Orioles Think Tank

Orioles Coverage for the Information Age

Our Second Chance at Javier Vazquez

Posted by Mike on December 29, 2005


Javier Vazquez has formally demanded a trade from the Arizona Diamonbacks. This provision is his right as a player traded in the middle of a multi-year contract and gives Arizona the off-season to execute a trade before he has the opportunity to become a free agent (and sacrifice the $24 million left over two years remaining in his deal). He would not be likely to find a suitor willing to match that ransom, based on his past two year’s performance, so it would take a trade to wrestle him away from the Diamondbacks. At this point, they may not put up much of a fight.
Considering the perception of his value, relative to his actual value, I am convinced that Vasquez is exactly who the Orioles should persue if they want to upgrade their rotation. Let’s see if you can’t be convinced as well.
On the surface, Vazquez appears to have gone downhill since leaving Montreal after the 2003 season. The following are his stats from the 2003, 2004, and 2005 seasons. He was with the Montreal Expos, New York Yankees, and Arizona Diamondbacks, respectively.

2003: 230.7 ip, 6.87 K/9, 2.20 BB/9, 1.09 HR/9, 3.20 ERA
2004: 198.0 ip, 6.82 K/9, 2.73 BB/9, 1.50 HR/9, 4.91 ERA
2005: 215.7 ip, 8.01 K/9, 1.92 BB/9, 1.46 HR/9, 4.42 ERA

Judging by ERA, and granting that the National League generally shaves a half run off of a pitcher’s ERA, it looks like Vazquez has continued to struggle in 2005. Judging by every other metric, with the exception of home runs allowed (which, to some extent, can be explained by the fact that he pitches in a bandbox), Vazquez has significantly improved over the stellar 2003 season that earned him all those Yankee dollars. So, how can this disparity be resolved?
Let’s take a look at his BABIP (Batting Average on Balls put Into Play). Voros McCracken (check the side-bar to see more of his work) and others have recently shown that a pitcher, at the very least, has much less control over BABIP then once assumed. What is more important is what the pitcher can control; strikeouts, walks, and home runs allowed.

Based on this, we can assume that a pitcher can pitch equally well in two different years and have significant disparities in his ERA. So what does this all mean for Javier Vazquez? (sidenote: most years, the average BABIP is in the low .290s)
His BABIPs for the last 3 years:

2003: .289
2004: .278
2005: .308

We can see that he was about average on the lucky scale in 2003, lucky to not have had an even worse ERA in 2004, and very unlucky in 2005. His ERA can not tell us what his BABIP, strikeout rate, and walk rate can; Javier Vazquez is back and as good as ever.

Now, how good is that? Well, roughly speaking, Javier Vazquez compares favorably to A.J. Burnett, this year’s top free agent starting pitcher. They are both in their late 20’s with front of the rotation reputations. A.J. Burnett has a slightly better strikeout rate and HR allowed rate, but a slightly worse walk rate. Also, Vasquez is clearly the healthier of the two. A.J. Burnett is going to get about 4 years and $45 million dollars on his next contract, or about $11-12 mill a year. Javier Vazquez will make $11.5 mill in 2006 and $12.5 mill in 2007. Of course, the Diamonbacks will have to pay for part of that for two reasons:

1) the $9 mill they got from the Yankees to help pay for Vazquez’s contract last off-season and,
2) Vazquez’s perceived value (based on his deceptive ERA and poor 2004 season) necessitates that they pay for part of the contract.

Now, if I told you that we could get a healthier version of A.J. Burnett for about $8 mill a year and only have to give him a two year committment, what minor leaguers would you be willing to give up? Thanks to the misconception that Javier Vazquez pitched as poorly this season as he did in 2004, we won’t have to give up nearly as much as we probably should.

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