Thursday, March 4, 2010

Why I'm Rooting For Vazquez (Aside From The Obvious)

The fate of Javy Vazquez is certainly one of the more intriguing Yankee storylines coming into the 2010 season. We've discussed him in-depth multiple times here because he's about as polarizing a player as there is on the Yankees. In one camp, you have those who are encouraged by his record of above average performance and durability, along with his standout campaign in Atlanta in 2009. And in the other camp, you have those who cling to one half of a season that took place 5 years ago and one pitch thrown in that ALCS. Let's see where ESPN fantasy analyst Christopher Harris pitches his tent:
But the main reason I feel secure saying Vazquez won't repeat his 2009 season in 2010 is simple: I've seen this movie before. Vazquez has done this. In 2004, at age 28, Vazquez played a full season for the Yankees and did little to erase his reputation as a soft pitcher. Set free from the non-attention he enjoyed in six years as a Montreal Expo, he put together a blazing first half (10 wins, 3.56 ERA, 1.15 WHIP) and an All-Star Game appearance as a Yankee, then went belly-up when the pennant race got tight, posting a 6.92 ERA and 1.49 WHIP after the break. Plus, he famously allowed Johnny Damon's Game 7 grand slam in the Red Sox's improbable playoff comeback. (Remember ol' gutsy Vazquez relieving ol' gutsy Kevin Brown, Yanks fans?) And after posting a sub-4.00 ERA his each of his final three seasons in Montreal, Vazquez would go on to post a 4.00-plus ERA in four of his next five with the Yankees, Diamondbacks and White Sox.
Did you see the movie about Vazquez with the Braves too? Because that one came out just last year and he was pretty damn good in it. That'd be like saying "Sure Brad Pitt was great in Inglorious Basterds, but do you remember how shitty he was in Oceans Twelve!?!" And Harris even concedes that the first half of that movie was pretty good.

Apparently, pitching in New York doesn't carry real pressure until after the All-Star break. Nevermind that Vazquez might have been pitching with an injured shoulder during that stretch, let's just assume it was the pennant race that sunk him because that fits the narrative. Kind of like neglecting the fact that Kevin Brown loaded the bases for Vazquez, and blaming the whole grand slam on Javy. He can't handle the pressure of October!
I think it's also the bright lights. Vazquez has a 10.34 career playoff ERA, and in his four career playoff appearances, has never posted an ERA better than 8.68 in a single game.
Single game ERAs? Four postseason appearances? Are you familiar with the concept of statistical significance, WriterBoy? How about confirmation bias?
Sure he was terrific in Atlanta, where it's mostly Bobby Cox's close friends and relatives watching home games.
Atlanta drew an average of 29,304 fans per game last year. Bobby Cox must have a huge family.

I'm not going to go through the process of explaining why it's foolish to predict how someone will perform based on the intangible pressures for playing for once franchise or another, because I've already done that. There are people who buy into rational analysis and people who just want to think with their gut.

Unfortunately, there will be never be a shortage of those who insist on labeling Vazquez as "soft" and take smug joy in predicting that he won't be able to perform in New York based on 14 starts and one pitch 5 full seasons ago. Because of that, he's one guy in particular that I'd love to see prove his doubters wrong. Not only for the benefit of the Yankees, but for the principles of objective analysis.


  1. Not to mention...even if we assume that Javi doen't have the fortitude to pitch under pressure, this won't exactly be a high pressure situation for him. If a tight pennant race develops and/or the Yanks have some tough opponents in the postseason he'll still be pitching behind some pretty good and experienced pitchers. I find it hard to believe that anyone will praise him for the success of the team in 2010, or conversely chastise him for its failures.

    I'm with you brother.

  2. I find it hard to believe that anyone will... chastise him for its failures.
    WANNA BET??? Have you seen the It Is High posts?

    Anyway, this post is really, really brilliant. I, too, saw that article and was pretty taken aback. I obviously root for any Yankee, but I don't think I've ever wanted a Yankee to pitch a CGSHO in his first start more than I've wanted Javy to do.

  3. It really is mind-numbingly amazing how so many writers are able to make a living by drawing conclusions from such small data sets. I can think of marketing professors that would have failed me in an instant had I done something like this.

    I'm certain Javy will make a solid number four starter. I almost long for the days where the writers argue Joba vs Hughes (almost long for).