When Javier Vazquez signed with the Florida Marlins there was hope that the National League East would once again be a safe haven for his right arm. After posting a 2.77 FIP and an identical 2.77 xFIP as a member of the Atlanta Braves in 2009, Vazquez failed in his second tour of duty with the New York Yankees. His struggles in New York were well documented (5.56 FIP/4.69 xFIP) and even more concerning than the results was a steep drop in velocity. Vazquez never threw much harder than the low-90s to begin with, but was struggling to top out in the high-80s in 2010.
Despite the loss of velocity, a move back to the National League seemed like a wise choice for Vazquez. But whatever plagued him in the Bronx has followed him to South Beach. Coming into his Monday night start against the Philadelphia Phillies, Vazquez had a 5.61 FIP with an xFIP above 6.0. He had more walks (21) than strikeouts (16), and allowed 35 hits in 31 innings despite a .290 BABIP.
The velocity that he left in Atlanta has yet to resurface and one must wonder if it ever will. Vazquez went in to his last start averaging 88.2 MPH on his fastball. He struggled to average that much against the Phillies.
On Monday, Vazquez failed to complete five innings for the second time in seven starts. He allowed five runs on nine hits. Not only did he fail to register a strikeout, but did not generate one single swing and miss on 75 pitches. Once upon a time, Vazquez had one of the better strikeout rates in the game. After last night, his 2011 K/9 is barely above 4.0.
Coinciding with Vazquez’s drop in velocity and punchouts is an increase in flyballs and overall contact rate. For most of his career, he has been a neutral pitcher. This year, however, he has allowed over 50% flyballs. Hitters have whiffed on less than 5% of his pitches while making contact nearly 90% of the time.
Although it’s early May, it’s not too soon to wonder how much longer the Marlins will continue the Vazquez experiment. For a team with a $57 million payroll (Cots Contracts), it will not be easy to swallow the $7 million salary of Vazquez. On the other hand, for a surprise contender in the NL East, potentially throwing away every fifth game is also bad for business.
In a rotation with four above-average starters, Vazquez sticks out like a sore thumb. Unfortunately for the Marlins, there is no clear-cut alternative. Their top pitching prospect, Chad James, is pitching in A-Ball and their second best, Brad Hand, is not exactly lighting up Double-A (5.22 FIP). Their best option appears to be 28-year-old Jay Buente, who just recently converted from reliever to starter at the Triple-A level. Void of any real candidates to step in and make an impact, it appears as if the fish will be forced to sink or swim with Vazquez for the time being.