After a ho-hum second stint in the Bronx last year and a disastrous beginning to his Marlins career, most fantasy owners stuck a fork in Javier Vazquez. After all, the soon-to-be 36-year-old was struggling to hit the upper 80s on the radar gun while ensuring that every person in attendance at Sun Life Stadium went home with a souvenir home run ball.
But there has since been a twist in Vazquez’s seeming destiny to finish his career by getting pummeled in front of droves of empty orange seats: he’s starting to pitch more like the workhorse who routinely posted impressive strikeout-to-walk ratios.
Take a look at Vazquez’s K/BB ratio and xFIP by month:
April: 0.74 K/BB, 6.22 xFIP in 25.1 innings
May: 2.0 K/BB, 4.52 xFIP in 27 IP
June: 4.83 K/BB, 3.51 xFIP in 31 IP
July: 7 K/BB, 3.64 xFIP in 13 IP
Vazquez has risen from his early-season depths that had us questioning whether Florida should cut bait on its $7 million free agent signing, showing fine control of the zone and compiling fielding-independent ERAs that best the league average since the calendar turned to June.
His uptick in performance has coincided with an increase in fastball velocity. The right-hander’s heater averaged just 88.4 MPH in April. But the pitch has gained zip each month: 88.8 MPH in May, 90.5 MPH in June and 90.8 MPH so far in July.
That extra velocity has helped Vazquez get more whiffs with his fastball, and it seems reasonable to suggest that it has benefitted his breaking stuff (also up a couple of ticks on the gun) as well.
TexasLeaguers.com shows that Vazquez’s fastball got a whiff 2.6 percent of the time that he threw it in April and May. His whiff rate with the pitch since then is 4.5 percent, closer to the 5-6 percent MLB average. With his slider and curveball, Vazquez got a whiff seven percent of the time in April and May. Since June, his whiff rate with his breaking stuff has climbed to 14 percent (12-13 percent MLB average).
With Vazquez’s stuff improving, hitters are finding it harder to connect and have also found his pitches off the plate more tempting. Opponents’ outside swing rate versus Vazquez sat around 25 percent over April and May, but that mark has increased to 32 percent since (30 percent MLB average).
Because his gruesome, low-velocity start to the season left a bitter taste in the mouths of many owners, Vazquez remains on the waiver wire in most leagues. His ESPN ownership rate is just five percent, and he’s taken in roughly a quarter of Yahoo leagues. Should he retain the stuff that he has shown in June and July, Vazquez could be a great pickup for pitching-starved teams.