11/28/10 update: possibly obsoleting much of this, the Marlins have reportedly signed Vazquez to a one year deal.
As the FA hot stove gets hotter, more and more players have the “Nationals” name attached to them as intereted parties. None more so than Javier Vazquez and Brandon Webb. The question we as Nats fans should have is the following: Are Vazquez and Webb really worth going after?
Javier Vazquez, despite being the answer to one of my favorite trivia questions ever (what major league player has the highest scoring Scrabble last name?) seems to be more famous for the players he’s been traded for over the years (he was the primary chip in trades involving Nick Johnson, Randy Johnson, Chris Young, and Melky Cabrera) than he has been for his pitching. At age 34 he’s 152-149 for his career for a barely-better than average 105 era+ value.
He has shown that he can be great (2009 for Atlanta) and he can be mediocre (his two seasons in NY and two other seasons in Chicago). He’s never missed a start in the majors, though the Yankees took him out of their starting rotation towards the end of last season for a bit after a series of poor outings.
Question is: rumors abound that he’s lost his velocity. Is this true? Lets take a look at Pitch F/X. Here’s samples from three games last year (the box score is linked to the date and the Pitch FX data is linked to a mentioning of speed):
Now Lets look at 2009, when he finished 4th in Cy Young voting (which really means, he received one vote from one of the stat nerd voters who decided NOT to vote for Carpenter because he missed a few starts). Here’s a random game from the middle of the season.
So, his average fastball MPH has dropped nearly 3.5 mph between mid 2009 and the end of 2010. Not good. This did not go without notice in the NY press and blogs. Federal Baseball pulled out some great links and wrote a similar article to this a few days ago.
Here’s one last visual aid; Fangraphs historical pitch velocity maps. In the mid-late 2007 he was averaging 93-94 with peaks of 97-98. Now, he’s spent an entire year averaging 88-89 with peaks of no more than 92-93. That’s a significant drop off and may be indicative of Vazquez’s utility as a power pitcher coming to an end. The same thing happened to Livan Hernandez and he adjusted, but clearly Livan isn’t the ace starter that the Nats really kinda need.
So, how about Brandon Webb? We’re already reading how Rizzo likes Webb dating to his AZ days and we’re seeing pundit predictions and beat writer stories that Webb is coming to the Nats on a one-year reclamation project.
Webb’s history over the last 2 years:
- Made opening day start 2009, shoulder hurt, went on DL with Bursitis, surgery in august.
- Tried comeback 2010, never got off DL. Pitched in the instructional league after the end of the season. In those three instructional league games, here’s his performance summary:
- 9/29/10: 1 inning, fastball at 81mph.
- 10/2/10: 81-84mpg
- 10/7/10: 2 innings, fastball low-80s, top mid-80s.
Webb got 2 innings in his last of three Instructional league start and was, per this report, was sitting “in the low-80s and topped in the mid-80s.” Stated another way, “Webb has thrown in front of scouts multiple times, according to several reports, and in his most recent session his fastball reached four or five miles per hour below his typical velocity.”
Perhaps this is just a tentative guy, trying to work his way back. In fact, if he was indeed pitching at just 90% of his effort after so long a time off, then mid 80s is just fine.
Webb was never a terribly hard thrower. His fangraphs velocity chart from his healthier 2007 and 2008 show a consistent mid-to-upper 80s (88.5), with peaks into the low 90s. His strength is in a serious sinker, that batters drive into the ground and cannot hit hard, consistently.
- Take a flier on Webb. I’d go 1yr $5M with $1M incentives at 15,20,25 and 30 games started to push total value to 1yr $9M. And i’d get a club option at $10M for a second year.
- Stay away from Vazquez. He’s trending downwards and is in Jose Contreras territory.
Coming soon: similar thoughts about Carl Pavano and Jorge de la Rosa.