The problems with Javier Vazquez have gone from a minor slump to a major concern. Yesterday was his 5th start of the season, and the results haven’t changed at all. If anything, they’re getting worse. He gave up at least one run in each inning he pitched, and has given up a run or more in 6 of his last 8 innings pitched. In his first three starts he was prone to the one big inning, but now he seems shaky all the time. His one decent outing and win of the season came facing the Oakland A’s, where he relied less on stuff and more on veteran guile facing a young and inexperienced A’s lineup.
His velocity on his fastball has been down, Fangraphs Pitch Type values show it at the lowest level it’s been in 7 years. His WHIP is an ugly 2.04. His BB rate has exploded to 5.87/9 IP this year (2.37 career) and pitchers who miss that often out of the strike zone are usually missing badly in the strike zone as well. His GB/FB rate is a career low 0.72, and while he’s always been a fly ball pitcher that tells you just how hard he’s been getting hit, as does his career high BABIP of .349 (.309 career). But you don’t need these numbers to tell you how he’s been doing. By every measure, he’s pitched horribly.
We’ve heard the Yanks repeatedly say it’s just a mechanical issue. That he’s dropping his arm a bit, getting a bit ahead of himself in his delivery. Frank Piliere of MLB Fanhouse agrees with this assessment, and explains it as follows:
There’s a reason that Vazquez has had trouble stringing together multiple good seasons in a row in his career. Yes, he’s been durable but the results have been erratic year to year. His mechanics are always going to be an issue, assuming he doesn’t revamp his current delivery completely. There are pauses, a lot of drifting and a drop on his back leg that simply make his delivery hard to repeat.
His delivery in particular hinges a lot on rhythm. He doesn’t deliver the ball with a brute force, and doesn’t stay tall and drive the ball downhill. So, he has to have a lot of moving parts working in sync together to be successful. Like any good groove, when he gets it going it usually keeps going much the way it did with the Braves last season. That obviously hasn’t been the case so far here in 2010.
For the most part, pitchers need to stay on top of the baseball to be successful and it’s especially crucial for a guy like Vazquez who relies heavily on fastball movement, not raw velocity, and the action on his big curveball. Not being able to get on top of his pitches is the simplified version of why the beginning of this season has been such a nightmare for him.
His mechanical issues have caused both his stuff to be less sharp and his command to be way off. So pitches with less bite are drifting out over the plate, which is why he’s given up an astounding 8 HRs in just 23 IP. Piliere also has an explanation for his velocity being down:
However, it can’t be said enough that timing in Vazquez’ delivery comes into play perhaps more than any pitcher on the Yankee pitching staff. If he’s early with his lower half and stride toward the plate, like he is right now, he’s going to have a lot of trouble. So far, his lower half has been far ahead of his arm and he’s getting too far out in front to generate any decent leg drive. He’s going to have to stay back longer over the rubber and allow his arm to catch up.
Sounds easy to correct, right? But as Frank goes on to explain, correcting this is easier said than done. It’s all about Javy getting into a good rhythm, and right now he’s just completely out of whack. It has nothing to do with New York or pitching in the American League, both of which he has had success in previously. It’s all just mechanical. But bad mechanics can be a function of not being where he needs to be mentally, and clearly this rough stretch is wearing on him. He said this in yesterday’s post game:
“It’s tough. I can’t hide that. It’s tough. But I promise everybody I’m going to keep working hard at it and battle through it,” he said.
Javier is stuck in a ditch right now, and his answer to to hit the gas even harder. I think that’s a mistake. My prescription for what ails Javy would be to simply skip him his next start. With an off day coming up on Thursday, you can skip Javy and keep everyone else on regular rest. You’ll need him after that, since there are no off days after Thursday in May until the 24th. I would further tell him to STOP trying to fix what’s wrong right now, which may actually be the hardest thing for him to do. Tell him that I don’t want him to pick up a Baseball for the next 10 days, then have him get a bullpen in before his next start. I’m not alone in this sentiment, Girardi was asked this very question by one of the beat reporters in yesterday’s post-game. Here’s what he said:
“There’s no doubt about it right now that he’s scuffling,” Girardi said. “We have to find a way to get him back on track. But my concerns right now is tomorrow and the next day and how we deal with some of the things we’re dealing with right now.”
No surprise there, I wouldn’t expect Joe to tell the media anything before he tells Javier. And I doubt he would say anything to Javy so soon after a such a rough start. But this has to be under consideration right now. He’s not giving the team a chance to win. He has been the starter in 4 of the Yanks 8 losses this year. Much like with Wang last season there comes a point where you throw the resume out the window and do what’s best for the team. Right now, I think the best thing Javier can do to fix his troubles is to take a break.