Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

Vazquez and Webb: Do we really want them?

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A younger, thinner, harder throwing version of Javier Vazquez. Photo courtesy of baseball.dailyskew.com

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):

1. June 6th: probably his best game of the year.  7 innings, 1 hit, 9ks (though 4 walks).  Again his avg fastball is around 89 but he maxed out at 91.7.

2. July 26: a decent performance middle of the season.  About the exact same figures as on 6/6; 89.22 average, 91.6 max.

3. Sept 29: his final appearance of the year, a loss against Toronto where he got shelled.  Here he was averaging
89, max of barely 90 on his fastball.  Hmm.  not good.

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.

1. June 11: Vazquez goes 8 innings, gives up 2 hits and strikes out 12 hapless Pirates.  Interesting: he was
throwing an average of 91.43, max of 93.5.

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 blogsFederal 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.

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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.

Conclusion:
- 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.

2 Responses to 'Vazquez and Webb: Do we really want them?'

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  1. You’d really offer Webb $5M guaranteed when all he’s shown so far is 88.5mph? I’d think more like $2M and a AAA with something like $1M at 1, 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30 games. (Same thing for Wang, for that matter.)

    kevin rusch

    28 Nov 10 at 2:09 pm

  2. Yeah I would. He was among the best pitchers in baseball for 3 years running
    (one cy young and 2 2nd places) prior to his surgery. Arizona guaranteed his $8.5M
    deal basically on spec.

    I’m not as worried as others about his pace. He was never a hard thrower, even in his prime.
    Average mph on fastball only about 88-89. Yeha he could bring it up to 92-93 if he wanted,
    but he sat in a very average-looking speed. Lots of people were pointing at his instructional
    league games and saying he’s lost his fastball … but if those were the first three games he
    pitched after rehab all year … who is to say that he wasn’t just showing the same speeds he’d
    be throwing during the first few weeks of spring training?

    My gut says that Webb will want incentives to take him to his pay of last 2 years, which was
    about 8M/year. So my 4-tiered incentive contract on top of a $5M base accounts for that.

    I think he’s a risk, but so is/was Wang. We definitely face a tough decision on wang, since he
    could be a stickler via arbitration and guarantee himself more money than we may be willing to pay.

    We’ll see. Best case: Sign Webb, Wang returns to former form and we have a pretty good rotation
    all of a sudden. Webb, Wang, Lannan, Livan, Zimmermann. Imagine if we supplimented that with
    a trade for Garza.

    Todd Boss

    30 Nov 10 at 5:23 pm

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