Mets can make the most of Jason Vargas with help from Corey Oswalt


 Jason Vargas didn’t have a very productive year for the New York Mets in 2018. In round two, a little help from Corey Oswalt could help them both.

The New York Mets signed Jason Vargas in 2018 to add veteran depth to a strong young rotation. He was expected to “eat innings” and occupy the back of the rotation while the others suffered the usual pitching injuries.

Instead, as everyone knows, Vargas himself got hurt before the season even started and came back to pitch poorly for most of the season. Not only was his ERA an unsightly 5.77, but just as alarming was his average of 4.6 innings per start.

As an innings eater, he was pushing away from the table before he started dessert.

For some reason, he chose to feature his sinker more than any previous season, even though it has never been particularly effective.

  • Sinker (Note: he’s lost 2.1 mph since 2012 from 88.5 to 86.4)
    • 2018 (45.1%) (86.4 mph)
      • SLG=.557
    • 2017 (44.7%) (85.6 mph)
      • SLG=.607
  • Cutter (completely stopped using it after 2016)
    • 2013-2016
      • 2016=84.0 mph
      • 2015=86.9 mph
      • 2014=85.7 mph
      • 2013=83.2 mph
      • only threw 35 cutters total
    • 2012 (8.2%) (84.6 mph)
      • SLG=.343
    • 2011 (14.7%) (84.4 mph)
      • SLG=.390
    • 2010 (8.1%) (84.3 mph)
      • SLG=.442
  • Four seam fastball (Note: he’s lost 2 mph since 2012 from 88.5 to 86.5)
    • 2018 (9.3%) (86.5 mph)
      • SLG=.421
    • 2017 (2.6%) (85.7 mph)
      • SLG=1.067
  • Curveball
    • 2018 (16.2%) (73.5 mph)
      • SLG=.276
    • 2017 (20.3%) (72.1 mph)
      • SLG=.364
  • Changeup
    • 2018 (29.5%) (80.6 mph)
      • SLG=.451
    • 2017 (32.5%) (79.5 mph)
      • SLG=.282

He has never thrown particularly hard, but his velocity was up across the board, and yet he allowed the hardest contact in 2018. Vargas surrendered an increase in barrels from 5.5% in 2017 to 8.1% in 2018.

The good news is that he stuck out a higher percentage (17.7% to 20.9%) and walked slightly fewer (7.7% to 7.4%). Even his overall hard hit percentage decreased from 32.6% to 28.1% in spite of the increase in barrels.

In order for Vargas to be more successful, he needs to use all of his pitches and use them in a more balanced way. If a pitcher has to guess equally among five pitches, he is less likely to make solid contact when he guesses wrong.

Two more possible reasons for the improvement in 2019 is having Robinson Cano or Jeff McNeil at second base all season instead of Asdrubal Cabrera and Jose Reyes, and Juan Lagares in center field more than in 2018, instead of Austin Jackson, Brandon Nimmo, and Michael Conforto.

Vargas can’t blow anyone away like the rest of the rotation, so he has to rely on his defense a lot more. It doesn’t take much to know he’s the weakest member of the Mets’ rotation.

My proposal to Mickey Callaway

I have an additional suggestion to get the most out of Vargas this upcoming season. Use Corey Oswalt as the designated opener for Vargas. As I said in my report card for starting pitchers,

Notes: Oswalt could become an effective Opener. His best stats are the first time through the order as a starter, with a 2.70 ERA and a .280 OBP. He is not nearly as effective the first time through the order as a reliever for some reason with a .457 OBP in a 6.1 inning sample.

My idea is to keep the other team off balance with the right-handed starter leading into the lefty at whatever point Callaway wants to switch. If Oswalt pitches two innings, Vargas can pitch five innings and the bullpen only has to cover about two innings, depending on game situation.

In addition, there could be times where Oswalt pitches the first four innings and Vargas pitches the next four, with a regular reliever finishing up, saving the stress that Vargas put on the bullpen last year.

Once in a while, Oswalt can even open for Matz, who averaged 5.1 innings per start last season. Let’s see if Callaway has a bit of good Craig Counsell or Kevin Cash in him.

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