September 15, 2009
Is he a top-of-the-line ace with top-of-the-line stuff and the only pitcher in baseball to win more than 10 or more games in each year from 2000 to 2009?
Is he an inconsistent hurler who maddeningly mixes brilliance with mediocrity when it counts and ends up getting passed between five teams in seven seasons?
I honestly have no idea and guess that Vazquez doesn't know himself, either. Over the past decade, there isn't anyone in the sport that comes close to being a bigger mystery man. He's a baseball chameleon.
Of course, there's no doubt which pitcher Vazquez has been this season. On Monday, he was named the NL player of the week after two great starts against the Astros and Cardinals. He's a fringe Cy Young candidate with a 13-9 record and 3.01 ERA and needs 25 more strikeouts to set a career high (he's currently at 216, which trails only Tim Lincecum(notes) and Justin Verlander(notes)). If you drafted him in fantasy, you're the owner of a great mid- to late-round bargain.
But this year's numbers come on the heels of a 2008 season that saw Vazquez falter down the stretch with a contending White Sox team — leading Ozzie Guillen to say he wasn't a big game pitcher — and even spark a South Side debate that Clayton Richard(notes) — yes, Clayton Richard — should start over him in the ALDS against the Rays. After the season, Vazquez and his $12 million salary were shipped to the Braves in exchange for catching prospect Tyler Flowers(notes).
It's often been said that Vazquez is a pitcher that throws best when the expectations are low and his stats do back that up. Three of his top ERA+ years came in the anonymity of Montreal and one came for the 2007 White Sox, who went 72-90. This year's ERA+ of 139 equals his career-best with the 2003 Expos, but while the Braves stuck around as a potential contender for longer than expected, they didn't occupy striking distance space for long.
Meanwhile, Vazquez's worst ERA+ years — with the exception of his first two seasons — all came with contenders: the '04 Yankees, the '05 D'Backs and the '06 and '08 White Sox.
It's quite clear that Vazquez has the talent and stuff to be one of baseball's best pitchers. He's only 33 and could keep this up for a few more years. If all goes right, Atlanta could be a contender with a scary rotation that features Vazquez, Derek Lowe(notes), Tim Hudson(notes), Tommy Hanson(notes) and Jair Jurrjens(notes).
But which Vazquez will show up in 2010? For the past decade, it's been one of baseball's most-asked questions and we're never quite sure what the answer will be.