One of my readers asked about two pitchers headed in different directions thus far in 2011:
Just wondering about a couple guys - can Javier Vazquez bounce back to anything remotely resembling pre-2010 numbers? His velocity is way down, swinging strikes down, and he's not getting any younger. I have him at $10 in my league...
Second - is Kyle Lohse for real? I passed on him in my league remembering his 2010 with a K/BB ratio of 1.5 and lots of bad starts. This year he seems to have really figured something out with a crazy K/BB ratio and some excellent results.
Vazquez's most significant problem is with his velocity. This problem goes back to 2010. Vazquez went from averaging in the low 90s on his four-seam fastball to dropping into the upper 80s. In and of itself this isn't a problem. Many pitchers survive and even put together decent careers without throwing hard. However, there is a learning curve. It's easy to remember all of the success that pitchers like Jamie Moyer and Bob Tewksbury had in the Majors, but we tend to forget that these pitchers struggled for a while and almost found themselves out of baseball entirely.
For Vazquez to be a worthwhile fantasy investment, he'll either have to get that giddy-up back on his fastball or learn to pitch in a new and more effective way. Since this is the second year running he's had this problem, I have to assume that there's nothing physically wrong with Vazquez and that this is just the new normal. As far as learning to pitch differently, this is something that will take time and discipline - and perhaps an adjustment period where Vazquez takes his lumps - to master. If I had Vazquez, I would reserve him if I could and cut him if I couldn't. He's going to destroy your rate stats, and his four strikeouts per nine aren't going to do enough to offset this.
We have short memories in fantasy baseball. We've been down this road with Kyle Lohse before. He broke out of the gates in a rush in 2009, going 3-0 with a 1.97 ERA, 1.031 WHIP and 19 strikeouts in 32 innings. At the end of that April, his FIP sat at 3.07. Right now his xFIP sits at 3.09. Even accounting for his ERA/FIP differential, Lohse is still getting better results thus far then he has at any point in his career.
This does not mean you should rush out to own him. His swinging strike percentage is still incredibly low and his luck on BABIP has been ridiculously in his favor. If he can keep his walk and strikeout rates where they've been so far, then I could see Lohse somewhat exceeding his career norms. Besides the BABIP luck, though, the other thing I see in the numbers are a significantly higher percentage of first pitch strikes being thrown combined with a lower percentage of batter swings on pitches in the zone. Hitters are going to adjust and start swinging at that first pitch more often - and more at Lohse in general. Once this happens, I anticipate the inevitable regression.
The best-case scenario for Lohse is probably his 2008: a 3.8 ERA/1.3 WHIP with about 5.5 to six whiffs per nine. But this is nothing to sneeze at. Lohse's 2008 was worth $16 in 5x5 and made him the 20th best starting pitcher in the N.L. that year. Keep in mind that this is likely Lohse's ceiling. He earned $4 in 2009 and was a disaster in 2010. It's probably OK to assume that Lohse might be capable of putting up a slightly positive season like he did in '09 and perhaps could approach double digits. Just don't expect another $16 campaign.