A longtime target of John Schuerholz’s, finally acquired by Frank Wren. I’m more excited by the deal now than I was at the time. Vazquez was incredibly unlucky in 2008. His ERA was elevated due to bad luck and bad defense, and he probably should have had an ERA in the mid-threes, not the mid-fours. His peripherals (walks, strikeouts, homers) were basically the same as in 2007, when he went 15-8 with a 3.74 ERA.
Vazquez was one of the last of the stars produced by the Expos machine when the Expos were playing farm system for the rest of baseball. After a couple of rough years when he first came up, he was terrific from 2000-2003, going 50-45 (they were 251-302 when he didn’t get the decision) with a 3.65 ERA. The Yankees traded three players, including Nick Johnson and Juan Rivera, to get him before the 2004 season.
I think that 2004 shaped Vazquez’s image in the minds of baseball fans. He started off gangbusters and was 10-5 with a 3.56 ERA at the break, making his only All-Star team. But he collapsed in the second half, going 4-5/6.92, and was bounced from the rotation at one point. In the postseason, he made only one start, and did not pitch well in that or in two relief appearances, though he did win Game 3 of the ALCS in relief; he gave up a grand slam homer to Johnny Damon (after Kevin Brown walked the bases loaded) in the second inning of Game 7 that essentially ended the series.
Since the whole thing was obviously his fault, the Yankees traded him to the D-Backs with two other players for Randy Johnson. Arizona was a bad fit for Vazquez, whose primary problem throughout his career has been home runs. He did not pitch that badly, actually; his ERA of 4.42 was just about the average in that park, but he gave up 35 homers, the second-most in the league, the most in the non-Eric Milton division. Traded to the White Sox (for three players, including Chris Young), he was basically average again in 2006. As I mentioned above, he was pretty great in 2007, and pretty unlucky in 2008.
Vazquez is a strikeout pitcher, ninth among active players; he has never led the league, but has finished in the top ten eight times, including fourth the last three years in a row. He is also a workhorse, who has thrown more than 200 innings eight of the last nine years. Both of these were desperately needed on a team of finesse pitchers who rarely saw the seventh inning. JC rates Vazquez as the seventh-most-valuable pitcher in baseball over the last three seasons; ahead of him are Webb, Sabathia, Halladay, Santana, Haren, and Oswalt.
Vazquez’s biggest problem has been home runs; I wish Leo, who did a great job teaching his pitchers how to avoid homers, had gotten a chance to work with him. Most home runs allowed, Vazquez’s career (1998-2008)
1 Javier Vazquez 300
2 Livan Hernandez 291
3 Jamie Moyer 289
4 Jeff Suppan 276
5 Eric Milton 265
6 Tim Wakefield 261
7 Woody Williams 257
8 Randy Johnson 246
9 Curt Schilling 242
10 Steve Trachsel 238