What Went Wrong: The Return of Javy Vazquez

Talks with Jeter and Rivera to start in a day or two
Ring opts for free agency
(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

The old adage says that momentum is only as good as the next day’s starting pitcher, and the Yankees had plenty of momentum when they relied exclusively on their three best starters during their run to the 2009 World Title. That resulted in tremendous workloads for CC Sabathia (266.1 IP), A.J. Burnett (234.1 IP), and Andy Pettitte (225.1 IP), enough that Brian Cashman was concerned about a carry-over effect in 2010. Despite having Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, Chad Gaudin, and Sergio Mitre in tow, he went out an acquired one of the game’s proven workhorses, bringing Javy Vazquez back to New York in a December trade with the Braves.

Vazquez had been treated as the scapegoat for the 2004 ALCS loss ever since being traded to the Diamondbacks as part of a package for Randy Johnson after that season, but life goes on and he continued to pitch. His lone season in Arizona featured a 4.06 FIP in 215.2 IP, but he demanded a trade during the offseason to be closer to his family on the East Coast, his contractual right. The D-Backs shipped Javy to the White Sox for a package built around young centerfielder Chris Young, and he went on to post a 3.80 FIP in his three seasons on Chicago’s south side. After a 2.77 FIP in 219.1 IP for the Braves in 2009 (and a fourth place finish in the Cy Young voting), Vazquez found himself back in the Bronx.

(AP Photo/Paul J. Bereswill)

Javy had thrown no fewer than 198 innings every year since 2000 (only one season below 200 IP during that stretch), and only that Randy Johnson guy had struck out more batters in that time. Unlike 2004, when a then-28 year old Javy Vazquez was expected to be a cornerstone in New York’s rotation going forward, the 34-year-old version was expected to do nothing more than soak up innings at the back of the rotation. Two-hundred league average innings was all the team needed out of him, and after the season the two sides would part ways with the Yanks landing two high draft picks as compensation when he signed elsewhere.

To say the 2010 season started inauspiciously for Vazquez would be an understatement. His very first pitch of Spring Training went for a solo homer off the bat of Jimmy Rollins, a sign of things to come. Javy’s first start of the season resulted in eight runs allowed to the Rays in just 5.1 innings, and five days later he was booed off the mound in Yankee Stadium after surrendering four runs in 5.1 innings to the Angels. Vazquez’s first five starts were simply atrocious, a 9.78 ERA with eight homers allowed in just 23 IP. Opponents were wOBA’ing .457 off the Yanks’ fourth starter, and things got so bad that the Yankees had to skip his turn in the rotation in early May just to figure out what they should do.

To his credit, Javy rebounded from the rough start and pitched very well for about two months. He started 11 games (and made one relief appearance) from mid-May through mid-July, pitching to a 2.75 ERA (3.66 FIP) and holding opponents to a measly .249 wOBA. Vazquez was the team’s best starter not named Sabathia during the stretch, and he was giving the Yanks everything they asked of him and then some. Unfortunately it was all downhill from there.

The Angels tagged Vazquez for five runs in five innings on July 21st, and he allowed four or more runs in four of six starts after that stretch of brilliance. Even worse was the obvious physical decline. His fastball, already down two miles an hour from last year, was now regularly sitting in the mid-80’s (right). His breaking balls were flat and lacking depth, leaving the changeup as his only consistent weapon. That didn’t last very long, as Javy was yanked from the rotation for good after allowing four runs in three innings against the lowly Mariners on August 21st. He pitched to a 6.59 ERA the rest of the way, mostly in long-relief though he did make three spot starts. The low point came in his second to last appearance of the season, when he hit three straight Rays to force in a run, turning a blowout into a full-blown laugher. Perhaps all those innings finally caught up to him and/or he was hiding some kind of injury. Doesn’t matter now.

All told, 2010 amounted to the worst season of Vazquez’s career. His 154.2 innings were his fewest since 1999, his 5.32 ERA his worst since 1998, and his 5.56 trailed only Ryan Rowland-Smith (6.55) and Scott Kazmir (5.83) for the worst in baseball among pitchers that threw at least a hundred innings. If he hadn’t been mercifully pulled from the rotation late in the year, he would have led baseball in homeruns allowed. As it stands, the 32 he gave up were the fourth most in the game, and his 1.83 HR/9 was second worst. The Yankees paid him $11.5M and received -0.2 fWAR in return, meaning Javy was no better than some Triple-A fodder toiling away in the minors.

To make things worse, Vazquez pitched his way out of Type-A free agent status, falling down into Type-B range. Not that the team would offer him salary arbitration after such a horrible year, but they wouldn’t even have been able to get those two high draft picks even if they wanted to risk it.

We know the Yanks didn’t give up much for Vazquez thanks to the benefit of hindsight. Melky Cabrera was the worst everyday player in baseball this season (-1.2 fWAR, min. 450 PA) and has already been released. They didn’t even wait until the non-tender deadline. Mike Dunn has a live arm but has already been replaced by Boone Logan. The x-factor is prospect Arodys Vizcaino, who put together a 2.22 FIP in 114 IP before suffering an elbow injury. He’s a top 100 prospect, and if he comes back well from the injury, the Yanks will regret the deal even more.

Brian Cashman and the rest of the Yankee brain trust wasn’t asking for much out of Vazquez. They wanted 200 league average innings, which meant an ERA right around 4.20. All they wanted was someone to take the pressure off the three guys at the front of the rotation and young Phil Hughes in the back, someone they could ride hard all year and count on for length each time out. Vazquez didn’t give them that at all, pitching so poorly that he couldn’t even beat out Dustin Moseley for a spot on the postseason roster. Expectations were relatively low, and Javy failed to deliver on even that.

Talks with Jeter and Rivera to start in a day or two
Ring opts for free agency
  • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

    That top photo explains it all. Clearly, Javier Vazquez is actually a 67 year old balding geriatric and he’s doctored his paperwork to make us think he’s still in his early 30s.

    Holy crapballs does he look old there.

    • Clay Bellinger

      haha…well you could see it’s the Texas dugout so it’s probrably about 115 degrees there.

      Plus he just had to face Mitch Moreland.

    • Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Blog

      Actually, if you look closer you can see it’s Abe Vigoda.

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

        At first glance I had flashbacks of Sidney Ponson.

        • Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Blog

          I can see that, but the giveaway is that his elbows are actually touching his thighs.

  • Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Blog

    Well, the bright side is that this is potentially the last time this will be re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-rehashed.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      Oh, ye of too much faith.

  • http://www.twitter.com/tomzig Tom Zig

    He must have been hiding an injury. Must have.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      To paraphrase Mike’s comments about Jeter: Is “old” an injury?

      Even if he didn’t have any single event we’d describe as an injury, it seemed like his arm just imploded from overuse. His velocity was markedly down from start to finish.

      How many dead arm periods did he have that we knew about? Two or three? And the reality is, his entire season was probably a dead arm period and the publicly announced periods were REALLY dead arm periods.

      • UWS

        Judging by his results, the arm was not just dead, it was rotten, maggot-eaten, fallen off and reattached with some paper clips.

        Poor Javy.

        • Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Blog

          Sad, maybe, poor, never

          Well, maybe.
          /MC Hammer’d

        • dan

          well said!

  • James

    I think throughout Javy’s career, based on the 50 – 60 starts I’ve seen him make over the years, he has relied mostly on wicked stuff rather than location. I’ve seen him miss his spots time and time again with all four of his pitches and get away with it mostly on movement. He has a natural fastball with two-seam movement, a 12-6 curve, a slider and a change. But even with those pitches, he never learned to change the tilt or break or movement on any of them. That 12-6 curveball was always going to be a 12-6 curveball, same for the fastball with the two-seam movement, etc… When his stuff suddenly deteriorated this Summer (whether it be from all those innings of pitching catching up on him or because of some undisclosed injury we and possibly he didn’t know he had) his lack of command within the strike zone as well his inability to adapt the movement on his pitches caught up with him quickly. His career K/9 numbers are good, but he’s never pitched lights out ball in high pressure situations for a sustained amount of time. I like Javy and wanted to see him succeed and thought he’d be the best #4 starter in baseball… it just didn’t happen.

    • http://www.twitter.com/deanezag Zack

      Sorry, but sounds like arm-chair pitching coach to me. You expect a guy to have 2-3 versions of every pitch? That’s ridiculous.

      • James

        Nope, didn’t mean for it to sound that way. I was referring more to his inability to command his pitches and getting by mostly on stuff. Once people were able to sit on his pitches it didn’t look like he was trying to make adjustments. Of course, a 34 year-old pitcher who’s gotten by with the same stuff for over a decade would have trouble adjusting, so i see the other side to the argument as well.

  • mike c


    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder


  • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com/ bexarama

    Poor Javy. I’ve said it a lot, I don’t want him back, but I hope he goes to the NL (or heck, elsewhere in the AL) and has a really solid year. And smiles. Eeesh, that picture :(

  • JerseyDutch

    Poor Javy. It would have been cool if his had turned out to be great comeback story — winning 20 games and the hearts of Yankees fans everywhere. Alas, it was not to be…

  • http://twitter.com/Mattpat11 Matt DiBari

    Between Vazquez and Johnson, old home week this year was quite the disaster.

    • Accent Shallow


      I mean, Nick Johnson is made of broken glass held together with bubble gum, so his injury shouldn’t have surprised anyone.

      But Javy? I don’t think even the most cynical of us expected this.

      • http://twitter.com/Mattpat11 Matt DiBari

        Vazquez was worth a shot.

        I really don’t know what the rational for Johnson ever was.

        • Carlosologist

          The rational for Johnson was that, provided he was healthy, he could provide a solid .390+ OBP in front of Tex and A-Rod.

          • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

            And was healthy for a full year in 2009 without the benefit of being the DH.

        • Ed

          The rational for Johnson was:

          ~$7m budget for 4th OF + DH. That money can go to one player who can fill both roles (say Damon) or two players who will share the role (Johnson + Winn)

          All options available suffered one or more of the following problems:

          1. Old and declining performance
          2. Salary demands greater than the budget allows
          3. A chronic injury problem
          4. A history of freak injuries that are bad but not likely to happen again

          Johnson’s only flaw was #4. That seemed better than the alternatives. Luck was against the Yankees on this one.

          • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder


            • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com/ bexarama

              I’m glad someone said that.

              • JAG

                Agreed. Although for a little while there, I knew something was wrong with the spelling, but I couldn’t remember what.

  • Rob

    Awful. Two pitchers, 300 innings, $30 Million, 80 ERA+.

    Cashman is teh suck.

    But at least Joba is good to go for the 6th inning slot.

    • Accent Shallow

      Say what you will about Burnett (and many here have, myself included), but he was an integral part of the 2009 World Champions.

      I’m really curious as to what v.2010 Joba would have done in the rotation — I bet it would have been better than Javy over the entire season, but I doubt by a whole lot. And I don’t think he has the mid-season run of dominance that Javy had.

      • Rob

        Call it what you will, but Joba has over 200 innings under his belt at a 4.18 ERA (4.17 FIP) – all before the age of 24.

        He would have been fine. And you know what? If he wasn’t he would have still been better than Vazquez or Burnett even as they would have pulled him from the rotation.

        That said, I hated the Burnett deal as soon as it was signed.

        • http://www.blogs.thetenthinningstretch.com the tenth inning stretch

          Out of curiosity, what do you guys think happens if we sign Lowe that offseason instead of Burnett? They were the two big-name starters on the market.

          • Rob

            I. Hang. Myself.

    • http://www.twitter.com/tomzig Tom Zig

      Just like how Sox fans point to Beckett’s performance in the playoffs in 07. We can always point to AJ’s performance in game 2 of the WS. As much as I will curse about his recent struggles, I will never forget that game.

      • http://twitter.com/Mattpat11 Matt DiBari

        He ran through his reservoir of goodwill with me after his next two playoff starts.

  • http://danielslifka.wordpress.com Jerome S

    What’s amazing is that even though his fastball was already down from last year, it kept declining as the year went on.
    Also, to get technical, his changeup stayed relatively the same velocity that it was last year. Ultimately, that meant maybe a 6-8 mph difference between his fastball and legitimate changeup (I say legitimate because sometimes he would lob 69 mph soup down the middle for a toddler to pounce on. Not a changeup, closer to fast eephus. Point is, it’s garbage).
    When your changeup is that close to your fastball velocity-wise, you’re going to get “shat” on. In conclusion, Javy Vazquez is a piece of shat.

  • gargoyle

    The thing about Vaz is you know he’s going to bounce back and be effective somewhere else next year.

  • dan

    it is hard to believe he was worst the second time around.he stole his salary.my son refused to go to the stadium when he pitched.what was the worst was a certain arrogance……….

    • http://www.mystiqueandaura.com/ JMK


  • Alex

    Tim Hudson is the pitcher you think we should trade for