Friday, February 17, 2017

2016-17 BBM Winter Awards: Hector Velazquez, MVP

For those of you wondering earlier this week why Hector Velazquez wasn't named as the BBM Winter Awards Pitcher of the Year, his selection as Most Valuable Player seemed more appropriate.

After all, the 28-year-old native of Obregon was as dominant a performer in the Mexican Pacific League this winter as any batter or pitcher, leading the circuit with nine wins and 87 strikeouts, tying for first with 14 starts and one complete game and finishing second with a 2.32 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP during the regular season for the Navojoa Mayos.  Velazquez then proved in the postseason that those numbers were no fluke by leading all LMP playoff hurlers with five wins and 36.2 innings pitched while his 31 strikeouts trailed leader Manny Barreda of Los Mochis by one.

Need more?  The right-hander then recorded two more starts in the Caribbean Series for the Mexicali Aguilas (who'd picked him as a playoff reinforcement player) and allowed one earned run in 11 innings and tying Cuban Lazaro Blanco for the CS lead with 11 strikeouts.  Velazquez let in one earned run over five innings while striking out seven to earn the win in a 7-2 victory over Dominican champions Licey on February 2, then came back to start the title game against Caguas of Puerto Rico, going six frames and allowing no runs and striking out four as the Mexicans ended up losing, 1-0, in ten innings to the Criollos.  All in all, Velazquez started 21 games in winterball for 133 innings, recording a 16-4 record with a 2.71 ERA and 129 strikeouts with just 27 walks.

Success is nothing new for the 6-foot Sonoran.  He made his Mexican League debut in 2010 for Campeche as a 21-year-old and went 6-4 with a 2.93 ERA in 29 outings (14 of them starts), and was named the Liga's Rookie of the Year.  He's since become one of the LMB's more highly-regarded pitchers.  After an injury shortened his 2011 sophomore campaign after five starts and a 1-1 record, Velazquez was 11-7 in both 2012 and 2014 for the Piratas and has a Mexican League career record of 43-29 with a 3.76 ERA in 120 starts.  He was dealt to Monclova for the 2016 and had an unusual season for the Acereros, throwing 131.1 innings over 22 starts and limiting opponents to 2.76 earned runs per nine innings, striking out 120 batsmen while walking just 16, but only having a 5-5 record to show for it.  Velazquez will be back in Campeche this season.

His winterball record isn't quite as impressive at first glance.  After minimal success pitching with his hometown Obregon Yaquis in 2010-11 and 2011-12 (where he was a member of the Tribe's 2011 Caribbean Series championship team under manager Eddie Diaz, who remains at the helm in Obregon), Velazquez moved down to Navojoa in 2012 and has wintered there the past five LMP seasons.

After going 2-6 in his first year with the Mayos, Velazquez was named LMP Pitcher of the Year in 2013-14 by turning in an 8-1 record to lead the league in wins while coming in second to Culiacan's Amauri Sanit with a 2.17 ERA.  His 60 strikeouts were good for fourth that winter.  Following a nightmarish 0-7 winter in 2014-15 with Navojoa, Velazquez fared better last season by going 5-2 and 2.92 in 13 starts.  His overall record was still only 18-19 with a 4.52 ERA after six MexPac seasons heading into the just-concluded season last October, but he's now got 27-22 and 4.08 numbers to show, along with his second LMP Pitcher of the Year trophy from the league office and now (for what it's worth) a BBM Winter MVP award.

2010      Willis Otanez, Puebla
2010-11 Justin Christian, Los Mochis
2011       Luis Terrero, Mexico City
2015-16  Christian Villanueva, Obregon
2016       Cesar Tapia, Puebla
2016-17  Hector Velazquez, Navojoa