by John Viril—
Pundits snickered when Kansas City Royals GM Dayton Moore signed 31-year-old pitcher Jason Vargas to a 4-year $32 million contract. Most agreed that Vargas was a useful innings eater, and that the average salary was fair market value in 2014, but that Moore had overpaid by at least one, if not two, more guaranteed years than was necessary.
Right now, Dayton Moore looks like he knew what he was doing.
Through four starts this season, Jason Vargas has produced an outstanding 2-0 record and 1.24 ERA in 29.0 IP. Friday night, Vargas shut out the Twins over seven innings in Kansas City’s 5-0 victory. He’s lasted at least 7 innings in each of his four starts, with one strong outing where he finished the 8th. He looks like a perfect fit in Kansas City.
A little digging, however, reveals the numbers are a little bit too good to be true.
That stat that jumps out from Jason Vargas’ advanced metrics is his 100% strand rate. That’s clearly unsustainable. The four earned runs he’s surrendered this season have scored on 3 home runs. Eventually, someone is going pick up an RBI on a hit that doesn’t fly out of the ballpark. The other out-of-whack number is his .214 Batting Average on Balls in Play. While Vargas has surrendered a lower-than-average .277 BABIP for his career, he’ll never finish a season at .214.
Not only has he had some good luck with batters hitting at defenders, he’s also faced weak competition. Jason Vargas has faced the Twins twice, and Tampa Bay and Detroit one time apiece. The Twins are not anyone’s idea of a strong team and Tampa Bay succeeds with pitching and defense. The only good hitting team Vargas has faced is the Tigers, and that was in the season’s second game. Hitters typically take a few weeks to get into a groove at the beginning of the season.
Despite Jason Vargas’ good fortune, the numbers do suggest he’ll be effective in Kansas City. His Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) of 3.91 and park adjusted FIP (xFIP) of 4.14 seem to be within his career norms of 4.42 (FIP) and 4.62 (xFIP)—if you consider that he’s playing in front of 2013′s best defensive team and in a home park that suppresses home runs.
In fact, Vargas strikeout rate of 14.6% is a tad under his career rate of 15.3% and significantly lower than his career-high of 16.9% from last season. A quick look at Vargas’ Pitchf/x numbers show both his two, and four-seam fastball, have lost about 1.5 mph vs. last season, but that number could rise as his arm gets accustomed to a regular workload.
His velocity numbers are a situation that bears watching. A 1.5 mph slide might be an ominous sign for a guy that has a guaranteed 4-year deal.
Right now the results look good. And the logic of putting an innings eater in front of a good defense makes sense. We’ll just have to see how his velocity holds up as the season progresses.
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