KC Royals: Will Kris Bubic be another Jason Vargas?

(Mandatory Credit: Peter Aiken-USA TODAY Sports)
(Mandatory Credit: Peter Aiken-USA TODAY Sports) /

Eleven days ago, Kris Bubic pitched well for the KC Royals when he allowed just one run on two hits in 6.1 innings against Seattle. Eight days later, Bubic built off that performance with a stellar gem against Detroit, blanking the Tigers on two hits and striking out six in seven innings. His Royals won both games.

Bubic has been terrific this month, notching a 2.08 ERA with 21 strikeouts, a .170 OBA, and a 0.92 WHIP in 26 innings. He’s lasted over five innings in each of his last four starts and lowered his ERA from 5.16 to 4.52 in September.

For the season, he’s 6-6 with 109 strikeouts, a .247 OBA, and a 1.40 WHIP in 123.1 innings. He even flirted with a no-hitter against the Cubs in mid-August.

Now, as the KC Royals look to figure out who will round out their pitching rotation in 2022, Bubic should be a viable candidate. His numbers and performance show he’s learning from his previous starts this year and has managed to clamp down on the amount of runs he gives up, only allowing seven this month compared to 18 in August and 14 in July.

This trend of improvement calls to mind another lefthander that helped round out the Royals’ rotation during their bounce-back years.

Kris Bubic is very much like a good lefty pitcher from the KC Royals’ past.

When the Royals were on the verge of contending again and in need of a reliable starter capable of consistently pitching a lot of innings, they picked up free agent starter Jason Vargas before the 2014 season.

Vargas came through with an 11-10, 3.71 ERA record and gave the Royals 187 innings. Three seasons later, and after recovering from Tommy John surgery, he tied for the AL lead in wins with an 18-11 record and pitched 179.2 innings. He also made his lone All-Star appearance that 2017 season, thanks in no small part to his 2.62 ERA before the All-Star Break.

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As Bubic continues to improve on the mound, he could very well be what Vargas was to the KC Royals just a few years ago. The similarities between the two pitchers are striking.

Comparing 2021 Bubic with 2014 Vargas via BaseballSavant reveals their similar pitch arsenals—four-seam fastballs, changeups, and curveballs. (Vargas also threw a sinker). The four-seamer is thrown 51.8% of the time by Bubic, while Vargas used it 43.6% of the time. Changeups constitute their second go-to pitches at 30.9% and 30.6%, respectively. And while Vargas threw his sinker into the mix, his curveball laid in at 12.1% while Bubic’s is at 17.3%.

The changeup is also the “put away” pitch for both players—Vargas had a 22.2 put away percentage in 2014 to go along with a 36.6% whiff rate, while Bubic currently has a 23.1% put away and a 28.4% whiff. And their curveballs? An 8.6% put away for Vargas and 9.0% for Bubic.

A major difference between them, however, is control. Whereas Vargas had a 1.97 BB/9 in 2014, Bubic has a 4.31 BB/9. Bubic also struggles with giving up home runs, averaging 1.53 HR/9 when compared to Vargas’ 0.91 HR/9 in the 2014 season. Bubic, however, seems to make up for his walks and home runs with a better 7.95-to-6.2 K/9 rate.

If Bubic tightens up his control, he could become what Vargas was to KC from 2014-2017—a mid-rotation starter capable of throwing a lot of innings and keeping his team in the game.

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Kris Bubic has had a great rebound month in September. If he continues to improve, he could become another Jason Vargas.