Is Javier Vazquez' fastball gone for good?

From a recent edition of Hey Bill (subscriber-only):

    Bill, As a Marlin fan I like the new acquistion of Javier Vazquez. My question to you is Vazquez lost a few MPH last year off his pitches. Barring an unknown injury that caused the MPH drop off is it common for pitchers his age to lose a few MPH than gain it back the next year? 2009 He was damn good. I figure a part of his 2010 problems had to have been his mental make up playing in NY but is it possible he could regain some MPH next season in Fla?

    Asked by: Anonymous

    Answered: November 29, 2010

    It is NOT common for pitchers who lose velocity to regain it, no. It is common for pitchers who lose velocity to adjust their pitch selection, adjust their approach, and come out of it as effective pitchers -- but it is not common for the velocity to come back after the age of 30.

And Vazquez is well after the age of 30, turns 35 in the middle of next summer.

In the absence of supporting data, I'm never quite sure if Bill is telling us something he knows, or something he merely believes. He does know a lot of things, and I think sometimes he expects us to just take his word for it. In this particular case, I was at least a little skeptical. Which is why I particularly appreciated Dave Cameron's take on pitchers who lose their fastballs:

    Any hope for Vazquez to return to prior form has to begin with the idea that his velocity will return to previous levels, or at least bounce back enough to allow him to succeed with the same gameplan he has used throughout his career. And, unfortunately for Vazquez and the Marlins, history doesn’t suggest that is likely.

    For reference, here’s a list of starting pitchers who experienced velocity drops of 1+MPH from 2008 to 2009, and their corresponding 2010 “bounce back” velocities ...

    The list is not a pretty picture for Vazquez optimists. The three guys who experienced similarly sized velocity drops didn’t get any of the prior oomph on their fastballs back, and in the case of Lincecum and Young, velocity continued to erode. The only two guys who got back near their previous levels are Slowey and Weaver, who had the smallest loss of velocity to begin with.

Actually, what's striking about the list of pitchers -- which I left out, due to formatting considerations -- is how small it is; apparently it's actually quite rare for a starting pitcher to lose even one full mile an hour off his fastball from one season to the next.

Cameron's looking at fastballs, not performance, and doesn't draw any conclusions about pitchers learning to pitch effectively after losing a mile or two off their fastballs. There's no obvious reason why Vazquez can't be decent while throwing 89 miles an hour. On the other hand, if that was easy you'd think he'd have done it last season as a Yankee.

Paying him $7 million in hopes that his fastball comes back or he learns to pitch without it seems like a risk. Maybe not a huge risk, because $7 million isn't a great deal of money, and if Vazquez improves just a little they can probably flip him in July for a prospect.

It is a risk, though.