With the season in its relative infancy, I am hesitant to worry about small sample sizes and the like. Generally speaking, the first month or so of the season has very little impact on the rest of the season - few full-time players bat under .200 or over .400, and few pitchers end up with ERAs under 1.00 or over 5.00... it's simply the nature of the game. That being said, the plight of Javier Vazquez thus far this season has been a bit disconcerting, if eerily reminiscent of the second-half of 2004. In lieu of trusting my eyes and sense of the past, I did a bit of digging into Vazquez's peripherals thus far - his fastball, slider, and contact numbers, in particular.
First, we'll look at his fastball and slider:
- 2009 - 91.1 MPH
- 2010 - 88.8 MPH
- Career - 91.3 MPH
- 2009 - 83.9 MPH
- 2010 - 82.5 MPH
- Career - 83.3 MPH
Vazquez's velocity has tumbled in comparison to both 2009 and his career norms, and both pitches are moving less than in years past, as well. His pitch selection is right in-line with his career norms, with these two pitches account for about 70% of his offerings, which appears to be an issue. Second, let's take a look at his contact rates:
O-Contact (Percentage of times a batter makes contact with the ball when swinging at pitches thrown outside the strike zone)
- 2009 - 51.2%
- 2010 - 60.0%
- Career - 54.3%
Z-Contact% (Percentage of times a batter makes contact with the ball when swinging at pitches thrown inside the strike zone)
- 2009 - 82.9%
- 2010 - 90.2%
- Career - 83.9%
- 2009 - 73.3%
- 2010 - 80.3%
- Career - 76.0%
In short, Vazquez's stuff has been hit much more often by opponents than ever before - and more balls in play tends to lead to more hits. Worth noting here is that his swinging-strike percentage is sitting at 8.5% - down 3.8% from 2009 and 3.1% from his career norms. While it should go without saying at this point, I'll be so bold as to say Vazquez's decline in velocity and movement has made him much more hittable.
Where do we go from here? While it isn't the norm, there are a fair share of pitchers that make solid adjustments to a loss in velocity - Tim Lincecum, for example, has been dominant this year, despite his fastball losing nearly 3 MPH in velocity from his 2008 Cy Young campaign. He's thrown his fastball less and less, and his off-speed stuff more and more - while Vazquez isn't on Lincecum's level (very few are), that seems to be an adjustment he could make, if necessary. With his curve and change-up appearing to be fairly successful offerings this year, perhaps a change in pitch selection is just what the doctor ordered.
On the most optimistic of notes, most pitchers tend to throw harder as they build up their season-long pitch counts, so this may very well be white noise.