Potential Twins Bullpen Target: Felipe Vázquez, LHP, Pirates
Image courtesy of © Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY SportsFelipe Vázquez, LHP, 27-years-old
Pittsburgh Pirates (36-41, 5th in NL Central)
Signed through 2021, 4 yrs/$22M (18-21) & 22-23 team option.
2019: 1.91 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 13.9 K/9, 2.5 BB/9 in 33.0 IP
2018: 2.70 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 11.4 K/9, 3.1 BB/9 in 70.0 IP
Felipe Vázquez might be the best option for the Twins to pursue. That is, of course, if the Pirates even make him available. As ESPN’s Buster Olney reports, Pittsburgh is going to set his price through the roof to whoever wants to get him. But, as Steve Adams writes at MLB Trade Rumors, the Bucs are also in great need of new arms to their rotation, which makes the Twins a strong contender. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Joe Starkey writes that the Pirates’ only untouchable is Josh Bell, which can bring our hopes up. But, is Vázquez really worth all the effort?
What’s to Like?
He is young, solves some of the Twins major bullpen problems and is under team control for the next four years, for a very reasonable price. Beyond that, his resumé becomes even more interesting when you notice that he averages 98.1 mph in his four seamer, 88.3 mph in his changeup and 86.4 mph in his slider. He was an All-Star last year, having worse numbers than the ones he’s having right now. That’s a hell of a good candidate.
Before the All-Star Game last year, the Venezuelan was posting a 3.05 ERA in 41 1/3 innings of work, with 23 saves in 27 opportunities (85.1%). So far this year, he’s got a 1.91 ERA, with 19 saves in 20 opportunities (95%) in 33 innings. If the Twins were to go after him, they would be getting an improved All-Star closer, who possibly hasn’t reached his prime yet.
The Twins have some of the worst numbers in the league when it comes to late in the game situations. In the eighth and ninth innings, Minnesota has the 18th ERA (4.59), the 20th FIP (4.57) and is has the tenth highest hard hit rate, with 39%. When you narrow it down to right handed hitters, those numbers are even worse: 5.29 ERA (27th), 5.07 FIP (24th) and 42.3 hard hit rate (27th).
Vázquez represents an improvement in basically all of those metrics. Currently, against righties, he holds a 1.65 ERA and 2.20 FIP, with 31.3% hard hit rate. While the Twins have a .824 OPS against righties late in the game, Vázquez has been posting .558 in the same situation. And the most drastic improvement he could bring to Minnesota’s bullpen lies on the high leverage situations. So far, Twins relievers have posted a 4.57 ERA with .259 AVG and .726 OPS, while Vázquez has, respectively, 1.17 ERA, .130 AVG and .416 OPS.
You will always have to be concerned about the shift between the NL and AL for pitchers. Technically, most of his numbers against AL teams are better than both his numbers against the NL and his career numbers, but that’s based on a very small sample (43 1/3 innings). Perhaps he won’t be the same lights-out pitcher, who had 26 scoreless outings in 31 games so far this year, when pitching to AL lineups on a daily basis.
Another reason to be a bit worried is the fact that Vázquez hasn’t had a single postseason appearance, so we can’t know for sure how well he would perform closing games in the playoffs. But, if even superstar closer Craig Kimbrel didn’t pitch well during the Red Sox World Series run last year (5.91 ERA), I think Vázquez could be given the benefit of the doubt.
Here’s a look at some highlights from Vázquez’ 2018 season:
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