’s career ERA and FIP is about 9% of his career ERA.

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  5. Dave Cameron says:

    That doesn’t tell you anything, though – that’s just small sample variance.

    Try finding another pitcher with 2,000+ major league innings with this kind of disparity between his FIP and ERA. Good luck.

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  6. Terry says:

    That’s what I’m asking Dave-you obviously have a handle on what an average disparity would be. What is it?

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  7. Terry says:

    Just for fun I started plugging in a couple arms. The first two that came to mind who pitched over 2000 innings while also playing for several teams were Jamie Moyer and Charlie Hough.

    The difference between Moyer’s career FIP and career ERA was 5% of his career ERA. The difference between Hough’s career ERA and FIP was actually 14% of his ERA.

    Just playing with BR’s event finder to generate a list of guys with over 2000 IP though, looks like there will be a pretty tight relationship between FIP and ERA.

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  8. Terry says:

    Here’s a crazy one (though maybe not a surprising one to those who watched Palmer). The difference between his FIP and ERA was a whopping 43% of his ERA (career ERA= 2.86; career FIP: 3.50).

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  9. Terry says:

    Here’s another-Catfish Hunter (ERA: 3.26; FIP: 3.66).

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  10. Scappy says:

    Palmer may be an example of a gross difference in the run scoring environment of the 70s. I’m not sure if FIP is adjusted on a yearly basis.

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  11. NickP says:

    How do you convert FIP to runs above average?

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  12. Eric Seidman says:

    Nick, do you mean runs above replacement level? For pitchers, what we do is take the projected FIP and IP, and compare it to those of the replacement level. Vazquez’s weighted projections would be for 200 IP at a 3.92 FIP.

    (200 * 3.92)/9 = 87 runs.

    A replacement SP would log 150 IP at a 5.50 FIP, or 92 runs. The other 50 IP would go to a replacement RP at a 4.50 FIP, or 25 runs.

    Put together, Vazquez at 87 runs is 30 runs better than the 117 runs of a replacement level pitcher. 30 runs above replacement = 3 wins above replacement.

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  13. NickP says:

    That’s perfect. I appreciate it.

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