The Yankees had a successful series against the Padres this past week, rediscovering their offense late in Game 2 and early in Game 3 to take two of three in the series.
Luis Severino was incredible but came crashing back down to Earth on Friday night, the bullpen continued to see improvements from Clay Holmes, as he battled through poor command to hold onto their lead, and Isiah Kiner-Falefa continued to blossom into his newfound utility role as he became a hero in extra innings.
That being said, the loss on Friday was immediately scrubbed off of the minds of many fans, despite having one of their brightest spots come in that game. He wasn’t perfect, but Randy Vásquez showed flashes of becoming a legitimate starting pitcher in the Bronx.
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The Development of His Cutter
One of the most surprising tidbits from this start was the usage of his cutter, a pitch that he developed mostly between 2022 and 2023. Most people know Randy Vásquez as a heavy sinker-curveball guy, and while these two pitches were still featured in this outing, his reliance on the cutter was definitely surprising. The Yankees have utilized the cutter heavily in recent years, as they’re 10th in cutter usage since the start of the 2022 season.
Vásquez flashed a lot of upside with the cutter, but when we take a look at the pitch shape, it’s not obvious that this is a plus pitch for him. It generates extremely similar vertical and horizontal movement to a league-average cutter at league-average velocity as well, but it’s the horizontal release point on the pitch that stands out.
On average, cutters are released by right-handed pitchers at a horizontal point of -1.84 feet, but Vásquez releases his cutter at a -2.98, a dramatic difference that gives him an extremely unique release point for this pitch.
Having oddities in a pitch’s release point is an easy way to make it a deceptive and effective pitch, and the fact that Vásquez’s cutter is released from this unique angle while maintaining good movement, bodes well for its success, as evidenced by a 116 Stuff+ on the pitch.
His cutter was the pitch Juan Soto deposited for a monster two-run shot, the only two runs allowed by the Dominican-born righty, but it still showed plenty of promise.
The issue with the pitch was its location, evidenced by Location+ grading it at a poor 82. When we look into what made that pitch to Soto so reckless, it’s the fact that he tries to elevate a cutter that has lots of drop, allowing the pitch to drop right into the swing path of one of baseball’s best hitters.
In fact, he had gotten Soto to expand the strike zone in a previous at-bat where he got a swing-and-miss down and in on a cutter, and that pitch was a much better spot for a pitch with that shape.
Furthermore, there were plenty of uncompetitive cutters thrown down and away that weren’t strong waste pitches and failed to give Vásquez a high probability of generating a swing. In my Clay Holmes article, I discussed the importance of generating a swing, as the batter is typically at a disadvantage when they swing versus when they don’t.
Unsurprisingly based on this pitch chart, the Yankees’ #12 prospect only got nine swings on 29 cutters thrown, though he did get eight called strikes as well.
By relying on called strikes to generate success, Vásquez puts himself in a situation where he’s relying on a hitter not swinging to get outs, which is something that just won’t consistently work at the Major League level. Better execution of that cutter and better consistency and feel with the pitch could go a long way, and the pitch thrown to Soto that got crushed was a letter-high cutter that dipped into his barrel and was an easy pitch to get underneath.
Right-handed pitchers find more success against left-handed hitters with vertical deception than they do with horizontal deception, so for Vásquez he’s either trying to get a batter to swing underneath a pitch or on top of it, and this cutter doesn’t do much of either. It’s an easy pitch to get on top of because it doesn’t have much backspinning force that can allow it to fight the force of gravity causing a ball to drop, but it’s also located up in the zone, meaning that it’s an easy pitch to get underneath as well.
This combination typically yields line drives and hard-hit flyballs, two of the worst batted-ball outcomes for a pitcher.
If Vásquez looks to throw his cutter, throwing it lower in the strike zone could result in more batters swinging over the pitch, as that matches the vertical profile of the pitch. To explain in more simple terms; if a pitch drops a lot, it’ll play better in the lower parts of the strike zone, whereas pitches with minimal drop play better in the upper parts of the strike zone. Vásquez had trouble locating in the lower parts of the strike zone all night which we’ll discuss with his sinker, but the cutter would benefit from better command.
Overall, my conclusions on this cutter are that his command and feel of the pitch need developing, but the actual shape and release point of the pitch are amazing, which is a positive. Command and feel come with experience at the MLB level, something the Yankees will work with Randy Vásquez on to allow him more opportunities in a variety of roles. That being said, his command on his other pitches was there, and there are some standout selections in his arsenal.
The Yankees Get A Glimpse at Highly-Touted Breaking Ball
Everyone who has followed Randy Vásquez as a prospect knows he’s someone with a devastating breaking pitch, and that curveball is no joke. His curveball is a unique pitch, having 15.1″ of sweep and -4.2″ of induced vertical break, giving it serious dropping action. That being said, it generates more sweep than the average curveball with less depth and has sweeper-like tendencies, creating misreads as a sweeper on Baseball Savant.
The Yankees clearly love this breaking ball, which is why they were willing to give him a shot in spite of not having much time in Triple-A.
We again find that Vásquez has a unique release point for his curveball as well, with his horizontal release point explaining the abnormal amount of sweep on his curveball relative to the league-average one, which comes from a release that would generate more side spin.
His curveball averages roughly 3,000 RPMs of spin, and its large movement profile makes it a tough pitch to barrel up. Large breaking pitches tend to perform extremely well when it comes to limiting damage contact and generating called strikes, but Vásquez also can use it to generate whiffs or get swings-and-misses out of the zone. It’s an excellent pitch, and the Yankees should be extremely excited about this pitch. In terms of Stuff+, his breaking pitches weren’t as great as you’d expect, but in terms of results and previous pitch shape data, it’s a reliable weapon.
He remained confident with the pitch against lefties as well, using his breaking ball almost 20% of the time despite the fact that big breaking pitches, such as his sweeping curveball from righties don’t play extremely well to left-handed hitters. They didn’t swing at many of them, with only one swing out of the 10 thrown, but he did get three called strikes and induce a groundball from Juan Soto on that swing. Continued execution of this breaking ball to left-handed batters could help Vásquez get out of tough spots, and the Yankees know that it’s a matter of consistency.
Against righties, it was filthy, with plenty of swings and misses out of the zone and showing a strong ability to locate the pitch down and prevent it from hanging to the wrong types of hitters.
Going forward, I wonder if he’ll up the usage of this pitch, but for now, the usage of it was excellent, and his command of the pitch was spot-on as well. Having an advanced feel for a strong breaking pitch isn’t something we typically see from young starters, so seeing it from Vásquez definitely has the Yankees excited about his future.
With that being said, his four-seamer and sinker are pitches that he used in platoon roles, and both give us areas to improve for the 24-year-old RHP.
The Next Steps for Randy Vásquez
One of the biggest X-Factors in whether the Yankees will get a reliable starter out of Randy Vásquez or not in the future are his four-seamer and sinker, which both gave us strong points and weak points to evaluate.
First and foremost, let’s make it a third mention of horizontal release, as we see he’s got the 24th widest release point on his sinker and the 26th widest release on his four-seamer among RHPs. His sinker had a 115 Stuff+, as it sat in the mid-90s and flashed strong horizontal movement with an ability to freeze hitters for called strikes. The issue? The location!
As mentioned with the cutter earlier, a pitch plays to its vertical and horizontal movement, and given the fact that a sinker is a pitch notorious for causing vertical drop, it plays best down in the zone.
Vásquez didn’t consistently keep his sinker in the lower parts of the strike zone, and given the fact that the pitch can run into the hands of righties easily, he missed a prime opportunity to generate a plethora of groundballs to get him out of jams. His GB% on the night was 16.7%, well below what we’re used to seeing from him in MiLB.
In the 2023 season, he has a 46% GB% in Triple-A, and last year had a 48% GB%.
As he continues to work on his command down in the strike zone, I imagine these issues will work themselves out, and I want to remind everyone that lack of command isn’t something we should be surprised by for rookies. His sinker having great shape and poor command makes it an easier fix than if it were the inverse, and the Yankees will certainly have him continue to bolster his consistency as he develops.
As for his four-seam fastball, it scored a 97 Stuff+, making it an extremely average pitch, but there’s some room for improvement on this fastball. First and foremost, it’s a dead zone fastball; this means that it doesn’t generate enough vertical drop to work down in the zone, nor does it have enough backspin to generate carry and get batters to swing underneath it up in the strike zone.
As mentioned, with the cutter and sinker, you play to your pitch’s movement, and a dead zone four-seamer is far too easy to read with its vertical break for him to reliably use it up in the zone.
One of the easiest ways to combat this phenomenon is with an abnormal release point, and as mentioned earlier, Vásquez possesses an abnormal horizontal release point. While it won’t make his fastball a reliable weapon up in the strike zone, it should allow him to use the pitch situationally to establish a vertical profile that he can use his cutter, changeup, or breaking ball to play off of. He threw an excellent four-seamer to Rougned Odor for his first career strikeout, as it was perfectly elevated for the strikeout.
In terms of fastball shape and location, it was easily his best four-seam fastball of the night, and it’s exactly the spot and movement he should look to get on any fastball up in the zone.
If the Yankees could push his fastball to consistently get 16″ of induced vertical break, you suddenly have a plus pitch on your hands, but that “if” is a lot more difficult than if he can find consistency with locating down in the zone as we’ve discussed with his sinker and cutter. In his start, he threw six of his 13 four-seamers (46%) with 16″ or more of induced vertical break, but he also threw three of them with 13″ or less of IVB.
This means that his four-seamer is inconsistent. Varying between a riding fastball up in the zone and more of a sinker down in the strike zone.
When dealing with the upper quadrants of the strike zone, that type of inconsistency can cause unpredictability in outcomes, meaning he could throw a fastball with carry up in the zone that generates a whiff like the one to Odor or throw one intended for the upper part of the strike zone that sinks into the heart of the plate for a home run.
If the Yankees can help him find consistency in his four-seam delivery and mechanics, he could have a legitimate weapon in the upper half of the strike zone to generate swings and misses and add to his deception. He’s got the talent and stuff, and they were all put on display in front of a packed crowd in the Bronx. Randy Vásquez is now equipped with new information from his first showing in the big leagues, and I’m sure the Yankees are excited for the next time they can call him up.