Javier Vazquez joins the comeback fad

Mike Ehrmann

You can make a full rotation out of the pitchers angling for a return to the big leagues in 2013. Javier Vazquez is the latest.

It's a season of comebacks. As Rob Neyer already pointed out, we have Rich Harden, Jeremy Bonderman, and Scott Kazmir already with new teams. Former Cy Young winner Brandon Webb is reportedly throwing for teams. We're probably a couple of days away from a David Cone announcement. And if the Royals paired that with a Bret Saberhagen deal … hey, I'd watch.

And now we have what might be the most interesting comeback of all: Javier Vazquez is on the scene ...

According to an industry source, the Red Sox are slated to scout right-hander Javier Vazquez when he pitches for Caguas of the Puerto Rican Winter League on Friday.

It isn't just the Red Sox, either. The Nationals are reportedly scouting him, too. You would think several teams would be interested. The Indians, Orioles, Royals … say, maybe he should give the Yankees a spin.

But there's a problem lumping Vazquez in with the group up there. Jeremy Bonderman had shoulder problems after thoracic outlet syndrome. Scott Kazmir had elbow problems, velocity problems, and control meltdowns. Brandon Webb's shoulder is a cavity that contains nothing but an I.O.U. note from a sinker, and Rich Harden has had problems with just about every body part that's even tangentially related to pitching.

Vazquez, on the other hand, left the game by choice. His last season:

1st Half 5.23 18 18 96.1 111 14 34 66
2nd Half 2.15 14 14 96.1 67 7 16 96

That's split up into halves for obvious reasons. And if you want an explanation of why everything turned around, this velocity chart will do quite nicely. In fact, it's hard to find a pitcher whose success is tied that directly to velocity. There's always some correlation, sure, but rarely is it so obviously outhouse/penthouse. There's a switch that flips on Vazquez when his velocity dips below 90 m.p.h. -- something like this, but labeled "Zack Greinke" and "Luke Hochevar."

Right now? Not a problem, apparently. From the WEEI article linked above:

The veteran has been showing fastball velocity of 92-93 mph in recent workouts.

If you're looking for Ryan Vogelsong comparisons, you've come to the wrong place. All of those comeback pitchers up there were established in the majors at one point. A better comparison to Vogelsong would be Scott Elarton last year and, well, that worked out about as well as you could have imagined. Which is kind of the point. There probably won't be another Vogelsong this decade, if ever.

A Bartolo Colon comparison would fit for Webb, certainly. If Webb made it back, that would make two former Cy Young winners, left in a pile of shoulder scraps and elbow dust, forgotten to the world, who suddenly became relevant again. But the comparison wouldn't fit with Vazquez, because (again) he didn't retire with an injury.

The best comparison for Vazquez is Andy Pettitte. While Pettitte did have some injuries in the final year before his comeback, they weren't why he retired. There was a favrish will-he-or-won't-he vibe around his 2010/2011 offseason, during which he decided against returning. And while the distribution is a little different, Pettitte and Vazquez had almost identical wins above replacement in their three seasons before temporary retirement: Vazquez had a 7.8 mark, and Pettitte 7.4. Vazquez is 36, which is a point in his favor against the 40-year-old Pettitte.

Vazquez has never been as good at consistently preventing runs as well as his strikeout and walk numbers suggested he could be -- in the last eight seasons, Vazquez posted an ERA+ better than 100 just three times, and he's done it in exactly half of his 14 seasons in the majors. So he can be a bit mercurial. But this isn't about signing Javier Vazquez to a four-year deal for many millions. This is about taking a flier on a guy for the back of the rotation.

So the Royals should be interested, as should the Indians. The Red Sox are right to be hanging out in Puerto Rico, as are the Nationals. It's up to the scouts and their acumen now, but just about every team could benefit from a healthy, fastball-powered Javier Vazquez.

Except for the Yankees. I'm all for giving a guy extra chances, but, uh …

The other 29 teams in the league should have the same reaction: Javier Vazquez is throwing hard again and wanting to come back? Well, say, that's interesting. That's very interesting indeed.

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