Quick Mailbag: Jorge Vazquez

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(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Nico asks: OK, so I remember your piece from late February on Jorge Vasquez, and I just re-read it as a refresher. How can people be so sure his skills won’t translate to the bigs? He is absolutely raking in Scranton – is there some obvious sign that he will be useless against big-league stuff? I’ve just never heard of such abstract reasoning for why we shouldn’t see what a player can do at the big-league level. Thanks!

JoVa has been killing in Triple-A so far this year, currently ranking in the International League with eleven homers behind teammate Justin Maxwell, who has a dozen. His .389 wOBA is undeniably gaudy, but there are obvious flaws in his game. First and foremost, his plate discipline leaves a lot to be desired. Vazquez has drawn just five walks this season despite being one of the league’s preeminent power hitters, and in 730 plate appearances since signing with the Yankees back in 2009, he’s drawn just 23 unintentional walks. That 3.2% walk rate is on par with noted big league hackers like Orlando Cabrera, Alfonso Soriano, Juan Uribe, and (sadly) Robinson Cano. Except we’re talking about a guy in his late-20’s drawing so little walks against minor league competition.

With that low walk total comes a ton of strikeouts, we’re talking 235 in 686 at-bats in the system (34.3%). Vazquez has struck out 37 times in 127 at-bats this season (29.1%), and even in the Mexican League he was almost always over 30%. Strikeout rates that high by older players in the minors almost always stem from one of two things (often both): the guy just can’t recognize breaking balls, or he has a huge hole in his swing that pitchers exploit. Given the low walk totals, I’m guessing it’s more of the former in Vazquez’s case. The power is real, no doubt about it, but he’s a two-true outcomes guy at Triple-A, and that doesn’t really translate to the show.

Then there’s the defense, which he doesn’t really offer. JoVa’s should be viewed strictly as a first baseman if he has to actually wear a glove, though he’s played some third in the minors. He’s playable at the hot corner the same way Eric Hinske was, in an emergency or late in a blowout game when you want to rest the regular. Jorge’s a short (5-foot-11) and pudgy (225 lbs.) dude that just doesn’t move around well. I can relate. He’s really more of a DH than anything else.

Joe mentioned Mitch Jones in his February post, a guy that spent parts of seven seasons just annihilating the minor leagues (.249 ISO) in the Yankees’ system before bolting for Japan (and eventually coming back). It’s a good comparison in the sense that both Jones and Vazquez are classic AAAA-types, though the former’s career walk rate in the minors (9.9%) is more than double the latter’s. Jones was also athletic enough to play the outfield the entire time. Shelley Duncan is cut from a similar cloth, but he walked more than Jones and struck out way less than both guys (24.3% strikeout rate in the minors). And again, he could handle the outfield.

Vazquez opened some eyes with a great Spring Training and has carried that success over into the regular season, but you have to be careful with guys like this. He’s way old for the level at 29, he doesn’t lay off enough pitches out of the zone, and his defensive value is negligible. JoVa’s a great organization guy, and maybe he gets a cup of coffee with someone somewhere down the line, but he offers little to his Yankees team as presently constructed.

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  • Grandy77

    Say we got an injury crisis and had a need for some pop, what sort of numbers we looking at best case?

    I have in my head he could do better than someone like Rick Ankiel, am I overvaluing or undervaluing him?

    • hogsmog

      Then Montero comes up.

    • bakekrukow412

      Over. Think Shelley Duncan.

      • Ted Nelson

        Duncan is actually a better hitter than Ankiel these days.

    • Alfred

      Probably depends on the role. If he’s got a big hole in his swing, he may do well in limited playing time, since pitchers need time to adjust.

      But the K’s are killing in extended playing time. We’ve got more need for contact than power as-is.

    • Sayid J.

      Overvaluing. If he could produce like Ankiel he’d be in the major leagues for somebody. Ankiel will take a walk and strikes out less often too.

      • Ted Nelson

        Ankiel hasn’t hit a lick since 2008. His wOBA is literally under .300 since then. He probably has the best outfield arm in the majors, though, or close.

        • Oliver

          They should look into converting him into a pitcher.

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

      I have in my head he could do better than someone like Rick Ankiel, am I overvaluing or undervaluing him?

      As a bench player, yes, he could do better than Ankiel.

      Ankiel the pitcher.

      • Ted Nelson

        Ankiel the guy whose wOBA has been .288, .314, and .278 the past 2+ seasons… he started hitting like a pitcher again, but he’s a CF these days.

    • Ted Nelson

      Ankiel hasn’t hit since 2008. He gets by these days in large part on his ability to play CF and the hope he can recapture his 2008-9 hitting, so JoVa would have to outproduce Ankiel at the plate to stick in the bigs given his relatively lower defensive value.

  • Daniel

    Calling up AAAA guys has occasionally worked in the past. Aaron Small for instance.

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


      And just like Aaron Small, we should only call up Vazquez in a dire, desperate situation. Vazquez shouldn’t “force” his way into the lineup, though; he’s just not that good that you have to promote him.

      You promote him if you need a warm body and no other option is palatable, and hope you hit the Aaron Small lottery for a month or two.

      • Ted Nelson

        I don’t think anyone came close to suggesting Vazquez “has to be” promoted… Though I’d probably take him on the roster to replace Chavez over Pena if he were on the 40-man to be honest.

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

          Sure, I might as well. I’m not opposed to giving him a shot if need arises, I’m just not expecting anything to come of it.

          Like you said, though, the 40-man spot is the rub. I can’t see anyone I’d DFA just to see if Vazquez can present a slight upgrade in production from Peña or Nuñez… not even Jess Todd. I’d rather have the inventory than dump a guy just to give 29 year old two-true-outcomes, no-defense Jorge Vazquez a look-see.

          • Ted Nelson

            Is Corona still on the 40 man?

            Also if Nunez is going to get any 3B PAs anyway, no real need for JoVa. Swisher or Posada can fill in at 1B and Jones at DH. JoVa might get almost no PAs. Would be good to get JoVa some trade value, but a lot better to give Nunez the PAs to try to prove he’s a legit starting SS option.

    • Ted Nelson

      Shane Spencer (73 PAs in 1998) and Shelley Duncan (83 PAs in 2007) are some good hitter examples.

  • billbybob

    How’s his forearm smash? Until I know for sure, comparisons to Shelly are unacceptable.

  • Ganesh

    How about benching Posada and bringing up JoVa to DH?

  • Nico (OP)

    Thanks guys, awesome analysis as always. This post just gives me yet another reason to turn other Yankee fans I know onto RAB!

  • Greg C

    A lot of guys who are much worse at least get a chance, even if for limited time as a Sept. call-up. I agree with the reasoning, though. It may not be that Jorge deserves the same chance as much as maybe a lot of those guys didn’t.

  • Yanksfan1

    Jorge Vazquez is not Shelly Duncan. He would be a .300/30/100 in a full season. He absolutely deserves a call up. Especially when Posada is clueless. Have him go on the DL for a couple of weeks and have Vazquez DH. He will crush. A strikeout is no different than a groundout. But he will hit the scoreboard in Yankee stadium. Pena cant hit it half way. He is like Cano. .290 to .300 hitter, wont walk much, but Vazquez has twice as much power. There are a few players that are going nowhere on the 40man that are around 27. He needs to get his shot now!!

  • JP

    Dear Mike, is there any stats analysis to predict an AAA player like JoVA to become a useful Major player?

    Can I get any money to do that analysis as a part time job?