December 22, 2014

I Told You So… or How Javier Vazquez Almost Broke My Leg

May 1, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Javier Vazquez.  Saying I told you so just doesn’t cut it.

I told you so.

In a season where teams are almost guaranteed to lose 60 times, and the mathematical probability of winning the final game played stands at 3.3%, fans have to find optimism and reason for hope in smaller events throughout the season.  A breakout season by a highly touted rookie, a hard-fought win over a hated rival, or a short line at the concession stand that sells the gourmet steak sandwich keep us hooked.  Why do you think Vegas sports books offer proposition bets?  Everyone needs something to keep them interested for three hours at a time for more than 160 dates a year.

That compulsive need for some small victory has given birth to the sports fan I refer to as the Negative Man.  The Negative Man can always be found in some corner of the man cave, morosely sipping a beer, saying things like, “Qualls’ll blow the game here, you just watch.”  The Negative Man hedges his bets.  He can’t allow himself to feel loss and despair as his favorite team loses a game, so he makes a side wager.  If Qualls does in fact lose the game, Negative Man has triumphed!  His prediction has come true!  Even though the team lost, Negative Man won.

He told you so.

So, what does all this have to do with baseball?  For Yankee fans, Javier Vazquez is Negative Man’s wet dream.  He’s the ultimate “I told you so” player.  Nobody who watched the Yankees during their 2004 meltdown against the Red Sox thought this year’s offseason trade for Javier Vazquez was a good idea.

I was on the treadmill, watching the scrawl on ESPN, when news of the trade scrolled across the bottom of my screen.  My knees buckled.  I nearly fell off the treadmill.  My mind raced.

How could they do this?  Didn’t anybody watch Vazquez while he was in New York the first time around?  Did Javier Vazquez nearly break my leg?

Forget that Vazquez is widely blamed—unfairly I might add—for the Yankees’ 2004 collapse.  Here was a fly-ball pitcher who had succeeded in the National League in a pitcher’s park.  Now, the Yankees were going to bring him to the pitcher’s graveyard known as the American League East and the launching pad that is Yankees Stadium 2.0?  The fans in the Bronx actually gave Vazquez more leeway than I thought they would.  They didn’t boo him upon his introduction at Opening Day.  Vazquez had the same chance of succeeding as the new MacGruber movie.

The problem with Vazquez isn’t mechanical.  It’s not his environment.  It’s not his stuff.  It’s him.  He walks to the mound wearing the same look as the abusive psychiatrist when Hannibal Lecter escaped his cell in Silence of the Lambs.

It’s a look that says, “I emptied my bowels directly into my pants right before I stepped on the field.  So please don’t ask me to move too quickly, because things could get very messy.”  Would you want anybody taking the mound for your team with a load in his pants?

These are the questions I wish the Yankees front office had asked before they traded away Melky Cabrera.  For me, along with 99.9% of the Yankees fans out there, Vazquez was dead to us.  It didn’t matter what he had done in Chicago or Atlanta, he was a rotting corpse since 2004.

Our defining memory of Javier Vazquez will always be the grand slam served up to Johnny Damon.  It’s not because it was a momentum changing homerun that forever altered anything—Kevin Brown had already done that.  It’s that Vazquez approached the at-bat with his “oops I crapped my pants” mentality.  By the time Vazquez faced Johnny Damon in the top of the second in game seven, he was a defeated pitcher.  Damon was supremely confident.  Vazquez wasn’t.  Damon had the battle won before he ever stepped into the batter’s box.

Vazquez dominated last season in Quadruple-A.  His groundball percentage received a two percent bump, probably because he got to face the pitcher or an unimpressive pinch hitter 10% of the time.  I’m not a mathematician.  I don’t know how to assign a value to the difference in offensive production between the American and National Leagues.

Here’s what I do know.  Javier Vazquez has evolved as a pitcher since 2004.  In 2004, he threw his fastball with an average velocity of 90.1 MPH 56.9% of the time, his slider 5.5%, curve 15%, and change 23.6%.  Last season, for the first time in his career, he threw his fastball less than a majority of the time.  Why?  I don’t know.  Maybe the weaker hitters at the bottom of the National League lineups don’t hit off-speed stuff as well.

This season, his percentages have continued to skew away from the heat.  That’s clearly not a successful strategy.  He’s throwing his fastball an average of 89 MPH 48.7% of the time.  His slider has jumped to 21.2%, his curve 16.1%, and his changeup 14%.  That says he doesn’t trust himself, because he doesn’t trust the pitch he’s been throwing since Little League.

When you trust your stuff, you throw your fastball.  You throw it for strikes.  You get ahead of hitters with it and then you put them away with it (See Hughes, Phil 2009).  You work fast.  You get outs.  You want to pitch every five days.  When a tubby, retired mouthpiece like Curt Schilling calls you out, you fire back at him.  You don’t mess your pants before you take the mound.

A pitcher not confident in his stuff nibbles.  He slings off-speed pitches off the plate, hoping to entice a swing.  He throws his heater slower, aiming it, worried that anything too good will be hit a long way.  That’s the type of pitcher I see in Javier Vazquez.

He’s not trying to get outs and win baseball games.  He’s trying to avoid being on the back page of the Daily News, his hat pulled down over his eyes, his head tilted downward, walking off the mound as manager Joe Girardi waits to hand the ball to reliever Sergio Mitre.  Tiger Woods doesn’t line up a putt hoping not to miss.  Kobe Bryant doesn’t stand at the free throw line hoping not to brick it.  Mariano Rivera doesn’t throw a change up, because a hitter just missed taking his cutter deep.  You can’t compete when you’re worried about screwing up.

Saturday, when Mark Kotsay lifted a Vazquez offering into the right field seats to make a 3-1 White Sox lead 5-1, guess what pitch he hit.  Curveball.

I told you so.

Comments

One Response to “I Told You So… or How Javier Vazquez Almost Broke My Leg”
  1. This is a great piece, with the exception of the “load in his pants” references. Seriously, Josh, you’re a good writer. You don’t need to resort to that crap.

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