Curt Schilling — now an ESPN analyst/blogger — has been on another two-day rant, this time about the mistake the Yankees made in signing Javier Vazquez. According to Schilling, absolutely nothing has changed since 2004.
Sure, he's never met Vazquez personally, but Schilling — using all his psycho-analytical abilities — believes Vazquez can't handle the glare of the New York spotlight. And that while his stuff is very good, it is not quite good enough to pitch in the much more taxing American League. Normally one would write off Schilling's blabbering as just another diatribe by the ego maniac ex-pitcher, but unfortunately for logic's sake, Schilling may have a point.
"Here's the thing about Javy and I tried to preface this, but the negative always drowns out the positive. I love the kid. He has phenomenal stuff. I thought he was a superstar when he was in Montreal, but I think you are kidding yourself if you think the second time in New York will be different than the first time. I'm not sure why that would be."
At this juncture it is far too early to write off Javier Vazquez as a bad acquisition. Coming off of a phenomenal 2009 campaign in Atlanta, Javier has struggled mightily in 2010, posting a 1-3 record in 4 games with a 9.00 ERA. He's giving up over 11 hits per game and is walking 5, a total nearly two batters higher than the worst season of his career (1998 as a rookie in Montreal).
These totals are bound to inevitably come down. His 4.23 career ERA is nothing to glamorize but it is far better than what he has shown this season, especially considering his career total is inflated by his first two seasons in the league. And his career 1.249 WHIP indicates that he will likely solve this walks/hits epidemic currently plaguing him as the season progresses. That being said, over his career the majority of Vazquez's success has come in the National League (as Schilling indicated).
Javy's best season in the American League came in 2007 as a member of the Chicago White Sox. That season, Vazquez posted a respectable 15-8 record, a 3.74 ERA, and a 1.14 WHIP. But his '06 and '08 seasons on the South Side were far less successful, with Vazquez posting ERAs of 4.84 and 4.67 respectably and going 23 and 28 in the two seasons combined. In both, he racked up solid strikeout and walk totals and maintained a low WHIP (due to the lack of walks). But Javier was simply too hittable, allowing more hits than innings pitched in both seasons (420 total) and surrendering 229 runs in 410 innings..
Further backing Schilling's assessment, the conditions surrounding the 2010 signing of Javier Vazquez greatly mirror that of the 2004 signing. In 2003 Javier posted one of his two best seasons ever. Breaking out with Montreal, Vazquez posted a 3.24 ERA and a 1.105 WHIP, allowing only 198 hits in 230 1/3 innings pitched. Walking only 2.2 batters per game while striking out 9.4 over nine innings, Vazquez seemed on the verge of stardom. And then he arrived in New York.
In his one season with the Yankees, Vazquez has forever been considered a massive disappointment, despite his 1.288 WHIP. That season, he managed a 14-10 record based largely on run support, because his 4.91 ERA was his ticket out of the Bronx. Overall Vazquez allowed only 195 hits in 198 innings but his strikeout rate dropped to 6.8 per nine innings and his total Ks plummeted from 241 in 2003 to 150 in '04 in only 32 2/3 less innings pitched. While his peripherals weren't terrible that season, it was clear that Vazquez was far less effective in the AL East and the Yankees' brass wasn't exactly known for their patience during that period.
After one rough season in Arizona, Vazquez returned to the American League with the White Sox and — as aforementioned — saw limited success. Overall in his three years with the club, Vazquez went 38-36 with a 4.40 ERA. Again, his peripherals weren't bad — he carried a 1.249 WHIP, 3.57 SO/BB ratio, and surrendered 617 hits in 627 2/3 innings — but those numbers never translated into success. When Vazquez got hit he got hit hard and he gave up runs. High strikeout totals or low hit and walk totals don't make up for runs surrendered. If it was isolated to one season this may be considered bad luck, but Javy has made a career out of posting promising peripheral statistics that rarely translate to success on the field. He is essentially a sabermetric anomaly.
Now in 2010 Vazquez is once again coming off one of, if not his best, season. And once again the success came in the National League. But as Curt Schillings commented, there are "no Pittsburgh Pirates" in the AL.
And Javier is once again coming to terms with that reality. As Schilling once again so astutely commented, "He's a phenomenal National League pitcher. It's hard to say this without sounding disrespectful and I don't mean it that way — the National League is an easier league to pitch in, period. And some guys aren't equipped to get those same outs in the American League, and he's one of those guys."
Although Schilling may be one of the biggest, loudest, most irritating blowhards ESPN has ever hired (and that's setting my anti-Boston bias aside), he did pitch in both leagues and in two of the hardest divisions in baseball. Couple that with Vazquez's checkered statistical history and in this case Schilling is hard to refute.
In any case, Javier may not develop into the outstanding pitcher that he has shown flashes of in the NL. But the Yankees didn't sign him to be their ace. They have enough money invested in CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett for that purpose. Javier simply needs to keep the team in ball games, allowing the offense to take care of the rest. If he can do that, he will, at the very least, notch some wins for his club.
To this point, Schilling once again shockingly bases his commentary in reality (apparently setting his own bias aside); "On that team with that offense, he can win a lot of games. You are not asking him to lead your rotation."
Even if Vazquez does struggle Schilling is correct. He likely will win roughly 15 games based near-totally on offensive production. And if that turns out to be all the Yankees get out of Javy as their No. 4 starter, they will be in better shape than most teams in baseball including their division rival Red Sox.