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Mets Cy Young of Spring Jason Vargas: Why the numbers matter

WEST PALM BEACH, FL - MARCH 11: Jason Vargas #44 of the New York Mets delivers a pitch against the Houston Astros during the third inning of a spring training baseball game at Fitteam Ballpark of the Palm Beaches on March 11, 2019 in West Palm Beach, Florida. The Astros defeated the Mets 6-3. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
WEST PALM BEACH, FL - MARCH 11: Jason Vargas #44 of the New York Mets delivers a pitch against the Houston Astros during the third inning of a spring training baseball game at Fitteam Ballpark of the Palm Beaches on March 11, 2019 in West Palm Beach, Florida. The Astros defeated the Mets 6-3. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) /
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New York Mets lefty Jason Vargas has been one of the best pitchers in baseball this spring. The games may not count, but the performance does.

Don’t look now; the best pitcher for the New York Mets this spring has been Jason Vargas. The fifth starter many of us would have preferred to see designated for assignment, traded for cash, or shoved into the bullpen in favor of just about anyone else has been terrific all exhibition season-long. The games don’t count yet. In less than two weeks, they will.

In his start on Saturday against the Miami Marlins, Vargas lowered his ERA to microscope levels below the 1.00-mark (at least briefly). Though he’s facing rusty big league batters and men headed to Double-A in two weeks, there’s something valuable in this performance. He did give up a few runs in the fifth inning of the start in what turned out to be a day where the Marlins put up some big offensive numbers against New York pitching.

After a horrendous 2018, Vargas will look to rebound in 2019 with even average totals. His ERA was among the worst of starters last year. The early performances were especially bad. After five starts, he had an ERA over 10.00.

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Vargas did settle down in the second half with a solid string of starts late in the year. He eventually did get his ERA down to 5.77 for the year, which is still well above an acceptable level. Even as a fifth starter, he was nothing better than average.

One reason cited for Vargas’ struggles last year was the fact that he missed a large portion of Spring Training. He only managed to pitch 8.2 innings over 3 appearances, landing on the sidelines until April 28th when he finally made his season debut. Mets fans were treated to watching Vargas get pummeled in San Diego at hands of a Padres’ lineup without much star power.

Spring Training statistics are as close to irrelevant as you can find. Strat-O-Matic numbers have almost as much importance. For a veteran like Vargas, whose job is not in jeopardy just yet, it wouldn’t matter if he had an ERA below 1.00 or in the 5.00s. He’s going to start the season in the rotation regardless.

Where these numbers matter most is inside Vargas’ head. He lost confidence last year. He didn’t get unlucky on the mound. He stunk. I’m sure he’d say the same thing, too.

A stronger finish, a better beginning, and the ability to carry them both into the 2019 regular season may mold a more confidence veteran lefty at the back of this rotation. You need a little swagger to succeed on the mound in MLB these days. It’s a reason why I think Steven Matz has his monthly-blow-ups and a guy like Noah Syndergaard rarely gets beaten too badly.

Next. Mets fans want Alonso and Smith on Opening Day roster

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Vargas is a long way from gaining back respect from Mets fans. Seeing him thrive in Spring Training action is nice. Until he’s able to do it in the 162 games that we’ll remember, he’s just the Cy Young of Spring.

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