FELIPE VÁZQUEZ, LEFT HANDED PITCHER
|Born: July 5, 1991
Signed: International Free Agent, 2008 (Rays)
How Acquired: Trade with Nationals (for Mark Melancon)
Agent: Magnus Sports
WTM’s PLAYER PROFILE
|NOTE: This is the former Felipe Rivero, who changed his name early in the 2018 season.
Vázquez is a live-armed lefty acquired by the Pirates for Mark Melancon. He originally got on the prospect map as a starter, as he has three useful pitches, but he reached the majors as a reliever. As a starter, Vázquez had trouble with inconsistent command and loss of velocity in the later innings. His fastball averaged a little over 95 mph as a reliever prior to the trade, although it was more in the low-90s as a starter. By 2017, though, his velocity was sitting at 98 and he was routinely topping 100. He throws a change and a slider, both of which generate swings and misses, and grounders. Possibly due to his change, as a major leaguer, Vázquez has had a slight reverse platoon split, allowing a .632 OPS to left-handed hitters and a .618 OPS to right-handed hitters, as of the time of the trade to the Pirates. Not surprisingly, he hasn’t been used as a lefty specialist. He’s had a fairly good groundball percentage — 49.2% — in the majors. The Pirates picked him up at the 2016 trade deadline along with Taylor Hearn, for Melancon and cash.
Vázquez pitched in relief and put up fair numbers as a 17-year-old in his debut. He didn’t pitch as well as the ERA indicates; among other things, ten of the 24 runs he allowed were unearned.
The Rays sent Vázquez back to the VSL and he pitched much better as a swing man.
Pitching mostly as a starter in advanced rookie ball, Vázquez got hit harder, including some mild gopher ball problems (he allowed seven). His BB and K rates, though, were very good. Baseball America rated him 28th in the Rays’ system after the season.
The Rays continued to employ Vázquez as a starter in full season ball. BA rated him 20th in the Rays’ system after the season and Tampa Bay added him to its 40-man roster.
Vázquez had more trouble in the Florida State League, as his BB and K rates both regressed quite a bit. He finished the season strongly, though, and BA rated him 17th in the Rays’ system.
Prior to the season, the Rays traded Vázquez to the Nationals. Washington sent him to AA, where he continued to have some mild control issues. He missed nearly two months, though, with an elbow strain. BA rated him 18th in the Nats’ system after the season.
Vázquez started the season in AAA, pitching in relief. After three games, the Nationals called him up, but he went on the disabled list due to illness after one appearance in the majors. He eventually made it back to Washington and got into 49 games total, all in relief. His numbers were very good across the board, although he was helped a little by a slightly low BABIP of .250.
Vázquez continued to pitch out of the Nationals’ bullpen. His ERA was high, but his other numbers were good, as shown by his xFIP of 3.61. He was hurt by a higher BABIP of .310 and also a low strand rate of 64.5%. He had higher groundball and K rates than the previous year, although he also walked more. The Pirates acquired Vázquez at the trade deadline with the intention of using him, for the time being, in the seventh inning. He mostly pitched well for the Pirates, but had one major meltdown near the end of the season in which he allowed five runs in a third of an inning. His K rate after the trade was extremely high — his fastball velocity actually increased from an average of 95.3 mph with the Nationals to 96.7, topping out over 100, after the trade — but he had significantly more control problems. He continued to generate grounders at a good rate.
Vázquez developed into one of the most dominant relievers in baseball. He mostly resolved his control issues and at the same time saw a velocity spike, with his fastball averaging 98.5 mph. In fact, in two late-season games he averaged over 100 mph, about 102 in one of them. He increased his groundball rate to 52.9% and obliterated left-handed hitters, limiting them to a microscopic .255 OPS. Right-handed hitters didn’t exactly do well against him, with a .571 OPS. Vázquez started the season as the Pirates’ setup man, but took over the closer role from a struggling Tony Watson in June. His first three saves were of the four- and five-out variety, and he later had two more that went over an inning.
Vázquez had some ups and downs, but overall remained one of baseball’s best closers. He got off to an alarming start, blowing a four-run lead on opening day. He had a pair of meltdowns in May, giving up 14 hits and seven earned runs in 11 innings for the month. From June through August, though, he allowed just four runs and 24 hits in 34.2 IP, with 50 strikeouts. He seemed to wear down a little in September, giving up runs in four of his 12 outings. Overall, he held left-handed hitters to a measly .454 OPS, but right-handed hitters managed a 250/325/341 line. Vázquez had three saves of four outs, one of five and one of six. He finished sixth among relievers, and third among full-time closers, in FanGraphs’ version of Wins Above Replacement.
Vázquez had an All-Star season, in some ways his best yet. On September 17, though, he was arrested and charged in both Florida and Pennsylvania with a number of serious offenses, including solicitation of a minor. He was placed on the restricted list.
There’s obviously a strong possibility that Vázquez will not play in MLB again.
|2023: $10,000,000 (club option)
2022: $10,000,000 (club option)
2018: $2,500,000 ($2,000,000 signing bonus)
2017: Major League Minimum
|Signing Bonus: N/A
MiLB Debut: 2009
MLB Debut: 4/17/2015
MiLB FA Eligible: N/A
MLB FA Eligible: 2023 (if options exercised)
Rule 5 Eligible: N/A
Added to 40-Man: 11/20/12
Options Remaining: 0 (USED: 2013, 2014, 2015)
MLB Service Time: 4.162
|July 30, 2008: Signed as an international free agent with the Tampa Bay Rays.
November 20, 2012: Contract purchased by the Tampa Bay Rays.
February 13, 2014: Traded by the Tampa Bay Rays with Jose Lobaton and Drew Vettleson to the Washington Nationals for Nate Karns.
July 30, 2016: Traded by the Washington Nationals with Taylor Hearn to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Mark Melancon and $500,000.