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Javier Vazquez, Rich Harden, and DIPS
by Asher B. Chancey, BaseballEvolution.com
April 16, 2009
Keith’s riff on Rich Harden and Javier Vazquez in his Fielding Independent Pitching analysis was probably dropped off the cuff on Wednesday evening in response to the events of the day. Nevertheless, the analysis was still less complete than it should have been.
Examining Rules Against Small Sample Sizes?!?!?!
First of all, there are almost always exceptions to rules when you look at small sample sizes. Let’s not allow ourselves to be impressed by that.
Strikeout Ratio is Not the Only Element of DIPS
Second, it would be tempting to see a guy who strikes out eight batters in three innings but gives up four earned runs as an exception to Voros McCracken’s DIPS ideology. But the theory behind DIPS isn’t that a pitcher who strikes out a lot of guys will have success. The theory is, a pitcher who performs well at the things he can control will perform well overall.
Rich Harden didn’t just strike out eight guys on Wednesday. He also gave up a homerun and walked four guys. Over a 210 innings season, four walks and a homerun every three innings becomes 70 homeruns allowed and 280 walks. Harden didn’t have a good day according to DIPS – rather, he had a very bad day according to DIPS. If he had simply struck out eight batters without issuing walks or homeruns, DIPS would have been surprised by his failure.
Javier Vazquez’s Nomadic Journey Through Major League Baseball Does Not Allow Us to Discount the Bad Defenses He’s Played With
Third, just because Javier Vazquez has pitched for four teams in six years does not mean he has played in a diverse pitching environment but produced the same results each year. For team stats, Baseballreference.com now features a statistic called “Total Fielding Runs Above Average” which measures the total defensive contribution for a team in a season.
Guess which team finished last in the American League in 2004. Javier Vazquez’s New York Yankees. In 2005, Vazquez’s Arizona Diamondbacks gave up the third most runs per game in the NL and though not dead last finished fifth from the bottom of the NL in total fielding runs above average. In 2006, Vazquez’s Chicago White Sox finished fourth from the bottom of the AL in total fielding runs above average. In 2007, the White Sox were second worst in the AL in that category, ahead of only the Devil Rays, and in 2008, the White Sox finished dead last in the AL, worse even than the Yankees.
(By the way, not to beat a dead horse, the 2008 Rays went from worst to first in that category.)
So let’s not go convincing ourselves that four teams in four years makes for a compelling enough sample to disregard the potential impact that defense has had upon this guys pitching. Seeing Vazquez’s ERA top his FIP every season is unsurprising.
To drive the point home, the only team Vazquez has played on in the decade that finished with a positive fielding run contribution from his team was the 2003 Montreal Expos. In 2002, when Vazquez led the NL in hits allowed, the Montreal Expos were near the bottom of the league.
Javier Vazquez – What an Interesting Pitcher
But we can’t simply say that Vazquez is just incredibly unlucky and picks his teams poorly, because this isn’t true. Whether Keith stumbled upon it by accident or actually realized the enormity of what he had in front of him, analysis of Vazquez’s stats is a doozy.
In looking at the points Keith made, I decided to look a little closer at Vazquez’s statistics, and what I found was shocking.
Javier Vazquez has a career K/9IP of roughly 8.0. That is pretty impressive, and only 24 players in baseball history have a better K/9IP than Vazquez. That list is: Randy Johnson, Kerry Wood, Pedro Martinez, Nolan Ryan, Johan Santana, Sandy Koufax, Oliver Perez, Jake Peavy, Arthur Rhodes, Sam McDowell, Dan Plesac, Hideo Nomo, Lee Smith, Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett, Roger Clemens, Eric Plunk, Sid Fernandez, A.J. Burnett, J.R. Richard, David Cone, Tom Gordon, Mariano Rivera, and Jesse Orosco.
Javier Vazquez has allowed approximately 9.0 H/9IP during his career (2280/2282.2). Of the 24 players ahead of him on the K/9IP career list, guess how many have allowed anywhere near a hit per inning pitched during their careers.
Not a single one. And it’s not even close.
And no, not even Oliver Perez.
In fact, you have to go all the way down to Ben Sheets at 39th on the career K/9IP list to get to a guy who approached a 1:1 ratio between hits and innings (1402/1428), and Brett Myers at 40th to get to a guy with a worse than 1:1 ratio (1131/1126).
Anything Else About Javier Vazquez of Note?
Keith was right to pick on Javier Vazquez, but not because he is the exception to Voros McCracken’s DIPS ideology. Vazquez’s combination of strikeouts-per-nine-innings and hits-allowed-per-inning is so unique as to be historic. By now you must be asking yourself, “Are there any other stats in which Vazquez uniquely excels that might give us some indication as to why he has accomplished this unique feat?”
I’m so glad you asked.
As of today, Javier Vazquez is 32 years old and has pitched 2282.2 innings in his career. While his innings pitched total is good for 14th on the Active list, it is only good enough for 286th on the All Time list. Nevertheless, with 301 homeruns allowed during his career, Javier Vazquez currently ranks 45th all time and 11th on the active list.
How ridiculous is this total? With the exception of Steve Trachsel (not a guy you want to be comparing yourself to), everyone ahead of Vazquez on the active list is 40 or older. The active leader, Jamie Moyer, is 14 years older than Vazquez.
Vazquez currently ranks 93rd out of 100 listed active pitchers in terms of HR/9IP, and the list of guys worse than him is a veritable who’s who of guys standing with their backs to the plate looking skyward with anguish on their faces – Aaron Harang, Jason Johnson, Orlando Hernandez, Brett Tomko, Adam Eaton, Steve Trachsel, and Woody Williams.
But it gets better – one the career list for HR/9IP, baseballreference.com ranks the best 1,000 pitchers of all time. Vazquez not only doesn’t make the cut, but with 1.18 HR/9IP, he is .17 worse than the 999th ranked guy. He probably doesn’t make the top 1250 pitchers of all time.
The best we could possibly ever expect from a pitcher in terms of HR/9IP in this era is Brandon Webb, who gives up about 0.627 homeruns per nine innings. Webb’s career hits per nine innings is 8.18. Compare Vazquez at 8.99 hits per nine innings and 1.186 HR/9IP, and you realize that if Vazquez could cut down on his homeruns allowed, he would cut down on his hits allowed substantially.
When you are looking at DIPS ERA, or FIP as it were, you are looking at one statistic that tells you two different things – strikeouts vs. walks, and homeruns. Vazquez is the poster-child for a new breed of pitcher, the high strikeout, high homerun guy. In the 1960s and 1970s we called this pitcher Ferguson Jenkins. In this decade, we have many names for that player – Javier Vazquez, Ryan Dempster, Matt Clement, Aaron Harang, Ben Sheets, and Brett Myers, to name a few.
I suspect that if you look at a guy’s strikeouts and walks without paying to much attention to his homeruns allowed, then his FIP may fool you.
Questions? Concerns? Comments? Asher lives in Philadelphia, PA, and can be reached at email@example.com.