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The Man Who Deserves One Last Shot

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No matter what your motives, baseball is better off if Anthony Vasquez gets one more start in the bigs.

every story needs an ending
every story needs an ending
Ronald Martinez

I have a difficult time treating baseball players as real people. This is not because I'm a high-functioning psychopath, probably. It's because I'm highly conflict-averse, and don't like to upset people; I also like making jokes, many of which are about people. It's a fine balance, and so I rely on my relative anonymity, safe in the knowledge that I am well beneath the notice of the people I analyze and occasionally mock. Journalism has long veered from third to first person account, but I prefer the comfortable divide between writer and subject.

Besides, we all do this to a certain extent, as fans. When we talk about gutting the coaching staff, or trading away a player, we're each of us toying with people's livelihoods. But this doesn't make us monsters; there's a certain realism that comes with a life in baseball, an assumption of risk in both pay and esteem as linked to performance. The world of business is no different; when loyalty and morale conflict with the bottom line, it is finance that usually proves victorious. For players, coaches, and fans alike, winning trumps all.

Anthony Vasquez is the opposite of winning. And after 2011, I wanted nothing more than to see him pitch in a Mariners uniform. It wasn't because of who he was as a person. This time, it was because I was a horrible person.

Vasquez was pressed into service in late August that year, after the team gave away Erik Bedard and Doug Fister. At 24, he'd pitched decently in the minors that year, posting an ERA in the mid-threes between Jackson and Tacoma. Sure, the strikeout rate was putrid and the peripherals didn't match the runs scored, but it wasn't as if he were a prospect. Vasquez just needed to hold down the fort for a while, enjoy some major league paychecks, and come back to compete for a job again in 2012.

Vasquez actually won his first start, thanks to run support, giving up five earned runs over 5.1 innings. Then: the gore.

Anthony Vasquez became a squeal of tires, a sickening, wet metal crunch, a shower of fractured taillight, a soft hiss of a punctured radiator. The young man lost his next six starts, giving up an earned run for every inning pitched, and finishing with the following line:

























Against Vasquez, the average batter hit like 1961 Mickey Mantle. Not that he would have, but if Vasquez had been given a full season's worth of starts, at his given ratios, he would have cost the team six full wins by himself. He was an outlier among outliers, a string of numbers so ridiculous that they evoke a kind of scientific curiosity. How bad was he, really?

For players with at least six starts, Vasquez's ERA is actually the third-worst career mark, though Allen Webster of the Red Sox is currently active and could vanish with a single scoreless inning. But here's the thing: most players who have given up that many runs have been unlucky as well as bad. You have to be both to post an ERA in the 9.00 range.

Webster's FIP is a mere mediocrity at 6.73. Steve Smyth, who started seven games for the Cubs in 2002, had a 7.50 FIP to go with his 9.35 ERA. But thanks to six unearned runs, Anthony Vasquez had managed to outperform his peripherals in that horrible 2011 season.

It may not be the worst single-season line for a starter on record; that same year, Brian Matusz posted a 10.69 ERA in twelve starts. But Matusz was a prospect, and he got a couple more chances. Vasquez wasn't, and he didn't. He returned to Tacoma and pitched the way he did before, until his shoulder began to hurt. Despite my longing to rubberneck, it looked as though he would never get another chance to atone for his statistical sins. He would be left with what was, by at least one standard, the worst career by any starting pitcher ever.

While battling back from the shoulder, Vasquez started to succumb to headaches, then dizziness. Days later he endured five hours of brain surgery for a "tangle of blood vessels in the brain," a layman's description that feels like it needs its own layman's description. He survived the surgery, and in the process, the baseball player had become a person.

Now, between innings caps and ineffectiveness, the Mariners find themselves short of watchable pitchers, just like in 2011. Vasquez finds himself back in AA Jackson, pitching like his old self. And once again, I want to see Anthony Vasquez pitch.

There's a spot in the rotation, at least for one day. There's room on the 40-man roster. The result will probably be ugly, but we're used to that. What we're not used to is a game that feels meaningful. In one start he could cement his place in history, crown himself the king among footnotes, and we can gape at the fireworks. Or, possibly, he could overcome his ill fate, and win one more game to bookend his career. Either way would be just fine.