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The Vazquez discontents

You have to be very selective in your evidence if you want to conclude that Javier Vazquez cannot pitch in pinstripes. First, you have to overreact to his first two starts. Second, you have to read his 2004 record very carefully, overlooking inconvenient information. You can’t admit that his home record was 9-4 with a 4.13 ERA, versus 5-6 with a 5.79 ERA on the road, or that in the first half his record was 10-5 with a 3.56 ERA. You have to make a highly judgmental inference, that Vazquez suddenly became afraid somewhere in the middle of July, rather than admit the most likely possibility, which is that in the second half he was dealing with a transient but debilitating injury of some kind or perhaps severe mechanical difficulties.

Unless Vazquez was dealing with a kind of Ed-Whitsonian existential terror of pitching for the Yankees, something that -- if true -- would have stopped the Cashman brigade from re-acquiring him, an injury is the most likely explanation for his 2004 downfall. Vazquez now has a 4.21 ERA. His American League ERA, including his two 2010 starts, is 4.59. From the All-Star break through the end of the postseason in 2004, his ERA was 7.00. That 7.00 came along with a slightly diminished strikeout rate and a walk rate that was elevated from the first half but didn’t reach dangerous territory in either the regular season or the first round of the playoffs. It was only in the ALCS that his control deserted him.

This was not a pitcher experiencing Steve Blass Disease or anything of the type. Indeed, even during his difficult second half, Vazquez made five quality starts, three of them at home. He wasn’t a disaster, although he had some disastrously bad starts, such as the August 31 game that turned into a 22-0 rout for the Indians. Five days later, though, he held the Orioles to three runs in seven innings, striking out eight. Five days after that, he was punished again by those same Orioles. He had no consistency at all, and befitting a fly ball pitcher in the DH league, when he made mistakes, he was punished in the worst possible way.

The biggest misrepresentation of Vazquez is that he is more than what he is. On paper, he is perfectly cast as the Yankees’ fourth starter -- and nothing more. He is a durable workhorse. He gets a lot of strikeouts, ranking second to Jamie Moyer on the active list. He’s also in the top 50 all time. Yet for all his stuff, for all his health, the results have often been mixed. The whole is less than the sum of its parts. Now, you can say that the reason for that is some weakness on the part of Vazquez, but those of us who don’t really know the man have no right to look within his soul and make estimations of his fortitude. It’s easy, too easy, to do that, all speculation and no substance. It’s much easier to all but call a player gutless than to ask what we really should have expected from a pitcher whose AL ERA can be rounded up to 5.00.

Granted, Vazquez’s current ERA is 9.82, not 5.00. Still, I like to give a fellow more than 11 innings before I start making pronouncements about the quality of his courage. Give the guy some time before you decide he can’t pitch here, and even then, don’t be so sure that there isn’t something else at work. The last thing the world needs is sportswriters acting like they’re psychologists. The next thing you know, they’ll be offering spiritual counseling to slumping hitters, asserting that they’ve gone 0-for-30 because of a lack of positive spirit, a heavy soul, a demonic possession, bad intentions.