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Randy Vásquez’s curveball is the key to his surprising success

We’re all looking for some silver linings, and Vásquez has shown enough to deserve a few more looks.

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MLB: New York Yankees at Atlanta Braves Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Kirschner of The Athletic wrote a great article this week taking inventory of reasons to watch this team over the season’s remaining six weeks. Anthony Volpe’s development and Gerrit Cole’s Cy Young push led the way, but I submit another compelling reason to watch this season gone haywire: Randy Vásquez’s relatively surprising success as a starting pitcher. Earlier this year, Malachi wrote a Sequence of the Week post on Vásquez, noting the youngster’s moxie and pitchability. Here, let’s discuss his elite curveball, which has fooled bona fide big-league mashers.

Often, a young player’s initial performance in the big leagues is dictated by their usage of the primary weapon that got them there. We’ve seen this several times recently: Ron Marinaccio became lights-out when he harnessed the location on his nasty changeup. Jhony Brito is beginning to figure out how to use his elite changeup as well (though you wouldn’t have known based on his outing last night against Boston).

Vásquez is currently 14th on the Yankees top-30 prospect list, lower than some premier power arm prospects like Chase Hampton and Drew Thorpe in Double-A. He also went into this season something like ninth on the team’s starting pitching depth chart. Scouts opined that his fastball fell at a 55 on the 20-80 scale, and his curveball scored a 60. Vásquez was actually rumored as part of the 2021 package for Joey Gallo, but Brian Cashman valued the righty enough to hang on to him. He’s similar to Brito in that he’s developed one solid secondary pitch, one fringy offering, and not much else. Brito was one-ish spot ahead of Vásquez on the depth chart, but he’s been more inconsistent and prone to big innings than Vásquez.

In his young career, Vásquez has made five starts and one relief appearance, racking up 22.1 innings and posting a 2.42 ERA. He’s put up reverse splits in his small five-start sample for what it’s worth, generally pitching better against lefties using his breaker, which itself is the consensus best curveball in the Yankees’ system. Some of his batted-ball peripherals are red flags, but the results are undeniable.

His heater has come on strong, and opposing batters are slugging .222 on the pitch. Vásquez is a spin rate savant, with 93rd percentile fastball spin and an elite 3,100 RPM on his curveball. For reference, Framber Valdez, who currently has the best curveball in the big leagues, only runs his up to 3,000 RPM or so. Vásquez mixes in a slider/sweeper similar to his big curveball at a slightly higher velocity, but the two pitches are similar. He throws one of his two breaking balls over 20 percent of the time, but also prominently features a cutter, the Matt Blake special, similar to Clarke Schmidt’s.

Most recently, Vásquez battled through 3.2 innings against the best offense in baseball, surrendering two earned runs. Not a fantastic line, but this was his seventh big league appearance, and he didn’t look overmatched against the game’s best. There was a lot to like. Let’s look at this curveball — the thing’s plain nasty.

Austin Riley is slugging .507 against breaking balls this year, yet he looked like he was swinging a Swiffer Wet Jet up there. Overall, opposing batters have hit just .167 against Vásquez’s curveball. That’ll play in the big leagues indeed. Here’s one of the most wicked ones he uncorked on the farm:

Vásquez has turned heads and probably has earned an extended look in 2024, especially if the expected starters underperform like they did this year. In a season akin to falling down a long flight of stairs, Vásquez is a small piece of railing to hold. He was optioned out of necessity back to Triple-A for a fresh arm on Thursday after his Braves start, but he’ll be back. When he does, his surprising success, should it continue, will be a small bright light to follow as the season ambles toward a close.