Anthony Vasquez: MLB Starting Pitcher?
In 2006, it was Jake Woods. In 2007/8, it was Ryan Feierabend. In 2009, it was Doug Fister. In 2010, it was Chris Seddon. This year? It’s Anthony Vasquez, who will make his MLB debut in the nightcap of tomorrow’s double-header.
I don’t mean to rubbish Vasquez before he’s had a shot, but he’s the next in a long line of pitchers who’ve put up much better minor league results than their peripherals would indicate. Some of these guys fared a lot better than others; this isn’t a kiss of death, it’s a head-tilt of confusion. None of them had above-average K rates, and while many had better-than-average walk rates, only Fister’s really stood out as exceptional. Most are left-handed, and none of them had average velocity. I’m sure each scouting report would’ve prominently featured “pitchability” or something equally vague like “really competes out there.”
Again, I don’t mean to mock Vasquez or the hypothetical scouting reports I just made up. I just have no idea how he’s done what he’s done. The thing that links all of these pitchers is the fact that they’ve put up very good minor league ERAs despite their lack of Ks, velocity, and hype. Is this results-based analysis (or at least results-based MLB comparisons)? Yes, it is. Vasquez is simply the latest anomaly in a long line of (mostly) soft-tossing lefties the M’s have developed.
I saw him in July against a decent Reno line-up, and he sat 84-86 with his fastball with a change-up in the 70s and a slow curve in the high 60s. I’ve seen several scouting reports that talk about better velocity than that, but at least on this day, he was Jason Vargas with a curve instead of a slider. He got some swings and misses with his change, but he also struggled with his command and ended the game with 4 walks and 4 Ks. He came in with a reputation as something of a ground-ball pitcher, but he was basically even that day, and would’ve had more air outs if the Rainiers could catch (it was an ugly, ugly game). And yet, he’d shut the Aces out through 6 and he was charged with 2 runs that scored after he left in the 7th. I don’t want to make too much out of a single game, but it seems like a microcosm of Vasquez’s season: the only good thing I could say about each inning was that he (somehow) hadn’t given up a run. But he’s been piling up ugly scoreless innings for over two years now.
Vasquez has a tRA of 5.32 in Tacoma, a FIP of ~4.5 or 5.2, depending on which source you check, and an ERA of 3.21 in the lunar PCL. He gets fewer swinging strikes than Chris Seddon, and is neck-and-neck with the remarkably whiff-averse Blake Beavan. His GB rate is similar too – around 40%. None of this hurt Beavan in his first month or two in MLB, just as it didn’t hurt Fister in 2010 or Woods in 2006.
What it means long term isn’t clear either. Fister was acquired at the deadline by a contender and has been a very solid pitcher for 2 full seasons. Woods/Feierabend/Seddon turned into pumpkins, sure, but Jon Garland’s a multi-millionaire. Is there something to “pitchability” or “competitiveness” that can overcome the weight of fielding-independent stats? I hope so. I look at what Fister’s accomplished, or how good Beavan looks in a game in which he K’s 2 of 31 batters he faces, and I really want to understand that. BABIP theory offers a very handy explanation, and it’s probably right, but then I notice that Vasquez hasn’t struggled at any point in his MiLB career (in marked contrast to guys like Fister, Beavan, and Woods) and I wonder if it’s enough. I’m still not ready to love again, not after Bobby Livingston broke my heart, but I do hope Vasquez makes a few Indians hitters look silly on slow breaking balls tomorrow and that he piles up Zito-at-his-peak levels of infield pop-ups.