After Felipe Vazquez blew his fourth save in five tries on Thursday, Vazquez suggested to reporters that he might be tipping his pitches or somehow letting opponents know what was going on ahead of time.
“Probably I’m tipping them and I don’t know,” Vazquez told Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I watched some videos [Friday], it doesn’t look like I’m tipping. They’re probably, I don’t know, giving signs.”
It was a bit of a convenient time for that conversation to come up. Hurdle has said that Vazquez isn’t in danger of losing his closer’s spot, but that probably has as much to do with the fact that there hasn’t been anyone throwing a lot better in the Pirates’ bullpen than it does with any sort of supreme confidence in Vazquez.
But there’s something about Vazquez’s claim that rang true to me. Vazquez’s save attempt Thursday was the second in this stretch to come against the St. Louis Cardinals. On May 27, he gave up the lead on a pinch hit by Harrison Bader, who had been 1 for 11 as a pinch hitter this season coming in to that game.
Here’s what Bader said to me after the game about coming up against Vazquez in a big spot:
“Pittsburgh has their plan of how they pitch guys. That’s just what I studied and trusted my hitting coach. We talked about this before we rolled in here. So, you just simplify it the best you can where you’ve got to be fastball ready on a certain side of the plate. That’s what I was looking for. Obviously, it was pretty firm. It was just working inside the baseball and I got enough on it to just muscle it out there. That was a good one.”
Now, it’s not exactly a secret that the Pirates throw a lot of fastballs, and Vazquez has thrown his about two-thirds of the time this season, but how much easier would it be to hit if a player knew it was coming?
In three games against the Cardinals this season, Vazquez has a 27.00 ERA, a 5.250 WHIP, a .444 batting average against, a 20.28 BB/9 and a 6.75 K/9.
His season numbers against the other 28 teams in Major League Baseball would give him a 3.43 ERA, a 1.33 WHIP, a .247 batting average against, a 20.26 BB/9 and a 9.43 K/9.
Bader said he was looking for a fastball on a certain side of the plate, and he got that with a middle-in pitch at 99 MPH. Maybe that was just a good, old-fashioned case of a scouting report playing out.
But it seems that in general, the Cardinals have had an inordinate about of success against the Pirates’ best reliever this season. It seems more than likely that they’ve gained some kind of advantage, and Vazquez tipping his pitches just as likely of an answer as to why as anything else I can come up with. The good news for Vazquez is that tipping pitches is usually pretty easily overcome once the issue is identified.