Archive for Javier Vazquez

We received some positive feedback following last week’s mailbag, so it’s definitely looking like something worth doing. You can send your questions to us at any time via the Submit A Tip box under The Montero Watch in the sidebar, or by just emailing them in to us. This week’s topics: Javy Vazquez and arbitration, the Rule 5 Draft, Chad frickin’ Gaudin, and figuring out what the hell “cash considerations” are…

Do you think that the Yankees will offer Javy Vazquez arbitration after the season? They’ve shied away from the practice in recent years, but you risk getting a good pitcher at a reasonable salary on a one-year deal for two high picks, right? Especially if they lose picks for a Lee or Crawford this offseason. – Dominik

I’ve been thinking about this more and more as the season goes on. My stock answer has been “no,” simply because they haven’t offered anyone arbitration over the last two years, and I had no reason to believe that they would change that approach now. Now I’m not so sure.

There is a difference between Vazquez and guys like Bobby Abreu and Johnny Damon, the notable players that weren’t offered arbitration over the last few years. Those guys were really overpaid (Abreu made $16M his last year with the Yanks, Damon $13M) and stunningly bad on defense, and in Abreu’s case, he was clearly in decline offensively. Their defense negated a ton of their offensive value. Pitchers are different because a) there’s only one aspect of the game to evaluate, and b) quality arms are so damn valuable.

Of course we can’t ignore the red flags. Javy’s velocity is absolutely down this season, likely due to all those miles on his arm, and his strikeouts are down while the walks are up. His FIP (5.02), xFIP (4.62), and tRA (4.97) are the highest they’ve been in more than half-a-decade.  Believe it or not, Vazquez has benefited from some BABIP luck this year (.255), which you can’t count on going forward. That said, he’s still a very capable MLB starter that can easily hold down the fourth spot in any team’s rotation, which is what the Yanks would expect him to do. If he were to accept arbitration, he’s looking a $13-14M, which is certainly overpaying. It is just a one year deal though, and the Yanks can afford the luxury. Remember, there’s no pitching version of Nick Swisher to buy low on to fill that rotation spot.

At this point, yes, I do expect the Yanks to offer Vazquez arbitration. It’s been made clear that the team considered the two 2011 draft picks as part of the deal, and Vazquez comfortably projects to be a Type-A free agent. As you know, they have to offer him arbitration to receive those picks. Next year’s draft class is absurdly deep; a team could realistically walk away with a player that would be a top ten talent in a “normal” year despite picking in the 20-30 range. If there’s ever a draft to have an extra pick, that’s it. The Yanks also can’t lose those picks if they sign Cliff Lee or Carl Crawford or whoever.

Given the uncertainty of Andy Pettitte, plus the possibility of Lee signing an extension after inevitably being traded, offering Vazquez arbitration is a risk worth taking. Then again, I said the same exact thing about other players over the last two years, only to watch the Yanks not offer arbitration to anyone.

Which minor leaguers are eligible for the Rule 5 draft after the season? Of these, who do you think the Yankees will protect?  I’m interested to see what they do with Dellin. – Big B

College players drafted in 2007 and high school players drafted in 2006 are eligible for the Rule 5 draft this year, so that includes Zach McAllister, Dellin Betances, Ryan Pope, Bradley Suttle, Austin Krum, Justin Snyder, and Brandon Laird. Some holdovers from last year include George Kontos, Lance Pendleton, and Josh Schmidt. It’s tough to figure out exactly when players signed off the international market, so I usually just skip them when discussing the Rule 5 draft.

So how many 40-man roster spots are opening up after the season? I count nine: Chad Gaudin, Sergio Mitre, Chan Ho Park, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Javy Vazquez, Derek Jeter, Marcus Thames, and Nick Johnson. Both Juan Miranda and Jon Albaladejo will be out of options next season, so they could be gone as well. Wilkin DeLaRosa and Dustin Moseley are imminently DFA’able, so I would count on them being gone as well. Mo and Jeter are obviously coming back, so let’s call it 11 total spots opening up after the season.

You have to figure that at least two of those spots are going to starting pitchers, two or three more are going to relievers, and two or three more are going to position players. So for all intents and purposes, let’s assume the team will have four 40-man spots to use for protecting prospects from the Rule 5 Draft.

McAllister and Laird are no-brainers, they have to be protected otherwise they will be lost. Their success at Double-A all but guarantees that. Suttle, Krum, Snyder, Pendleton, and Schmidt aren’t high priority guys, so they can go unprotected. Those last two spots come down to Betances, Pope, and Kontos.

Betances has been absolutely fantastic this year since coming back from elbow surgery (34 IP, 13 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 6 BB, 39 K), and non-contending teams will take a big arm like that and see if he can’t stick in the bigs all year. Pope has been fantastic since shifting to the bullpen (27.2 IP, 3.09 FIP, 30-6 K/BB ratio, .223 AVG against) and is a viable relief option for next season. If nothing else, he’s a guy that will always be on call in Triple-A. Kontos is coming off elbow surgery like Betances, though he’s had some success at the higher level.

I think Pope gets protected just because you can’t let such a close to the big leagues reliever go for nothing. The Yanks will need the inventory. If the Yanks don’t believe Betances can make it through the entire 2011 season on some team’s 25-man roster, they won’t protect him. They did the same thing with Ivan Nova. They could gamble on him going to camp with some team only to have him be offered back at some point. Of course Betances is a much different prospect because he has such enormous upside, so they may not be willing to risk it. Me? I’d protect him. Too risky to lose a guy the team invested so much time and money ($1M signing bonus plus all the costs associated with his rehab and surgery). Kontos is the cost of doing business, I was never a huge fan anyway.

Why is Chad Gaudin so bad this year? He was somewhat “decent” last year, and was supposed to be in the mix for the 5th starter job in ST. I don’t think we expected him to win any Cy Youngs, but mediocrity should not have been too much to ask. – Anonymous

I’m kinda surprised that Gaudin has been so dreadful. I never expected him to be awesome, but I figured he could replicate the 4.68 xFIP he posted with the Yanks last year. Instead, we’ve got a 5.60 xFIP after Gaudin put up a 3.94 xFIP in Oakland. And think, the righty has had some serious BABIP (.244) and strand rate (83.3%) luck with the Yanks.

The obvious problem is all the homeruns. Gaudin has served up nine long balls in 33.2 IP this year after giving up just 14 in 147.1 IP last year. His fly ball rate has climbed close to 10% from last year and sits at 44.6% in 2010, and his HR/FB rate is through the roof at 20%. For comparison’s sake, the league average is around 10.6% and he was at 9% last year. It’s a combination of bad luck and bad pitching. Yes, he should give up more homeruns because he’s giving up more fly balls, but not that many more homers.

Gaudin’s slider is letting him down this year (4.57 runs below average per 100 thrown after several years of being above average by a run or more), so perhaps he’s hiding an injury. Or maybe he just stinks.

MAILBAG! When a player gets traded for “cash considerations” what, exactly, does that mean? Is there a list of guidelines defining what is and is not, can and cannot be deemed cash considerations? Is there a deadline on when the cash has to be delivered? I’m thinking that it means they need to work out a deal and can’t haggle the money but are close enough where they say eff it we’ll figure it out. I am hoping, however, that there is some sort of structure to it. – Justin

I have no idea, but Keith Law does, so I asked him. His response: “Undisclosed [amount] but fixed at the time of the deal. It’s really just a straight sale, usually for ten or twenty grand.”

Simple enough. I assume it’s delivered immediately, or at a time specified when the deal is made.

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Photo Credit: Ross D. Franklin, AP

Last night’s game was so ugly and frustratingly long that by the time Curtis Granderson gave the Yankees the lead and Mariano Rivera pulled his Houdini act, everyone had pretty much forgotten that Dontrelle Willis and Javy Vazquez started the game. Willis was simply dreadful, throwing just 27 of his 66 pitches for strikes and eclipsing the 88 mph plateau a whopping five times. I haven’t seen any of his other starts this year, but the last thing he looked like on Wednesday was a Major League caliber pitcher.

Vazquez didn’t pitch too well himself, though he looked like Cy Young compared to Willis. The former Diamondback let Arizona off the hook just as much as the Yankees’ offense did, surrendering a pair of runs in the bottom of the 1st after walking the bases loaded. It probably would have been more if not for some dreadful baserunning (theme of the night, apparently). A dozen pitches in, he finally threw a pitch over 88.

But then Javy settled down for a bit. He retired the side in order in the 2nd on a dozen pitches, and did the same in the 3rd on seven pitches. Miguel Montero led off the 4th with a single, then moved to third on a Chris Young double. Adam LaRoche plated two with a single, giving Arizona the league, but otherwise Vazquez would retire the next three batters to escape the inning the next six batters he faced overall to end his night. He wasn’t terribly efficient, needing 85 pitches (exactly 60% of which were strikes) to record 15 outs, and he only recorded five of those 15 outs via strikeout or ground out.

After the game, Michael Kay said something to the effect of “Vazquez regressed back to where he was in April,” which on the surface probably seems true. He allowed six hits and four runs in just five innings and walked two guys compared to a lone strikeout. Following his seven start stretch of brilliance, this game certainly had an April feel to it. At the same time though, it didn’t.

The early season version of Javy Vazquez couldn’t stop the bleeding. A one run inning turned into a two or three or four run inning in the blink of an eye, and the game was out of reach by the time he hit the showers. That’s not what happened last night, he pitched around some defensive miscues (namely Frankie Cervelli on that rundown) and managed to hold the D-Backs to two two run innings when they easily could have been worse. What Javy did last night was something people say only about Andy Pettitte or Phil Hughes or other fan favorites: he grinded it out (“ground” sounds weird in this situation, no?).

The first inning was obviously the worst of the night. Vazquez walked leadoff hitter Kelly Johnson on four pitches before falling behind 3-1 on Stephen Drew. Just six of his first 19 pitches were strikes, and he hadn’t even recorded an out by then. It was clear he didn’t have his best stuff going, and that it was going to be a battle all night long. Yet in the end, four innings later, he was lifted for a pinch hitter after retiring 12 of the final 15 batters he faced and the Yankees were still in a game. That’s not April Javy, that’s a veteran starter bearing down and keeping his team in it on one of those days when he didn’t have it working.

No pitcher will be on each time out, and Javy is no different. It was just a bad start, not a regression to Bad Javy or a sign that all the progress he made recently has stalled. There’s no reason to hold Vazquez to a different standard and think every start has a deeper meaning that it does. He’s just a pitcher that struggled on a random Wednesday night in the desert. That’s all.

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This morning Joe took us through the tale of Frankie Cervelli and Brett Gardner, in which two young Yankee players came out of the gate hot but have since gone in different directions. Cervelli’s not the only player on the team to experience some sort of regression and Gardner’s not the only one to have maintained an unexpected level of performance. Two veteran members of the starting rotation also fit the bill.

The word “regression” has a negative connotation to it, but remember that in the world of statistics it basically means reverting to the mean. That can be a positive thing, such as a player who performed poorly early improving later on. To steal Joe’s example, think Mark Teixeira last year.

At the beginning of the season, Javy Vazquez was giving the Yankees exactly the opposite of what they had expected. He was getting hit around and doing everything but soaking up innings, and it was quite ugly at times. Andy Pettitte on the other hand, managed to exceed all expectations and emerge as the team’s best starter. Cervelli and Gardner started at basically the same place in terms of performance before hitting the fork in the road, but Vazquez and Pettitte did the opposite. They started at different ends of the spectrum and met up later on.

Photo Credit: Paul J. Bereswill, AP

When Javy struggled early this season, the all too simple “he can’t handle New York” narrative was everywhere we looked. He was booed unmercifully at home, not only because he was pitching poorly in 2010, but also because of the perception that he cost the Yankees the 2004 pennant. Vazquez has since done more than just right the ship, he’s been the team’s best pitcher for the last month, compiling a 2.93 ERA with a .596 OPS against. Prior to his start on Saturday, the Yankees had scored just 11 runs in Vazquez’s last five starts, but he still managed to win three of those games.

During his first five starts, Javy put a total of 39 men on base in 23 IP, which is certainly a ton. His batting average on balls in play stood at .358, but even more damning was a ~55% strand rate, an unfathomably low number that certainly contributed to his 9.78 ERA. His velocity had dipped from his usual low-90′s into the upper-80′s and he appeared to nibble in an attempt to compensate, walking 5.87 men per nine innings in his first five starts (more than double his 2.4 career mark). Twenty-three innings is about 11% of a typical season for Vazquez, a bona fide workhorse with a track record of being no worse than a league average strikeout machine.

Clearly Vazquez wasn’t pitching to his capabilities, but he wasn’t getting any help either. His BABIP and LOB% luck were simply terrible, unsustainably bad. Sure enough, what followed was a combination of Javy appearing to regain confidence and a statistical correction. In his six starts since (we’re throwing away that one batter relief appearance), he’s posted a .215 BABIP and a ~80% LOB%, bringing his season totals to a much more respectable .269 and 70.8%, respectively. The luck literally went from one extreme to the other.

Vazquez’s track record is long enough that we pretty much know what to expect. He’s been a dead average (literally, 100 ERA+) pitcher in the American League, and we’ll gladly take that going forward. Javy isn’t as bad as he was in his first five starts and he isn’t as good as he has been in his last six — his true talent level likely lies somewhere in between. And there ain’t a damn thing wrong with that.

Photo Credit: Kathy Willens, AP

A soon-to-be 38-year-old starter in the AL East isn’t supposed to be a staff ace. He’s supposed to be a veteran leader that gives innings and keeps the team in the game. Expect anything more and you’re likely to be disappointed. Well, unless that pitcher is the 2010 version of Andy Pettitte.

After three ever so slightly better than league average campaigns (106 ERA+) since coming back to the Yanks, Pettitte ripped a page out of the 1997 playbook this year and has been the Yanks’ best and most consistent starter. In his first six starts (prior to his little bout with elbow inflammation), he held opponents to a .619 OPS with a 2.08 ERA. In his six starts since, those numbers are .660 and 2.83. Slightly worse, sure, but still stellar.

Looking at some not necessarily more advanced stats, but ones that better represent underlying performance, helps back up Pettitte’s consistency. He got batters to swing and miss just 5% of the time in his first six starts, but that number has jumped up to 9% since. He stranded about 82% of baserunners in the first six, and about 80% in the second six. His GB/FB rate went from 1.02 to 1.47. Strikeouts? 6.23 K/9 before, 6.10 after. Walks? 3.00 B/9 before, 1.96 after. I could go on and on.

I’m comfortable saying that Pettitte’s best years are behind him, but his 2010 season has a little “last hurrah” to it. I find it to be very 2008 Mike Mussina-esque. You don’t expect him to keep performing this well, but the season is close to 40% complete, and he just keeps doing it. Season totals of a .256 BABIP and 82.1% LOB% tell us to expect a regression, but I get the sense that we might be waiting a while. Sometimes unexplainable things happen to extraordinary players, which Pettitte certainly is.

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Javy’s return to the Stadium

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Photo credit: Paul J. Bereswill/AP

Last time at the Stadium, they cheered Javy. The bullpen had completely melted down, turning what was once a 5-0 Yankee lead in the first into a 9-7 deficit in the ninth. The Red Sox threatened again, too, putting runners on first and third with two outs against Damaso Marte, who was in the midst of his longest 2010 appearance. With the righty Kevin Youkilis, who had homered earlier in the game, coming to the plate, Joe Girardi did not want to experiment by extending Marte further. He tapped his right arm while striding to the mound. The only right-hander warming in the pen was Javier Vazquez.

It took Vazquez just four pitches to strike out Youkilis, which kept the deficit at two and paved the way for a dramatic ninth-inning comeback. Vazquez heard cheers after Youkilis whiffed at strike three. It might have been the first time he heard sincere cheers all season. The first month of 2010, his return to the Bronx, had not gone according to plan. Vazquez, who had finished fourth in the NL Cy Young voting in 2009, stumbled at the start. He gave up a lot of home runs to Tampa Bay. He had a better, but not at all good outing against Anaheim, and followed that with a similar start against Oakland. Then, against the Angels again, he didn’t even complete four innings.

Vazquez got a chance to please the home crowd on May 1, in a start against the White Sox. The Yankees had come from behind to beat the Sox the previous night, but they looked a bit flat at the start of that Saturday’s game. Vazquez didn’t help matters. He gave up runs in each of the first four innings, and was removed before recording an out in the fourth. Unsurprisingly, the fans in attendance booed him mercilessly. They applauded Girardi for rejiggering the rotation so that Vazquez would miss the Red Sox — twice. They came up with ridiculous and asinine proposals that would ship Vazquez out of town. More than a few just wanted him released.

Javy, of course, would have none of that. He responded to the extra rest by pitching his best game of the year, a seven-inning, two-run performance against the Tigers that resulted in a loss only because the Yankees scored no runs. He then thoroughly dominated the Mets, allowing just one hit through six innings. If not for a bunt that nicked his finger, he might have pitched a complete game. But his next time out, against Minnesota, he again faltered. That might have been a result of the finger — he displayed no command of any pitch other than his four seamer, which indicated a poor grip of the ball. Then again, it might have been just another bad start.

Last night, against the AL’s worst offense, Javy rose again. He breezed through the first few frames. The Orioles looked like they didn’t have a chance. Even when they did manage a hit, Javy induced a groundball to erase the runner. He made just one bad pitch, a 1-2 fastball that ran far too high in the zone. He did seem to tire by that point; after throwing 61 pitches in the first five innings, he needed 42 to get through the final two. He also worked out of a jam in the seventh, preserving the 1-1 tie and paving the way for the go-ahead runs in the bottom of the frame.

Photo credit: Paul J. Bereswill/AP

There were plenty of differences between Javy’s start on May 1, the one in which fans booed him off the field, and the one last night. Yet, there also weren’t so many. Command was obviously the No. 1 difference. Earlier in the season Vazquez could not spot pitches like he had in the past. He’s a four-pitch guy who doesn’t possess overpowering stuff, so command plays prominently in his approach. If he can’t spot the fastball, he’ll have trouble fooling pitchers with off-speed and breaking pitches. Last night his command appeared to be there, much like it was against the Tigers and Mets, and which it certainly was not against the Twins.

During his start on May 1, he averaged 89.58 mph and had a max velocity of 92.7 mph. Yesterday his velocity averaged 89.16 and maxed out at 91.3. The difference there, however, seemed to be in the break. He got a bit more on the horizontal plane, and a bit more on the vertical one. Both serve to help deceive batters. His curveball dipped a bit more, his slider broke much more sharply away from right-handers, his curveball displayed more vertical break, and his two-seamer ran in more on righties. The velocities were similar, but it was about the command and the movement. He used both to stymie the Orioles hitters.

He also varied his pitch selection much more. Against the White Sox he threw 36 four-seamers, 21 curveballs, 10 changeups, nine two-seamers, and seven sliders. Last night he employed a relatively even distribution of pitches. He went with the four-seamer 36 times again, but supplemented this with 18 changeups, 17 curveballs, 16 two-seamers, and 12 sliders. He threw more pitches, yes, which led to the higher totals, but he didn’t favor one secondary pitch. He laid off the slider a bit, but he used the other three equally.

Strangely, he generated more swings and misses against the White Sox. That included three on the four-seamer, two on the changeup, one on the slider, and three on the curveball. Still, the Sox pounded him. Agains the Orioles he induced four swings and misses on the four-seamer, two on the changeup, and one each on the slider and curveball. The difference, of course, is that between those swings and misses he still induced poor contact last night, where he let the Sox hitters get the barrel of the bat on the ball previously. Again, movement and command play the biggest part in that trend.

The Orioles do feature the worst group of hitters in the AL, which might lead some to continue doubting Javy. Yet, despite the ineptitude of the opposing hitters, Vazquez did pitch noticeably better. His pitches hit the catcher’s glove. He wasn’t afraid to use any of his pitches. He showed more movement on each of his pitches*. This might not be the Javy we see every time. But if he can throw like this, he’ll have good outings against even the better offenses.

*I deliberately chose to compare starts at Yankee Stadium, in order to avoid any possible PitchFX calibration issues. Also, thanks to Brooks Baseball for the excellent PitchFX tool.

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Via Mark Feinsand, Javier Vazquez‘s bullpen session went swimmingly this afternoon, and he will indeed start Thursday against the Twins. Joe Girardi was adamant prior to Sunday’s game that Vazquez was going to make that start, but given the Yanks’ recent run of injuries, none of us were confident in that actually happening until his side session went well. Finally, some good luck when it comes to an injury.

Categories : Asides, Injuries
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The main topic of Joe Girardi‘s pregame press conference was Javy Vazquez and his bruised finger, as you can imagine. The news is basically all good: Javy feels better and is scheduled to make his next start. They did decide to push his regular side session back from Monday to Tuesday just to give the finger that extra day, but Girardi was adamant that Vazquez was his starter for Thursday. The only thing that could derail it right now is trouble during his bullpen session.

Here’s the rest of the good word…

  • Girardi spoke to Curtis Granderson and said he felt good after playing in his first rehab game yesterday. He did not, however, speak to him after he went 1-for-2 with a walk while playing five innings in centerfield today. You’ll read more about that in DotF later on, of course.
  • When asked if he was concerned about Mark Teixeira and the mother of all slumps, the Yanks’ manager said he was worried about him getting frustrated more than anything. He basically chalked it up “that’s baseball, and people go through slumps.”
  • Chan Ho Park is still rusty after spending a month on the DL, so right now they’re just trying to get him back on track. Girardi did say David Robertson‘s command has come together, “he’s pitching on the corners (of the plate) rather than the middle.” Who knew it was that simple?
  • Someone asked Girardi about the whole interleague thing, and he gave a stock answer: it’s good for baseball, good for the city when he Yankees play the Mets, etc. He did say that he likes having the DH in one league and not the other, but he would like to see NL pitchers bat while they’re in the minors. All of minor league baseball uses a DH.
  • Girardi said the best hitting pitcher he’s ever seen is Micah Owings, but he couldn’t remember his name. “The guy from Arizona that went to Cincinnati,” was his response. He also mentioned Don Robinson and Carlos Zambrano.

In case you missed it, I took some photos during batting practice and posted them on our Twitter feed. This one’s my favorite.

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Update (10:14pm): X-rays negative. And exhale.

9:52pmIt’s a bruised right index finger for Vazquez, and he’s being taken for x-rays.

9:31pm: After six innings of one hit, no run ball, Javy Vazquez left tonight’s game with an apparent finger injury. Looks like he might have gotten clipped with the ball while laying down a sac bunt in the bottom of the 6th. He had only thrown 70 pitches up to that point. I’ll update this post with more info once it’s available.

Categories : Asides, Injuries
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Determined Javy is determined. AP Photo/Bill Kostroun

When the Yankees announced on Saturday that Javier Vazquez would be skipped this week and also available to pitch out of the bullpen, fans and analysts grew concerned. Were the Yankees about to pull a Carlos Zambrano with one of their starters just a few days after he seemingly had turned a corner in Detroit? Were the Yankees being too cautious with Javy as the Red Sox come to town? For a team not known for handling its pitchers, the Vazquez move appeared to be another subject to numerous second guesses.

Javy fans had good reason to be concerned as Joe Girardi explained the Yankees’ organizational thinking. “We might have to put Javy in the bullpen for a couple of days,” Girardi said. “Javy will probably have to pitch out of the bullpen for us the next couple of days, until we can get everything right.”

If everything doesn’t go right, rotation-wise, the Yanks may turn to Sergio Mitre again, a far inferior option to Vazquez. The Yanks, though, sound willing to call upon Vazquez out of the pen if one of their starters falter over the next four games. “You’ve got to worry about Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, before we can worry about Friday,” Girardi said. “We want him to start on Friday is the bottom line, but sometimes, you have unforeseen circumstances that you cannot predict are going to happen.”

Ken Davidoff called this move an “acknowledgement that Vazquez clearly ranks fifth in the Yankees’ pecking order.” That is an obvious charge and one the Yanks would probably admit off the record, but the team has a better rationale for this move. Joel Sherman explains the “secondary reason” and “tactical advantages” for reshuffling the rotation:

If Vazquez started [Monday] and the other starters stayed in line then CC Sabathia would pitch Wednesday against the Rays and Tuesday in Minnesota. Instead, he now will pitch Tuesday against Boston and that will enable him to start Sunday night against the Mets. And the Yanks see that as wise since the game is at Citi Field, there will be no DH and Sabathia is one of the best hitting pitchers in the majors.

In addition, if Vazquez started tomorrow, then Andy Pettitte would have opened the Mets series on Friday night. That would have meant his next two starts after that would have been against Minnesota and Baltimore. But if Pettitte starts Thursday against the Rays – as he is now scheduled – then his next two starts will be against the Twins and Indians, both heavily lefty-swinging teams.

The Yanks wanted to make sure that both Sabathia and Pettitte started against the Indians, who rely on lefty swingers Shin-Soo Choo, Grady Sizemore, Russell Branyan and Travis Hafner. Cleveland began Sunday with a .215 batting average against lefties and a .576 OPS.

We shouldn’t be surprised that the Yankees are thinking ahead and projected their rotation. Furthermore, the move makes sense from Vazquez’s perspective as well. In his career against the Red Sox, he is 2-7 with a 4.23 ERA and his peripherals — 10.0 K/9 IP and a 3.48 K/BB ratio in 66 innings — are better than the won-loss record. A closer examination though reveals that Vazquez struggles against the current iteration of the Red Sox. Granted, we should take batter/pitcher numbers with a grain of salt, but active Red Sox have hit .298/.346/.519 against Vazquez. Although the current Mets have hit him hard as well (.309/.362/.459 with Gary Matthews, Alex Cora and Luis Castillo leading the charge), the Yankees prefer to start Javier in spacious CitiField.

With somewhat conflicting accounts — one from Girardi that talks of the pen and one from Sherman’s anonymously-sourced story supported by Vazquez’s career — Javier Vazquez is left twisting in the wind. But the Yankees still seem to consider him a rotation candidate. They’ve liked what they’ve seen from Sergio Mitre but know that Vazquez, when on, is a far superior pitcher. The leash with him will be short, but this reshuffled rotation is in no way an indictment of Vazquez. As long as he builds on his Detroit success, the Yanks’ pitching gurus should be pleased.

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The return of Javy Vazquez

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Photo Credit: Christine Cotter, AP

Did you miss him?

It’s been more than a week since the Yankees’ ineffective fourth starter took the mound, but he’ll (hopefully) make his return tonight after two high intensity side sessions. “Usually my bullpens are nice and easy,” said Vazquez. “These I pushed it a little bit.” Of course, pretty much everything looks and feels good in the bullpen, so we’re not going to know if the extra work and extra rest does any good until a real live batter with the intention of beating the Yankees steps in the box.

There are two things I’m going to watching for tonight, and they aren’t mutually exclusive. First off all, I want to see how Javy works his fastball. Not necessarily the radar gun readings  (though I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing some consistent 91-92′s), but how he uses it. He’s throwing 49.9% fastballs this year, which is actually how much he threw it in 2009, but the big difference is when he’s going to the pitch. When he falls behind 2-0, Vazquez has thrown his heater 61% of the time this year, and in 3-1 counts it’s 71%. Last year those totals were 54% and 62%, respectively.

A large part of his success last year came from pitching backwards; when Vazquez threw offspeed pitches in fastball counts and fastballs in offspeed pitch counts. Now he’s being a bit more predictable. Most batters will sit on a fastball up 2-0 because the pitcher wants to throw a strike, and so far Vazquez has been giving it to them. More so than he did last year, anyway. Of course the simple solution is to stop falling behind hitters, but that’s easier said then done. Sometimes you throw strikes and the umpire just doesn’t call it.

The second thing I’m going to pay attention to is how efficient Vazquez is with his pitches. Last year the threw exactly two-thirds of his pitches for strikes, but this year it’s down to 61.6%, and thus his pitches per batter faced has climbed to 3.98 from 3.79. It doesn’t seem like a huge difference, but it’s very real and it does exist. The more pitches you have to throw to a batter the more likely you are to make a mistake, especially with slightly diminished stuff like what Javy has this year.

Using his fastball and throwing more strikes are part of the equation, the other part has to do with Vazquez rebuilding his confidence. I hate to play the part of psychotherapist, but I find it hard to believe that someone could take the pounding Javy’s taken so far and feel good about themselves. Phil Hughes has talked about it ad nauseum this year, that the difference between then and now for him is the conviction with which he throws his pitches. Vazquez needs to get a little of that back, but it won’t be easy. I don’t know what comes first, pitching effectively or confidence, but that’s not for me to figure out.

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The schedule seems to have worked in the Yankees favor. The off-day today allows them to not only skip the struggling Javy Vazquez‘s turn in the rotation, but also allows them to line up their three best to face Boston over the weekend. The extra rest can’t hurt Vazquez, who has allowed 32 hits and has walked 15 during 23 innings in his five starts. It really doesn’t matter who the Yankees face this weekend; Vazquez likely would have been skipped regardless.

Yet when they fly to Detroit on Monday for a four-game set, they’ll face quite a test. While Hughes and Sabathia will pitch the final two games of the series, the first two games don’t look too pretty. Vazquez will get his chance in the opener, and odds are Sergio Mitre will take the ball on Tuesday. That’s not set in stone, though it appears unlikely that Pettitte will make the start. The only other option is Ivan Nova, and I think that for one start the Yanks would rather use someone already on the major league roster.

Brian Cashman seems optimistic that Pettitte will only need a short rest. “Right now the DL is not something that’s being considered,” he said. A DL trip would keep Pettitte out until May 21, which would cause him to miss two to three starts. It’s still a possibility — you can never be sure with arm injuries — but Cashman’s confidence makes it sound like we’ll have one showing of the Sergio Mitre Experience before a Pettitte return.

If Pettitte does miss time, though, Javy Vazquez’s recovery becomes much more important. Sabathia, Burnett, and Hughes have three of five days covered. They’ve combined for 16 starts, pitching 108.1 innings (more than 6.2 IP per start) and have allowed just 29 runs, 26 earned (2.16 ERA). After that, though, the Yanks have two questionable spots. They can fill them temporarily, but to fill them on a long-term basis would present quite a problem.

Sergio Mitre has pitched well in relief so far, but as he showed on Wednesday he might not have a starter’s endurance right now. Ty Wigginton’s home run came on a second straight sinker up in the zone, and that’s not going to get the job done. The Yankees have few other options for Tuesday, so either he or Aceves will have to do. A recovery by Vazquez, though, could help mask Pettitte’s absence, either short- or long-term.

Joe Girardi was encouraged by Vazquez’s bullpen on Tuesday, though I doubt he’d say otherwise, even if he wasn’t impressed. As Marc Carig describes it:

Vazquez hit his spots during the 20-minute session, in which pitching coach Dave Eiland worked to tweak small details about Vazquez’s motion. Much of the work focused on ensuring that Vazquez’s body was going in the right direction while delivering pitches.

Anything to get his fastball going will get the job done. Even if it comes across at 89-90, he’ll be much better off if he can locate it. One of his biggest problems so far has been that he’s missed the mitt by plenty with his fastballs. If he hits those spots he can probably pitch like the No. 3, No. 4 pitcher the Yanks thought they were acquiring.

Right now the Yankees face their biggest test of the season. While they have their best for the next series, they have two big question marks coming up early next week. Vazquez is the key to this. If he rounds back into form the Yankees can weather Pettitte’s absence should it be an extended one. If not, they will have some problems in May.

Categories : Pitching
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