Washington Nationals and Javier Vazquez, Hoping For 2009 Again.

Everyone, including Boston Globe writer Nick Carfado, New York Newsday writer Ken Davidoff and MLBTraderumors.com' Tim Dierkes, seems to think former Tampa Bay Rays' first baseman Carlos Pena will join the Washington Nationals this winter as a free agent replacement for outgoing slugger Adam Dunn. Mr. Dierkes and Davidoff also had Javier Vazquez returning to the franchise that originally drafted him and brought him to the major leagues in recent Hot Stove prediction posts, with Mr. Dierkes pointing to the 34-year-old right-hander's success in Atlanta in 2009 as a reason why Vazquez might want to return to the National League after another rough year in the AL. NY Newsday's Ken Davidoff followed up on his predictions this past weekend with a post on Monday entitled, "Free agency, the Mets and the Giants", in which he explained some of his choices for free agent destinations. In discussing Vazquez, Mr. Davidoff writes that he matched Vazquez up with Washington because, "...the Nats are looking to spend some dough," and Vazquez's, "2010 was an aberration," in which, "[Yankees' manager] Joe Girardi buried Vazquez," after the right-hander struggled to regain his velocity and was hit hard for most of the season. 

In early June, NJ.com writer Marc Cariq quoted Vazquez in an article entitled, "Despite losing velocity on fastball, Yankees Javier Vazquez is still finding ways to get hitters out", saying that he expected the fastball velocity to return: 

"'I’m pretty sure it’s going to come back,' Vazquez said of his fastball, which is sitting below 90 mph for the first time in his career. 'But right now, I’m dealing with it.'"

By mid-August, with Vazquez winless for nearly a month, both the pitcher and his manager began to openly express concern. In a New York Times' article by Justin Sablich entitled, "The Javier Vazquez Problem", Vazquez said simply, "I wish I knew," what the problem was with his velocity, but as Mr. Sablich pointed out, even with the loss of about 3 mph, the right-hander did manage to have some success in 2010: 

"Vazquez’s season can be broken down into three segments: an ugly start (1-3 with a 9.78 earned run average in first five starts); a very consistent middle (9-5 with a 3.11 E.R.A. over his next 14 games); and a troubling recent stretch (0-2 with a 7.43 E.R.A. over his last five starts)."

Vazquez was left off the Yankees' postseason roster. Six years after his late season struggles in New York in 2004, the right-hander once again failed to impress on one of the biggest stages in baseball. Vazquez's velocity was down, as clearly demonstrated by Fangraphs.com's Velocity Graphs. The right-handed veteran of 13 MLB seasons gave up more HR/9 (1.83 to 0.82) than he had as a Cy Young candidate in Atlanta in 2009, struck out close to 3 batters less per 9.0 IP (9.77 to 6.92 K/9), and walked more than twice as many batters (1.81 to 3.72 BB/9), while relying on a fastball that ended up in the mid-to-high-80's instead of high-80's-low 90's, which he was forced to throw more (49.9% of his pitches in '09 to 53.4% in 2010) and had hit harder with the FB/GB ratio flip-flopping from (237/198 to 173/229) with more of the fly balls leaving the park than they ever have in his career (14.0% HR/FB in '10 to 11.4% over his career)...

Is Javier Vazquez worth the risk? Is there any chance of him returning to his 2009 form? Would the Nationals take the pitcher who finished 4th in Cy Young voting in 2009 over any of the back-of-the-rotation arms they threw out there in 2010? Sure. Can Vazquez become that pitcher again? Bill James 2011 predictions say he can...In the Bill James Handbook for 2011, Mr. James has Vazquez's K/9 coming back up (6.92 in 2010 to 8.32 K/9 in '11), the walks going back down (2.50 from 3.72) and the HR's dropping as well (1.83 HR/9 to 1.23)...(13-9) with a 3.73 ERA, 3.94 FIP, 183 K's and 55 BB? That's what Mr. James predicts...Do you believe that's possible for Vazquez after what you saw and the numbers show from last season? Cause everyone seems to think Vazquez and the Nats are a match this winter. You might want to start hoping Mr. James is right.

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