MIAMI GARDENS, FL: Javier Vazquez #23 of the Florida Marlins pitches during game one of a doubleheader against the Cincinnati Reds at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
I am wild about Javier Vázquez.
I suppose that's the winter talking. Vázquez isn't that interesting.
He's certainly not a great pitcher. He's 165-160 in his career. He's got a 4.22 ERA. He's given up too many home runs to be a great pitcher. He's done some admirable things, though; in particular, he's struck out more than three times as many batters as he has walked. This is the sort of thing that makes me wild.
But there's more.
In 2009, Vazquez pitched for the Braves and was one of the best pitchers in captivity.
In 2010, Vázquez pitched for the Yankees and was pretty terrible.
The explanation was obvious: Vázquez couldn't handle the big city's bright lights.*
* Obvious = Simplistic
Vázquez overachieved in 2009 and he underachieved in 2010, and these things happen because they happen but not necessarily without other reasons. In this particular case, we've got an obvious reason: somehow, Vazquez lost two miles an hour off his fastball between 2009 and 2010. First he threw 91 with ease, and then he threw 89.
Good luck trying to figure out baseball.
The Marlins tried to figure out baseball. They signed Vázquez for $7 million. For six weeks, the Marlins seemed to have taken $7 million, poured jet fuel all over it, and tossed a match on top of the pile. After eight starts, Vázquez had more walks than strikeouts, along with a nifty 7.55 ERA. He was probably another ugly start or two from getting released. And maybe never being seen again.
And then everything changed. Overnight, Vázquez went from routinely throwing 88 to routinely throwing 91, and overnight the old Javier Vázquez was back. I think we can mostly forget about those first eight starts. In his last 24 starts, Vázquez posted a 2.70 ERA.
Here's the really wild thing, though. Also in those last 24 starts, Vázquez struck out 142 batters and walked 26. The list of pitchers with better strikeout-to-walk ratios over the whole season is short: Roy Halladay, Dan Haren, Cliff Lee.
Is Javier Vázquez going to be as good as those guys in 2012? Almost certainly not. He's 35 and his recent history includes some bumps. Maybe if he's away from Marlins pitching coach Randy St. Claire, he'll lose whatever he found last May.
I sure think I would take a chance on him, though.
I would take (another) chance on him if I were the Marlins; right now, Chris Volstad's in their rotation.
I would take a chance on him if I were the Red Sox; right now, they've got two reliable starting pitchers.
Somebody's going to take a chance on Javier Vázquez. He earned that, with four-plus months of outstanding pitching. I suspect he'll earn something like $8 million next year.
If he wants to pitch again. Which apparently isn't a sure thing.