A New Big Money Pitcher Has Early Struggles for the New York Yankees

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A New Big Money Pitcher Has Early Struggles for the New York Yankees
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Due to financial reasons, a highly-paid pitcher moves from a solid team and comes to the Bronx with high expectations.

People spoke on how he comes from a weaker division, and wonder how this right hander, who is a control specialist but strikes out his share of batters, will fare in the mighty American League East, a division which had four of the top five hitting teams in the AL.

This starter is a workhorse, rarely missing a start and throwing 200-plus innings with relative ease.

But this right-handed stud pitcher was bombed in his first two starts against two of the top hitting teams in the majors.

Javier Vazquez?

Nope. Jim "Catfish" Hunter of the 1975 New York Yankees.

Catfish became a free agent after the 1974 season and became the first big-money free agent, signing a HUGE $3.75 million, five-year contract on New Year’s Eve 1974, which at that time it was THE landmark contract. 

After his first four starts, Hunter was 0-3 with a 7.36 ERA , while the Yanks were 0-4 in his four starts, including two losses to the rival Boston Red Sox . George Steinbrenner was none too thrilled, and neither were Yankee fans. Similar to Vazquez, Hunter was booed early and often at the Stadium.

In a positive trend for current Yankee fans, Hunter went on to pitch into the eighth inning over his next 32 starts, including 27 complete games. Catfish ended that season at 23-14 with a 2.58 ERA, throwing 328 innings.

And as with Catfish, Javier Vazquez is a good pitcher, who will have good starts, great starts...and some bad starts.

It just so happens that his two bad starts were his first two of the season, and coming off the heels of his 2004 Game 7 relief appearance against the Boston Red Sox.

Just let the guy pitch and stop trying to dissect every little nuance of his starts.

I have read that his velocity is down from his usual 91-92 to 88. I have also read that Vazquez is not comfotable pitching in New York, and I have even heard (many times) the argument that Vazquez is a National League pitcher who cannot pitch in the hitting-established American League, specifically the AL East.  

First, Vazquez has shown he can pitch effectively in the AL, as his 15-8, 3.74 ERA, 1.140 WHIP indicates. During that season, Vazquez beat a good hitting Cleveland Indians team (96-66, 1st place) two times.

That Cleveland team went to the ALCS and included Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore, Victor Martinez, Jhonny Peralta, and Ryan Garko, all who banged out 20-plus home runs.

Javy also dominated (3-0, 2.20 ERA in 5 starts) a good hitting Minnesota Twins team which had Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel, and Torii Hunter in the lineup.

Last year, Vazquez beat the Philadelphia Phillies twice (he lost once) in five starts, with a 3.00 ERA and 1.030 WHIP. The Phillies were the best hitting team in the NL last season.

Vazquez can beat good hitting teams.

Due to the designated hitter, it is widely assumed the American League is the tougher league to pitch in due to the deeper lineups. While it may have been so in all prior seasons, it is not so thus far in 2010.

Going into yesterday's games, the National League is the superior hitting league , with higher batting averages, OBP, and slugging percentages. The NL OPS is a full 18 points higher than the AL, even with the pitcher having to hit!

Three NL teams were slugging over .500 (Phillies, Dodgers, DBacks), while the highest team in the AL, Boston was slugging only .478!

And I went through the various lineups for each team, and categorized each hitter as regular or difficult. I want to point out that while every hitter in the major leagues can hurt a pitcher at any time, there are many hitters who make enough of an impact to hurt a team during each at bat.

These guys include hitters like Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira (although not in April), Ryan Howard, Hanley Ramirez, Kevin Youkilis, Adrian Gonzalez, Evan Longoria, Ryan Braun, etc. Hitters who put fear into the pitcher nearly every time they come to the plate.  

Going through the NL lineups I came up with 56 such impact hitters, and in the AL there were only 44 such hitters. Both leagues had seven teams with four or more impact hitters, and while there are two more NL teams, the NL does have deeper lineups.

In the NL, Philadelphia, Colorado, Los Angles Dodgers, Arizona, and Atlanta have five impact players in their lineups. The AL has Tampa Bay, Los Angeles Angels, Texas, Minnesota, and New York with five or more impact hitters.

Boston has Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Jacoby Ellsbury (a stretch) and Victor Martinez as the only impact hitters in the lineup. They appear to be an easy team to pitch against. Pedroia is carrying the offense now, so pitch around him and get out the easy outs like David Ortiz, Adrian Beltre, Mike Cameron and JD Drew (I don't care how many walks he gets, he stinks), who have not been good for at least a year.

It just so happen that Vazquez' first two starts were against two of the top hitting teams in the AL, the Rays and the Angels. Wait until Vazquez gets to face the Kansas City Royals (surprisingly good so far, but it will not continue), Oakland A's (not one impact hitter), Toronto (doing it with young pitching), an underperforming Baltimore lineup, and an overrated Detroit Tigers' top-nine hitters.

Many times it's not the teams you face, but when you face them.

When good pitchers struggle, it is usually that his pitch location is off and he gives up the big hit, leading to a big inning. A winning pitcher (and team) limits offenses to very few big innings—innings which often change the complexion of an individual game.

This is done by hitting spots with key pitches when men are on base.

When runners are on base this season, Vazquez has been throwing his key pitches over the middle of the plate, allowing the big inning. In his 12 innings of work, Vazquez has had five one-two-three innings, three additional zero-run innings, but four innings of two or more runs. He has not given up a single-run inning yet.

By making a few more quality pitches, Vazquez would not be getting knocked around by the hitters, the media, or the fans.

The season is long, the games are numerous, and Vazquez will have at least 30 more starts to right the ship. He is a quality pitcher with four working pitches and has shown as recently as last season he can dominate top hitting teams.

Just give him the best opportunity to succeed, which does not include booing every time he gives up a run scoring single.

And then Vazquez will be like Catfish Hunter, a winning Yankee pitcher.

 

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