Requiem for a risky tradeBy
Yankee fans went to sleep on the night of December 21, 2009 with rumors swirling. We knew that the Yanks were on the verge of acquiring a starting pitcher, but we didn’t know, until the next morning at least, that Javier Vazquez would return to the Bronx. Even though our last meeting with Vazquez was an infamous one and we knew Brian Cashman was rolling the dice on a risky trade, we liked the deal.
And how could we not? For Melky Cabrera, an overrated player on the verge of making more money than he’s worth, the replaceable Michael Dunn and Arodys Vizcaino, a live arm years away from making his Major League debut, the Yanks landed a lefty reliever and one of the top National League hurlers. Lest we forget with the bad taste of 2010 still in our mouths, Javier Vazquez won 15 games with a 2.87 ERA in 2009 with a 9.8 K/9 IP, a 1.8 BB/9 IP and just 20 home runs allowed in 219.1 innings. He deservedly finished fourth in the Cy Young voting.
What a difference a year makes. If last night was Javier Vazquez’s final appearance as a member of the New York Yankees, his season totals are abysmal. He’s 10-10 with a 5.32 ERA and a FIP even higher than that. In 157.1 innings, he struck out 121, walked 65 and gave up 32 home runs. His home run rate more than doubled over 2009 while he lost over three strike outs and walked two more batters over nine innings. He hasn’t won a start since July 26.
Vazquez couldn’t have been much worse for the Yanks, and few pitchers have. In two seasons six years apart, Vazquez has gone 24-20 with a 5.09 ERA. His rate stats — strike outs, walks and home runs per 9 innings pitched — than compared with his career totals, and he again seems to have lost the ability to get men out. No pitcher in Yankee history has made as many starts as Vazquez while being so prolific at giving up the long ball, and only Sterling Hitchcock, Tim Leary and Andy Hawkins have as many innings pitched with higher ERAs than Javy.
For a brief spell in the middle of the season, it appeared as though Javy had figured it all out. After starting the season 1-4 with an 8.10 ERA in his first six games, Javy went 8-5 over his next 16 games with a 3.39 ERA. He allowed just 13 home runs over those 95.2 innings and kept runners off base. His last 10 appearances though have seen him allow 11 home runs in 38.2 innings while opponents are hitting a Robinson Cano-like .302/.387/.549 against him while walking 4.5 times per nine innings. Somewhere it all went wrong.
Maybe it’s Javy’s head or maybe it’s something else. Maybe he can’t pitch in New York as many would have you believe or maybe he’s just not physically up to the task any longer. It’s not unheard of for 34-year-olds with 2500 innings under their belt to fall off a clip, and I think Javy’s problem can be summed up in graph form.
His velocity, as we can see, has dipped significantly this year. During his time with the Braves, he threw in the low-to-mid 90s; with the Yankees, he’s barely cracked 89, let alone 90. He stopped being able to blow hitters away, and he stopped being able to mix his pitches effectively. It was a long hard fall.
So as Javy has likely thrown his last pitch in a Yankee uniform, Joel Sherman threw an obvious pitch into the mix this morning. The Yankees, he says, will not offer Javy arbitration. The Yanks swallowed hard and traded Arodys Vizcaino last winter because they hoped to turn Javy into a first-round draft pick. Now that Javy’s been worth below replacement level according to Fangraphs’ WAR, the team won’t be offering him and his $11.5 million salary arbitration, and they won’t recoup some of the cost it took to acquire him.
The inevitable question then concerns the trade. Was it a good one? Without the luxury of hindsight or a crystal ball, there’s no way to know that Javier Vazquez’s 2010 would be this bad, and the cost to acquire him is high only if Arodys pans out. I can’t fault the Yanks for trying in December, but no one should whitewash Javy’s poor finish. One thing is certain: I’ll be calling this the Boone Logan trade from now on.