Everyone agrees that the Brewers need pitching. You know it, I know it ,and everyone from Doug Melvin to Ryan Braun has come out and said it. Unfortunately, almost every team needs pitching, and there is a serious lack of quality available on the free agent market.
Fortunately, the Brewers need for pitching is limited to the starting rotation. Doug Melvin and the Brewers amateur scouts have done a good job putting together a collection of young power arms that should form a strong and cheap bullpen in 2011 and the next few years. John Axford, Zach Braddock, Jeremy Jeffress, Mike McClendon and Brandon Kintzler will play for the minimum in 2011. This is a strong group and the Brewers have arms like Todd Coffey, Mitch Stetter, Manny Parra, Chris Narveson and the expensive LaTroy Hawkins to round out what should be a solid bullpen.
Yovani Gallardo continues to improve and is growing into a stud, and Randy Wolf is a servicable #3/4 starter. What the Brewers need is two starting pitchers to slot into the #1/2 and #3/4 spots in their rotation. For most Brewers fans, this is pretty obvious. The solution is a little less so.
Javier Vazquez should be at the top of the Brewers list this winter. Vazquez was not good in 2010. Nor was he very good in 2004, the first time he pitched for the Yankees. But from 2006 to 2009 he produced between 4.8 and 6.5 WAR (Wins Above Replacement, according to Fangraphs.com). During that time, no pitcher who pitched exclusively for the Brewers produced a seasonal WAR as high as any of Vazquez’s. Vazquez was one of the most consistent and dominant pitchers of the last decade. from 2000-2009 he never threw less than 198 innings and he struck out 179 or more batters in every season.
I can’t say why Vazquez had such a down year in 2010. His velocity was reportedly down, and maybe he was injured which the Brewers or any team thinking about signing him should look into. If the Brewers can clear Vazquez medically he would be exactly the type of pitcher that the Brewers need to add to their rotation. In 2009 Vazquez finished 4th in the NL CY Young voting with the Atlanta Braves when he pitched 219 1/3 innings with a 15-10 record, 238 strikeouts, a 2.78 ERA and he was worth 6.5 wins above the average player. Seasons like this are rare and extremely valuable to the success of a team.
Will Javier Vazquez ever pitch as well as he did in 2009? No. Will Vazquez rebound in 2011 by returning the NL and getting out of homer-happy Yankee Stadium. Almost definitely. The ever optimistic Bill James projects Vazquez to throw 198 IP with an ERA of 3.73 with 183K. How good would that look in the #2/3 spot in the Brewers rotation?
Obviously baseball projection isn’t an exact science and there are reasons to be concerned about Javier Vazquez’s 2010 season, but he is the type of pitcher that the Brewers need for a chance to be successful in 2011. His 2010 season should also lower his market value and make him open to a short term deal where he can re-establish value. Assuming Vazquez checks out physically, a 1 or 2 year deal for $7-10M has the potential to be a steal.
Here’s hoping its the Brewers that reap the rewards.