Upon his return to the Bronx this season, Javier Vazquez was clearly a divisive figure among Yankee fans.
Some saw the potential in the one-time Yankee, thinking that the man who dominated for the Braves in 2009, finishing fourth in National League Cy Young voting, had learned enough since his uneven 2004 stint in pinstripes, to be a solid back end of the rotation starter. After all, the rotation was much stronger this time around, lessening the pressure on Javy to be a front of the rotation type starter.
To others though, the lasting images of Vazquez entering to salvage Kevin Brown's terrible outing in Game 7 of the fateful 2004 ALCS, but instead pouring gallons of fuel onto the fire, were enough to conjure nightmares for Yankee fans upon mere mention of his name.
While it's not fair to blame the epic collapse of 2004 on one man, Vazquez did serve to hammer the proverbial nail into the coffin of Yankee ambitions that season. His entrance into the deciding game, allowing a game-deciding Johnny Damon grand slam on the first pitch he threw, was his final act in a tumultuous season as a Yankee. Two innings later, Damon's second home run off Vazqez erased most hopes of a dramatic Yankee comeback to reclaim the series.
After making the 2004 American League All-Star team, Javy collapsed in the second half, barely resembling the pitcher he had been through mid-July. Down the stretch that year, he was shelled regularly, seeing his season ERA balloon a full run and a half from the All-Star break through the end of the year.
Culminating in a dreadful playoff performance, in which he did little more than provide copious amounts of run-scoring opportunities, via 16 hits and nine walks over 11 1/3 innings, 2004 was largely a disappointment for Javier Vazquez. He then had the misfortune of timing, playing such a significant role in the final defeat the Yankees would suffer in 2004, as they etched their names into the record books in such undesirable fashion. Javy, with whom, fans in the Bronx had yet to grow fully comfortable, provided many with an easy scapegoat for the travesty of '04.
When the Yankees traded Vazquez, Brad Halsey and Dioner Navarro to the Diamiondbacks for future hall of famer Randy Johnson in Janaury of 2005, fans barely batted an eye. Of course, the Big Unit would have his own issues in the Bronx, but no one knew that at the time. For now, Javier Vazquez was gone and there were plenty who rejoiced.
Flash forward five years. Following four seasons of inconsistency with the D-backs and White Sox, and one stellar season in Atlanta, Javier Vazquez would find opportunity for redemption in the Bronx. Returning to the Yankees in a trade for Melky Cabrera, Mike Dunn and Arodys Viscaino, Vazquez was stepping into a much different situation this time around.
In 2004, Vazquez was looked at as a potential breakout ace, after his early years of success in Montreal. The 2010 Yankees, fresh off their 27th World Series title, only needed him to solidify the fourth slot in their rotation. After his ace-like 2009 for the Braves, Javy certainly seemed capable of the task.
If given a choice in the matter, I'm fairly certain that Javy would have chosen differently than what occurred. 2010's Yankee redemption began horribly for the pitcher, as he was shelled in his first five starts, immediately bringing back painful memories to Yankee fans of 2004. Many chimed in with the obligatory "I told you so's", when the gamble to bring Vazquez back to the Bronx started as awfully as it concluded in round one.
Over the course of five starts, Vaquez threw 23 innings, allowing 32 hits, 25 earned runs, walking 15, and serving eight home-runs. His 1-4 record with a 9.78 ERA had fans and eventually the team, questioning the wisdom of the transaction. Trade rumors Vazquez returning to the National League imminently, surfaced in early May.
Then the Yankees skipped his scheduled sixth start, opting to not have him face the Red Sox in Fenway.
Following his team-imposed break, Vazquez hurled a gem, in which he lost 2-0 to the Tigers, but the progress was noticed, as it was his first positive outing of 2010. Over the next 15 appearances, 14 of them starts, Javier Vazquez slowly pitched his way back to respectability as a Yankee.
Javy was now proving the doubters wrong, he could pitch in the more offensively dynamic American League. His critics claimed that he was simply another in a line of pitchers who have struggled in recent years with making the transition from the National League to the American League.
Or so it seemed.
In the 16 appearances Vazquez made since his ignominious benching by the team, he has gone 8-5, with a 3.39 ERA, hurling 95 2/3 innings, only allowing a .213 opponents batting average.
It appeared that he had finally solved the riddle of succeeding in the American League East.
However, some disturbing trends linger if you begin to look closely at Vazquez's numbers in 2010.
Since the skipped start in Boston, of his 15 starts, nine can be considered good, one decent, with 5 bad ones. That's certainly encouraging, actually far more than most teams could expect from their fourth starter.
Javier Vazquez is a pitcher whose success relies heavily upon match-ups. Of course, that can be said about ever pitcher alive, that they find more success against weaker offensive teams. No surprise there, but Vazquez seems intent on personally proving the notion.
Of those 15 starts, Vaquez made four inter-league starting appearances, with one rough outing against Arizona, among three very good starts, twice against the Mets and once against Houston. His success against National League opponents led to a 3-1 inter-league record with a 2.88 ERA, a .186 opponents' batting average as well as a meager opponents' OPS of .538.
Fueling his success has been his ability to feast upon the weakest teams in the American League, as well as the timing of four games against National League opponents.
In fact, nearly all his 2010 success has been at the hands of such teams. After May1, against the Tigers, Mets twice, Orioles, Blue Jays, Astros, D-backs, Mariners twice, A's, and Indians, Vazquez has gone 6-3. In 73 innings over 11 starts, he has only allowed 43 hits, 19 earned runs, and 23 walks with a 2.34 ERA, 62 strikeouts and a measly opponents' OPS of .536. Only the Blue Jays and D-Backs can be considered above-average offensive teams of that group.
Including his disastrous first five starts against the Rays, Angels twice, A's & White Sox, Vazquez has made 10 appearances against what could be mostly considered tougher competition than those he has succeed against. Yes, I included the A's once in each group, but only because his first start was before he appeared to turn his season around, the second helping to support the illusion of his "return to AL success."
Throughout those 10 weaker outings, he faced the Rays twice, the Angels three times, the Red Sox twice, the Twins, White Sox and A's all once. In those appearances, Javy hurled 45 2/3 innings, allowing 63 hits, 42 earned runs, 23 walks and a whopping 14 home-runs, en route to a 4-6 record, 8.28 ERA, opponents' batting average of .337 and an opponents OPS of 1.093.
Overall, Vazquez has only had one positive start against a team who resides within the upper half of their respective league's top scoring clubs. Although they have slipped subsequently, when he beat the Tigers on May 12, they were a better team than they are now.
Of his 10 starts that can be considered in the positive to good range, nine of those have been against teams who currently reside either ninth or far lower in runs scored in their respective leagues. A total of four starts have been against the 12th, 13th and 14th ranked Indians, Orioles and Mariners. Of his inter-league opponents, two of those starts were against the 13th ranked Mets, and one more was against the 15th ranked Astros.
In conclusion, a full seven of his 10 positive starts have been while facing opponents ranking 12th or worse in scoring in their league.
Now, this isn't to condemn Javier Vazquez or blame him for the woes of the New York Yankees. The truth is, most teams would be elated with production like his out of the fourth spot in their rotation.
Pitching for the New York Yankees is different than pitching for almost any other team in baseball however. Also figuring into the equation, is the fact that the Yankees traded a highly touted pitching prospect, Arodys Viscaino, to acquire Vazquez. Additionally, Javy's $11.5 million contract brings another significant concern to the team and you can understand why the Yankees and their fans expect more than just an innings eater in the fourth spot in the rotation.
The situation regarding Javy is greater than just his performance for the Yankees in 2010 as well. It serves as a warning sign for teams in the offense laden American League, when considering whether to bring other pitchers over from the National League. Even when it involves a pitcher who experienced tremendous success the previous year, like Vazquez in Atlanta, the success clearly doesn't translate across the league divide.
You don't get to pick and choose your opponents to line up favorable match-ups as the season progresses. Of course, occasionally you get to juggle the rotation to make minor alterations, but throughout the course of the 162 game schedule, that's only going to occur maybe a few times.
While it may seem that Javier Vazquez has turned his 2010 season around after his dreadful start, the notion of his revitalized year has to be tempered by a closer examination of the facts. Of course, after such a woeful first month, almost any improvement may have seemed monumental, but a careful look into the actuality of the situation, reveals that Javy Vazquez's return to productivity for the Yankees, has been mostly an illusion.