The Untouchable Jason Vargas
By Brian Henry
Toeing the mound for the Royals tonight will be Jason Vargas who has been the best starter for the Royals so far based on runs given up. Four games with 29 innings pitched and only 4 runs scored. Every other pitcher in the rotation has at least one game where they have given up 4 runs. The pace Vargas is on is obviously not going to continue, but this could be a career year for him if he continues what he is doing.
Let’s get the negatives out of the way. A BABIP of .214 is not going to continue. The last pitcher to throw 150 innings with that low of a BABIP was Juan Berenguer in 1983, and in the last 20 years the best was .223 in 2011 for Jeremy Hellickson. It could be “low”, meaning below the typical .300 based on Kauffman Stadium eating fly balls and the Royals defense, but not .214 low. Also, his strand rate so far this year if 100%, which is ridiculous. Only homers have hurt Vargas at all so far, and eventually people will string some hits and walks together to get him.
That’s it though, not other negatives so far. Batted ball rates all look normal for Jason so far. GB%, HR/FB, LD%, etc. all look typical. The only rates that look a little weird are strike outs and walks. He is actually striking out fewer batters than you would expect at 4.97K/9, but he is making up for it by producing his lowest walk rate ever at 1.86 BB/9 (unless you include a 1o inning stint with the Mets in 2007). That is good for a K/BB of 2.67, another career best. If he can continue that it would go a long way toward maintaining a high level of success. It is too early to think this likely, but it doesn’t look impossible either. He has changed a little bit about how his
Apr 2, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Jason Vargas (51) pitches against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
If you look at pitch mix only one type of pitch has changed much. He seems to be using the change up just slightly more often. PITCHf/x also shows that the fastball, though he is throwing one about as often, has been mixed differently. He seems to be throwing the four seam slightly more often, and using the two seam a little less. Nothing in the PITCHf/x charts is showing them moving differently, but both have been more effective so that may be where the luck so far has been and we will see regression in results as the season progresses.
I don’t assume anyone looks at his 1.24 ERA thus far and thinks that he is going to supplant James Shields at the top of the rotation, but that outcome is at least partially born of more than luck. His FIP at 3.90 and xFIP at 4.08 actually are positive as well. I said before the season that he was likely to outperform these metrics and could get to a sub-4 ERA, but so far they are at their lowest rates ever for him except for a 73 inning performance in 2005 where he amassed at 3.55 FIP. They show that so far he is pitching better than typical even if you try to strip out luck. Obviously, 29 innings is not enough to say he will continue it, but the underlying numbers suggest we could see much better results than what most expected going into the season.