Fun With Graphs: Javier Vasquez, AKA "The Suck"

Understandably, given the Sox's investment in him and his recent suckitude, Javier Vasquez has been a flashpoint of controversy. In this article, I will attempt to find the underlying causes for Javier's suckitude. Let's start off with a graph charting Javier's ERA compared to the league average over the course of his career.

Note that he hasn't been better than league average in ERA since 03.  Remember this 03 season, as we'll be comparing it to his more recent seasons, and try to find the reason for "The Suck".  

Javier was advertised as a guy that can strike guys out.  Well, can't get on if you can't hit it, so let's see just how good he is at this in the form of his k/9 numbers:

Immediately apparent is that Javier posted an outlier season in 03 with his K/9 rate.  He has never come close to that number since, and in fact, his strikeouts are down in 2006 to almost only league average.

For whatever reason he's not striking guys out as much, this is not good.  

Alright, well, let's look at his control, in the form of his bb/9 numbers:

Many things factor into "good control", but by one particularly important measure, walks, Javier does just fine.  He's right there with his 03 season.

What about the long ball?  Among more dedicated fans, Javier has a justified reputation as a guy that is prone to the long ball.  Observation as well as statistics suggests he struggles with the HR ball.  Surprisingly, his HR/9 numbers are down this year, as evidenced by this graph:

Without seeing the even deeper data on the % of FB against Javier that turn into HR's, it's hard to tell if he's really been better at keeping the ball down, or if he is just getting lucky.  

There is evidence though, that the % of FB that turn into HR is not something a pitcher can control, and that the league average is around 11%, anything higher or lower than this is probably caused by park factors and random variance.

If we measure how many fly balls Javier is throwing, we might be able to provide solid evidence that he's doing a better job of keeping the ball down, thus limiting both fly balls and home runs.

Let's check out the graph:

The bad news is: Javier is throwing more fly balls this year than last year.  However, in general, those balls, for whatever reason, are staying in the park.  It is interesting to note that in 03, Javier's batted ball stats were actually worse than what they are so far this year.  However, remember how many more strikeouts he was getting in 03, and it might partially explain why he was so much more successful.

Finally, our last two graphs focus on stats that people with much more training in statistics have argued pitchers have little to no conrol over: the % of runners left on base, and the batting average on balls in play against a pitcher, sometimes referred to as  pitcher's BABIB (batting average on balls in play).

In an attempt to see if Javier has perhaps just been unlucky, let's look at the graphs for % of base runners left on and Pitcher's BABIB:

This graph perhaps shows, along with strikeouts (and possibly in conjunction with) why Javier experienced so much success in 03 compared to so far in 06: when runners got on in 03 against Javier, they didn't score very often, however, this year, they are scoring in bunches.  Is he weak mentally, i.e. is he lacking confidence?  Can he not "buckle down" under pressure?  

Alternatively, is his stuff just not as good in 06 compared to 03?  That is, he can't just rear back and throw it past guys when runners get on anymore.  Strikeouts are always valuable, but they are most valuable with runners on.  It is possible that Javier simply struck people out when the going got tough in 03, but has been unable (for whatever reason) to do so in 06.

And now Pitcher BABIB:

Although the difference between 03 and 06 is not as pronounced here, it is still noticable that batters had a lower BABIB against Javier in 03 than 06, again, for whatever reason--luck included.  Again, some stats experts have argued pitcher BABIB is entirely "luck", and not at all something a pitcher controls.

I think a few conclusions from the data are possible.  First, Javier needs to strike more people out to have success.  He isn't a guy that is going to throw a consistent number of ground balls, and he relies on the K to get out of trouble.  If he can't start missing some more bats, he'll continue to struggle. His two most successful seasons, in 2001 and 2003, correlate to his best K/9 seaons.  Second, Javier has probably been the victim of some bad luck.  His % of base runners left on, is likely artificially high. If his career is any indication (and it should be), that number will fall more in line with his career average by the end of the year.

And lastly, and most importantly: Javier's 03 season was likely a fluke.

Javiers is currently being paid very well for a fluke season.  His ceiling from this point on is likely as a 10 million dollar league average innings eater.

Seemingly, not even Coop can reclame this reclamation project.  Probably because their wasn't much to reclaim in the first place. THANKS A MILLION TIMES TO STUDES, FANGRAPHS, AND COFFEE.

SouthSideSox is a community driven site. As such, users are able to express their thoughts and opinions in a FanPost, such as this one, which represents the views of this particular fan, but not necessarily the entire community or SouthSideSox editors.

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