A 1.52 ERA. A .198 batting average allowed. He struck out 36% of batters he faced, including half of the hitters that stepped up to the plate against him in Double-A. He started the season in Single-A, made it to the major leagues, and earned his promotions at every stop along the way. Yet Andrew Vasquez is a LOOGY in his first taste of the major leagues.
Those numbers I cited above are Vasquez’s career minor league numbers and they paint him as an utterly dominant pitcher. This season alone, he had a 1.30 ERA and struck out 39% of the men that dared to cross his path spread out over three minor league levels. Toss in that he’s regularly featured ground ball rates at or above 60% and it sure seems that Vasquez should be getting regular work here in September. Instead, he’s been used just five times in 17 games since joining the Twins earlier this month, plus he’s thrown just 2 innings in those five outings.
Throughout his time in the minors this season, it was standard for Vasquez to pitch more than an inning. In fact, while on the farm in 2018, he threw just one inning six times in 40 appearances yet was handed two or more innings 22 times. If anything, Vasquez was treated similarly to how the Milwaukee Brewers have used relief ace Josh Hader this year, where Hader has gone two or more innings in 22 of his 50 appearances. Meanwhile, Vasquez has never thrown a full inning in The Show this month, and his longest appearance was facing four batters in his major league debut against the Texas Rangers on September 1st.
Admittedly, Vasquez has not taken advantage of the opportunities that he’s been given. In his debut, he started the 5th inning, relieving a struggling Jose Berrios. His first batter, he couldn’t catch a feed from Joe Mauer while covering 1st base and allowed Shin-Soo Choo to reach on a missed catch error. He then gave up a single, a flyout, and then committed his second error with a wild throw on a pickoff attempt to allow a run to score. Vasquez did retire the next batter on a groundout, but his first appearance was ugly due to everything he did outside of pitching in his outing.
Vasquez next appeared five days later against the Astros. This time, he was asked to close out a poor 5th inning for Jake Odorizzi. With runners on 1st and 3rd, Vasquez was asked to retire lefty Brian McCann, but instead he handed out a free pass to load the bases. Fortunately, fellow lefty Josh Reddick followed with a groundout to end the threat.
I’m not going to detail the last three outings, but they were similar in which the next two were not clean. Two-thirds of an inning with a hit allowed against Kansas City, an RBI double to Didi Gregorius as his only foe versus the Yankees, and then finally a clean two-thirds of an inning against the Royals with one strikeout. Altogether, he was asked to face nine lefties and just three righties. Again, in spite of regularly pitching more than one inning in the minors and putting away virtually everyone in his path, Vasquez has been treated as nothing more than a specialist.
While writing this, I’m reminded of former Twin Anthony Slama. Another supreme reliever while in the minor leagues, fans clamored for him to receive a chance in the majors yet were constantly disappointed as he remained stuck in the minors. The reasoning was clear; Slama lacked premium stuff as he was a righty that featured a 90 MPH fastball and a 77 MPH slurvy breaking ball, and he regularly walked more than 10% of batters he opposed. He finally received a chance in 2010 as a 26-year old but only amassed seven major league appearances before washing out of baseball. Even the Los Angeles Dodgers determined Slama wasn’t fit as a major leaguer after acquiring him, so it confirmed the Twins were right all along.
As for Vasquez, he has a few differences that work in his favor. First, he’s lefthanded, so also possessing a 90 MPH fastball isn’t as big of a deal as lefties (excluding Aroldis Chapman) typically throw with less velocity than righties. Second, Slama was doomed as a soft-tossing righty that induced a bunch of fly balls, leaving him homer-prone against major league hitters. Vasquez is different in that he benefits from having a fastball with a significant amount of sink and run. Additionally, his breaking ball has been sharper than Slama’s, having similar movement but averaging 82 MPH.
Just so you’re aware, the movement on Vasquez’s pitches is atypical. Thanks to his low three-quarters arm angle, he’s able to get a little more tail and sink on his fastball while his slider sweeps a lot more than the average overhand slider. In fact, the movement on those pitches looks very familiar to me, because Vasquez is a near die-cast of Taylor Rogers.
While Rogers’ main breaking ball is more a curveball than a slider like Vasquez, the movement on his two primary pitches are essentially identical. Rogers has more velocity on his fastball (~93 MPH) while there’s less on his curveball (~79 MPH) than Vasquez’s slider, but Vasquez has posted better ground ball and strikeout rates in his career so it shouldn’t be that much of a stretch to think he could become a similar pitcher. At least, once he improves the control of his pitches.
It’s entirely possible that Vasquez will get more of a chance during the 2019 season, but with the team coasting to the end, I’d prefer if Vasquez was getting more of a look as a potential middle reliever for next season. Instead, it appears that Paul Molitor would rather stick with his proven commodity in Taylor Rogers. With other lefty Gabriel Moya racking up appearances as an opener, that leaves a chance for Vasquez to fill the second lefty role in the bullpen, but Molitor has demonstrated that this role only entails getting a couple batters out rather than getting a full inning. I would hope that Vasquez gets a few chances over these last couple weeks to showcase his talent, because I believe he has the ability to be a game-changer in the bullpen for the Twins organization. All he needs is the opportunity.