Get Up On It Like This, Damn It

With Javier Vazquez set to start tonight for the Yankees after his turn was skipped over the weekend, last week’s “Hit and Run” column has received a big-screen adaptation over at ESPN Insider’s TMI blog. Beyond his historical problems while pitching in the American League, here’s something to chew on regarding his performance this year:

Comparing his 2010 Pitch f/x data with that of previous years, the most obvious difference is that his fastball is about 2 mph slower than last year, falling from 91.1 to 88.9; he’s been somewhere between 91 and 92 in every year since 2005. That’s a significant drop; not many right-handers can succeed with fastballs below 90 mph. Vazquez is throwing fastballs — both four-seamers and two-seamers — a bit less often than in 2009, and generating fewer whiffs (swings and misses):

FB    Freq   Strike   Swing  Whiff   Foul   In Play
2009  49.5%   68.9%   46.7%   7.8%   20.2%   18.5%
2010  46.6%   61.8%   44.7%   6.0%   23.5%   15.2%

Perhaps of more significance, the whiff percentage on his offspeed stuff — curve, slider and changeup — has fallen even more dramatically:

Offs  Freq   Strike   Swing  Whiff   Foul   In Play
2009  48.1%   64.7%   48.1%  17.1%   13.9%   17.0%
2010  53.4%   61.8%   44.2%  12.0%   14.9%   17.3%

Prior to Saturday’s start, TV analyst and former big-league pitcher Al Leiter suggested that Vazquez’s current troubles were rooted in his delivery. “He’s getting under the baseball” rather than on top of it, said Leiter, causing his pitches to flatten out. Fanhouse’s Frankie Piliere, a former big league scout, similarly blamed nagging mechanical difficulties as well, noting that Vazquez isn’t driving over the top of his front leg and getting on top of his pitches, instead rotating around his torso and shoulder and coming from a lower arm angle. In the process, he is robbing himself of velocity, and compromising his command.

We’ll see tonight if the Yankees did anything to iron out Vazquez’s delivery. At least Yankees fans can take comfort that old nemesis-turned-punching bag Josh Beckett (7.07 ERA in 42 innings in 2009-2010) is hanging out in Jerkville as well.

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