Jason Vargas has been stellar so far this year for the Kansas City Royals. Much more than many expected. He was projected to be a solid pitcher who ate innings and hopefully end the season with a record over .500 and an ERA under 4.50. But so far, he has pitched like an ace.
When dissecting Vargas’ starts, you can see that much of his success is coming from two factors: the amount of fly ball outs he is recording and the amount of called strikes that are going in his favor.
In his first game, on April 2nd vs the Detroit Tigers, Vargas recorded 69 strikes (which include balls put into play), 21 were from looking vs 15 from swinging. He recorded 6 ground balls vs 13 fly balls. On April 7th against the Tampa Bay Rays, he recorded 21 strikes looking vs only 5 strikes swinging. He recorded 12 ground balls vs 15 fly balls. On April 13th against the Minnesota Twins, he recorded 27 strikes looking vs only 8 strikes swinging. And 9 groundballs vs 10 fly balls. And on April 18th against the Twins again, he recorded 23 strikes looking vs 9 strikes swinging and 7 ground balls vs 15 fly balls.
What’s more interesting, is the elevation he is getting off the hitters bats are almost always going into the outfield (hence why they are recorded as fly balls). In 4 games, he has only recorded 4 pop ups so far this year (ones that stay in the infield). Yet with all of these fly balls, he has only allowed 3 homeruns so far.
To just pick a random start (his first start), you will see he is having his success from location. His average velocity on April 2nd versus the Tigers was only 88.1 with a max of 89.7. With his fastball, he recorded 30 strikes but only 2 swings and misses (most of his whiffs came on his changeup).
But as you can see, location was everything that day.
The amount of low strikes is impressive. To left-handed hitters, he was hitting low and away. And when he misses, he almost always misses low.
Before this year, Vargas had a career 0.85 GB/FB ratio. Some of the hopes when he was signed to his contract was that being a pitch-to-contact and fly ball pitcher, he would succeed in a pitcher friendly ballpark like Kauffman. That all seems to be a case as to why he has pitched so well this year. When you combine that with a fine and speedy defensive outfield the Royals have (last year they all combined for a defensive runs saved of 59), you have another notch in the favor of Vargas future.
There was some concerns about the length of Vargas’ contract when he was signed (4 years). And what seemed like a lengthy contract has so far started out quite well. Vargas may not be the perfect pitcher for every team, but so far, he has proved himself to be the perfect pitcher for the Royals.