Can Vazquez repeat '09 numbers with Yanks?

December, 22, 2009

If the New York Yankees make it back to the playoffs in 2010 -- and they sure look like great candidates -- and potentially back to the World Series, there's one thing we (probably) won't be seeing again in October: Joe Girardi's three-man rotation.

Javier VazquezAP Photo/John BazemoreJavier Vazquez was fourth among all starting pitchers in the final Player Rater standings for 2009.

Adding to their stable of starters, the Yankees acquired Javier Vazquez along with left-handed reliever Boone Logan from the Atlanta Braves in exchange for outfielder Melky Cabrera, left-handed reliever Michael Dunn and a minor league prospect Arodys Vizcaino. That's right, Yankees fans: Vazquez, who had a 4.91 ERA and a 6.92 ERA after the All-Star break in his previous one-year stint with the team in 2004, and pitched a ghastly two innings of relief in the painful American League Championship Series Game 7 loss to the longtime rival Boston Red Sox that season, is back in pinstripes.

But don't let those painful memories taint your opinion of Vazquez. (After all, you have a World Series championship to celebrate.) Besides, the truth is that although Vazquez "failed" in his previous stint in the Big Apple, he's a much better pitcher than that year's experience showed and a fine fit as a No. 3 starter for the Yankees. He'll presumably slide in behind CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, joining a team that scored 1.11 runs per game more than his 2009 Atlanta Braves and roughly the same as the 2004 Yankees squad that earned him 14 wins despite only 16 quality starts.

Interestingly enough, the two times the Yankees have traded for Vazquez, it was coming off the two best seasons of his career. In 2009, he set personal bests in ERA (2.87), WHIP (1.03), home runs per nine innings (0.8) and strikeouts per nine (9.8), adapting beautifully to his new surroundings despite his having joined his fifth different team in a seven-year span. There's no way Vazquez will match those ratios back in the American League, particularly in an East division loaded with offense, but he's also a pitcher who managed a 1.25 WHIP and 199 strikeouts a year in his three-year stint with the Chicago White Sox from 2006 to '08.

Keep in mind that since 2004, Vazquez is 15-16 with a 4.16 ERA and 1.26 WHIP in 39 games (38 starts) against the Yankees' four AL East opponents. That, coupled with the team's homer-friendly ballpark, makes it more likely he'll add close to a run to his ERA, even if he's more capable of winning 16 to 18 games while doing it. A top-10 fantasy season seems unlikely (remember that he was No. 4 among all starting pitchers on the Player Rater in 2009), and he might slip to the back end of the top 20 as a result of the move. After all, it's not impossible to think that with a sluggish start against some good offensive teams, Yankees fans might think back to his previous stint of 2004 and bring out the boos. There's a hint of downside here.

Cabrera is the next most notable name in the deal, and he'll probably take over in left field for the Braves, especially if blue-chip prospect Jason Heyward wins the everyday right-field job in the spring. Unfortunately that's not the greatest news; Cabrera is a .229 hitter with two home runs in 71 career interleague games, and in 2009 he generated a healthy chunk of his fantasy value thanks to hitting nine of his 13 home runs at bandbox Yankee Stadium. Turner Field isn't going to help his power numbers, making anything beyond a dozen a surprise. So Cabrera's best chance for fantasy success is if he can nail down the No. 2 spot in the lineup (unlikely) and turn in a .280-hitting, 90-run season. More likely, he won't be a mixed-league consideration, although he might not have been as a Yankee, either.

Logan and Dunn are both "LOOGY" (Left-handed One-Out GuY) types and might serve roles in 2010 as last or next-to-last men in their respective bullpens. Left-handed hitters have batted .266 with a .333 on-base percentage and .398 slugging percentage against Logan, but righties have clobbered him for .337/.409/.528 numbers, so his role is clear and not fantasy-relevant. Dunn, meanwhile, has a more promising future, but for 2010 might at best be to the Braves what Phil Coke was to the 2009 Yankees. Dunn's control is problematic -- he averaged 4.0 walks per nine in his minor league career -- so he's a fantasy afterthought as well.

Arodys Vizcaino is an interesting prospect, albeit one who's at least two years away from the majors. A 19-year-old signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2007, Vizcaino managed a 2.13 ERA, .211 batting average allowed and 52 strikeouts in 42 1/3 innings for the Yankees' Class A affiliate in Staten Island in 2009. Scouts love his arm, especially his curveball, so he'll be a name to track the next couple of seasons.

A final note of interest: It's unclear after the deal whether the Yankees will shift either Joba Chamberlain or Phil Hughes or both back to the bullpen. Their initial plans were to head into spring training with the two young right-handers working out of the rotation, a decision that makes sense because it'd be easier to bump one to the bullpen at spring's end than vice versa. Chances are only one will break camp with the team as the No. 5 starter, and I maintain that Hughes is probably the smarter long-term choice for the rotation, Chamberlain the bullpen. Fantasy owners might not want to put a lot of draft stock into those specific roles yet, but don't make the mistake of thinking Chamberlain is currently the better bet to start.



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