Jason Vargas Scouting Report - 7.26.12

Going into July 31, 2011, JasonVar's grass had been mown four consecutive starts.  KO'ed in the 3rd and 4th in two of 'em, blasted for 12 hits in another one, and racked up for 6 runs in the fourth.  He was shorn so the bare dirt and looked like an Eastern Washington putting green.

Not coincidentally, when Zduriencik attempted to pawn him off to neighboring league GM's, they pointed at the other doggies in Z's window.  As SSI constantly reminds, July form weighs heavily.  No, it isn't that baseball people are dumber than you and I are, but they're closer to the situation and it's a nervy game they're playing.  It's got to be tough to lay out the long green on a Ferrari when there's blue smoke billowing from the tailpipe.  What's the worst it could be?  A $3,000 ring job, maybe.  But when you're making a big deal, it's human nature to want the car full of gas and oil.

There's also the fact that, if a good-hit no-pitch contender is going to give you quality for a certified MLB(TM) postseason* starter, they're going to be paying you for 10-12 starts plus playoffs.  Look at it from that angle, and you can see why it matters whether a July pitcher is on a hot roll.  You don't want to spend 1/3, or 1/2, of your investment wondering if or when he's going to start doing a little mowing of his own.

This time around, 2012, Vargas has left the lawn mower in the shed and busted out the wood chipper.  Last 6 starts, he's given up a total of 8 - count them, 8 - earnies and he's got the strikeouts to go along.  A 10-K game vs. a red-hot Oakland, games of 6, 6, 5 ... I forget.


Scout's Clipboard

Did see three or four innings tonight, first time in about oh six Vargas starts I'd watched one of his games.  Wow, Dr. D thought.  He's coming sidearm now, and that fastball is really slicing in on righties.  Is that his cutter he's throwing there, or does he have a power slider now, or what?

Dr. D did a random blood draw as a baseline - here's the May 29 F/X data - and then sampled the July 26 start.  Ya still got it, D!  Sho 'nuff Jason Vargas is dropping down a good 4" and extending out to 1B by another 4".  It could actually be 6" by 6"; check the Release Point pictures yourself.  That is a whale of a difference.  Stand up and try it yourself.

He's also coming around the corner with the foot plant, hiding the ball better than ever.  It's not just arm slot.  He's wheeling around the corner almost in Danny Hultzen style.


In yet another weird development, both Vargas' two-seam fastball and four-seam fastball are cutting in to right hand hitters.  They used to sail 6-8" armside if not actually 10-11" ... but July 26, the vertical break was only 3-5".  That's the equivalent of a cut fastball, and here Vargas is throwing it the hardest of his career, 89.1 MPH.  An 89 MPH semi-cutter is a macho pitch by any standards.  You Go Var-Go.

That 89 looked like 92 out of Vargas' hand and, whoom, here we've got a control artist wielding a nasty little George Sherrill fastball.  It actually did kind of remind me of a poor man's El Sid out there.  Vargas' fastball was miles sharper than the pedestrian setup pitch it has been.


Was surprised also to see that Vargas has all but abandoned his old 85 MPH cutter.  He used to throw Fastball, Change, Cutter in about equal mixes.  July 26 he threw a grand total of 8 cutters.  I'm talking the literal cutter here, the one that used to break gloveside.

Hey, SSI always worried about the limp little 85 "slider" having the effect of speeding up hitters' bats.  Vargas' solution was simple.  I got two good pitches, let's just throw those.


You might ask, then how does he get lefties out?, since you can't throw changeups to lefties.   Vargas does throw changeups to lefties - just never down and in.  He keeps it away - which is tricky since it tails back armside 10-12".  Or he throws it up and in.  ... Vargas also does show the cut fastball to lefties; of 8 cutters he threw July 26, all 8 were to lefties.  Leaving him with a 27 FB - 11 CH - 8 CUT mix.


Trade Value

Vargas did go off for ... er, plod through 5.0 WAR in 2010-11.  Seattle fans -- all of us, beat writers, bloggers, commenters, all of us -- continue to believe that he's virtually worthless.  The fact is that we do this because Vargas doesn't have a baseball face.  It's like when batters used to know that Jamie Moyer's change was coming and they swung out in front anyway.  Just couldn't do anything about it.

Suppose the guy looked facially like Tom Glavine?


Admittedly, Vargas' WAR is down this year, due to a 1.6 gopher rate.  It says here that this gopher rate is bad luck.  The key stat is that Vargas' K rate is above the Shandler Line of 5.6; in fact his K's are right now the highest of his career.

Would GM's realize that?  A given GM might or might not consciously wheel out the Shandler Line.   But he certainly knows the difference between 4.0 and 5.9 strikeouts on a guy like that.  The reality is that Jason Vargas is a rawhide-tough finesse pitcher who has an unusually strong K rate.  He's not a great pitcher but he is meat and potatoes for a serious ballclub with a hole at #4 or #5.

Hey, do you remember the 1995 Seattle Mariners?  A thousand runs, Randy Johnson, and a bunch of guys with 5.50 ERA's after that?  What would they have given for a Mark Beuhrle type, a guy who simply made you beat him?


Vargas has one more year of arb left and then he's a free agent.  As we sit here, Jason Vargas likely has (1) serious trade value and (2) absolutely no role in the Mariners' future.

Logically, Vargas has made his last start for the Mariners.  ... I've seen enough Chiangs and Ruffins.  Let's see a bundle go out and The Best Player In The Deal come back in.

Remember there guyz.  The best player in any deal needs to be coming this way, not going the other way.





Is absolutely agreed. I'm not trading Vargas for the Ichiro Package. I would extend Vargas (4/30?) rather than deal him at the deadline for that package. There's no guarantee Paxton or Walker are rotation members next year either - we still haven't called up Hultzen, who's having some control bobbles and looking more like Paxton than like a control freak. Carraway just hit the DL, Erasmo just got off of it, Noesi's a mess, Beavan needs to chant "throw offspeed stuff" to himself every inning just to remember to do it... Nothing is guaranteed to this rotation, despite all the pieces we've acquired, Mitchell now included.
Be that as it may, we definitely need to figure out our plan with Vargas. His zenith value-wise should be reached now. He has a year and a half of service time left, he's on a roll, and he's one of the better options available.
OTOH, Fister had WAY more cheap time left, was on a similar roll, and netted us a prospect package we gnash our teeth about to this day (even though we got a starting LF and terrific lefty 'penner out of the deal that are helping the big club, along with a couple other minors prospects).
Fister would not get the same package this year with his injury issues, btw. Timing is everything, or at least everything that's not talent evaluation. How Vargas is evaluated will say everything about whether we should trade him. He's performing at his peak right now - how is that peak viewed?
Is he thought of around the league as a Safeco pitcher? His career HR values are a bit high considering his home park has been a pitcher's paradise. He's given up nearly twice as many HRs on the road over his career and his road OPS (.809) is painfully high.
Even this year there's a vast difference. If I were a small-park club there's no way I'd trade more than a bag of balls and maybe a Key Bank Key to the Game for Vargas. But Vargas is a Pitcher - his OPS against with runners on is exactly the same as with no one on. He's terrific when the score is close - definitely a fighter, even with that soft "un-baseball-y" face.
The Dodgers and Orioles are interested in Jason, or so the rumors say. I think he'd be better for the Dodgers, but would either team cough up the best player in a deal for Vargas and whomever we would trade with him? Could you get Manny Machado out of Baltimore for Vargas + Franklin + something? They’ve said they wouldn’t trade Machado or Bundy unless they were getting two clones back, but we have enough ammo to throw some top talent at them in an attempt to get their best talent. The non-SS version of Franklin is duplicated by Seager and Miller and Romero. The SS version of Franklin is just a notch down from Manny’s hoped-for upside all by himself. How we view the pieces we do have will play a big part in any supposed deal.
If we trade Vargas, I hope we get creative and trade Vargas-plus to get that best player. If we don’t trade Vargas, then we’re showing that a Safeco pitcher has value to us and we’d best extend him then, buy out his last year of arb plus a few FA years.
Vargas is a referendum on our rebuild. If we trade him AND some guys then we feel overloaded and are consolidating cheap talent, in theory to throw the $25-30 million we should have available this offseason at a couple of impact somebodies. If we keep him and pay him his 6-8 million a year, then we’re going with either an offseason trade to add missing pieces or we’re gonna spread the wealth around to 2nd and 3rd tier players.
If we trade him solo for a couple of scrubs then we’re tone-deaf, because we already have all the “pretty decent” talent one 40-man can hold. It’s diminishing returns at that point. That’s what I absolutely don’t want to see.


Yeah. This is the issue... Vargas is much more valuable to us than he is to other clubs (or at least that is the perception). He just seems to get no respect. He even looks like Rodney Dangerfield a little.
I agree that we will need a solid back end starter to back up Felix unless all of our prospects go bananas at the same time.


a teaching pitcher. Felix Hernandez can't hand down his pitches because he doesn't have to think much about them, his explanations would probably end at a demonstration of the grip. As someone with massively less talent, Vargas has to consider every part of what he does, and has picked up a lot from other pitchers (specifically Bedard's pause, but I remember something about his time with Cliff Lee and I wonder if the side arming thing isn't coming from watching Perez). As a result, I feel like Vargas has much more ability to teach.

M-Pops's picture

I cosign with all that has been said.
I would expect Z to sieze the opportunity to get value out of the investment he has made in Vargas by either signing him to a Brendan Ryan-type deal or send him with a #5-10 prospect to a contender for an impact starter.
Vargas seems to be undervalued in the same way that Brendan Ryan is. If Z can't get fair deadline value for Vargas I would expect a moderate extension. No such thing as too much pitching.


The Mariners lack starting pitching depth:
My impression of the starting pitching depth chart is as follows:
1. Felix
2. Vargas
3. Millwood
4. Ramirez
5. Iwakuma
6. Beaven
7. Hultzen
8. Walker
9. Maurer
10. Paxton
11. Noesi
Millwood and Iwakuma are both on one year deals, and seem to want the Mariners to be their rebound/career resurrection team. Neither has any ties to Seattle, and nowhere is it written that Millwood and Iwakuma, if they pitch well enough to garner a market, would sign with Seattle rather than somewhere else in 2013.
That leaves three gaping holes in the rotation for next year with a large list of unknowns to fill it.
I've developed a cynical Missourian attitude regarding minor league pitching talent:
Show me!
Pitching seems to rely on two parts, stuff and poise. While both can be scouted, and stuff can be measured to a certainty, poise is a little more ephemeral as a concept and as a science. It is impossible to know how a minor league pitcher will fare when he faces major league adversity.
We've seen some great rookies succumb to the pressure of major league baseball. Noesi being the most recent example.
Yu Darvish, though great, has some sort of mental block when it comes to facing the Mariners.
Even when a rookie is confident and poised, it takes years for him to retool his strategies to something that will work at the major league level. Felix, when he came up, had a tendency to challenge hitters with his fastball, with mediocre results. It took years of tweaking for Felix to become the pitcher he is today: the bendy pitch junkballer who rarely throws anything that is remotely hittable.
Morrow, the scout darling with the fantastic fastball, is just now achieving good results after five years of bad results. What did he do? After leading the league in strikeout percentage and still posting a bad ERA last year, he started throwing with more control this year. His strikeouts have dropped dramatically from 10+ per 9 innings to 7.8 per 9 innings, the lowest of his career. Opponents are achieving dramatically fewer hits with less power against him, and also achieving fewer walks. What did he do differently? He dialed back his fastball for command, rather than just throwing the max effort nuclear heat in the general direction of home plate and living with the results.
Who is to say that Paxton and Walker aren't going to have the same career path? Starring for some other team long after the Mariners gave up on them. We can expect the same growing pains out of our rookies, as even the most polished of them, Ramirez, Beaven, and Hultzen, are going to struggle before they find themselves, and may not be at the top of the world even when they do find themselves.
Which brings us to Jason Vargas:
He. 1. Pitches extremely effectively here; AND
2. Wants to stay here; AND
3. Is a big game pitcher, who rises to the occasion when big games are afoot.
The Mariners should sign him to an extension immediately, pay him what he is worth, and go worry about something else, such as obtaining Justin Upton, and then spending some of that Ichiro/Milton Bradley $30 million.
Another point: Z has brought back so many prospects in mid season trades, that the M's seem to be running out of room for auditions. The M's currently lack:
1. Big bopping first baseman
2. Big Bopping left fielder
3. Shortstop who can hit and field
4. More starting pitchers
Outside of those positions, new prospects would just block the old ones.


Bopping 1B -- Carp his .791 last season -- and his previous 12 months in the minors hit more than 40 HRs. The question with Carp is more - can he get healthy? Since this is his first injury of note, I'm thinking the club simply rushed him back too soon, making a bad situation worse. Let's see if he shakes off the rust and belts a few in the next two months before concluding the club doesn't have a bopping 1B.
The OF of Saunders, Guti, Wells is actually not bad. Saunders "might" just turn into a 30 HR guy, (and he's pretty much already shown his new swing makes him a 20-HR guy). The questions about Guti are larger, of course ... but we're still talking small sample sizes for the kids.
Franklin is supposed to be the SS of the future - and Ryan is the place holder. Will Franklin be ready by 2013?
You do a great job of noting that it often takes YEARS for pitchers to learn the ropes and gel into successful players. The same thing is true with hitters. The Ms youth movement is effectively 12 months old at this point. Many of the kids are just now reaching 500+ MLB PAs. Some will implode like Smoak. Others will probably succeed. The problem is, nobody knows which are which until after the fact.
Was there anyone on the planet who said prior to 2012 that the top 4 hitters for the Ms this season would be:
The "stars" have failed and the "scrubs" have succeeded. It won't always be quite so chaotic, but any import at this point is either blocking a prospect or will be within 9 months.

OBF's picture

Unless someone blows our socks off, sign Jason Vargas to an extension Camp!
At the begining of the year we thought:
Noesi would be a rotation staple (complete toast, at least for now)
Beaven would be a competent #4 (He may still be, but still requires lots of growth)
3 of the 5 or 6 super stud pitcher prospects (Walker, Hultzen, Paxton, Erasmo, Carraway or Wilhelmson [I still hold secret hope that he will return to the rotation some day]) would be pounding on the MLB door by the end of May!  Turns out the only one who is close is Erasmo and he is just coming off the DL
Millwood would picth well and be traded at the deadline (may still happen, although now we kind of NEED him just to finish out the year)
Finally Iwakuma was our backup to the backup to the backup plan that was a dice roll chance of getting a #3 out of mid air.  He may still work out but we still don't know, and again he is no longer a backup plan we are now relying on him.
With all of that all Jason has done this year is remind us that he is a very solid #2 - #3 pitcher.  And that we get extra value out of him because of SafeCo.  16th in the AL in ERA, so why do we do him the diservice of calling him a #4???  Yeah yeah yeah, he doesn't rank as high in FIP or xFip, but here in the real world you still get paid for your actual results.  Not the theoretical, turns out Vargas actually picthers half his games in SafeCo, and he actually has fantastic poise (call him the anti-Noesi ;) )
Anyway, like I said unless some one comes calling with one of their top prospects lets extend Varags for the under paid contract he is bound to end up with from someone and reap the benefits of a home grown player who actually BENEFITS from our home park ;)


Remember some scout saying that when we got Chris Bosio...

But Vargas is a Pitcher - his OPS against with runners on is exactly the same as with no one on. He's terrific when the score is close - definitely a fighter, even with that soft "un-baseball-y" face.

Bilbo from Bag End?  The hobbitses look like easy pickings until you threaten their Shire...
If the Mariners gave Vargas 4/$30M some people would throw a conniption, but they'd be just as liable to be running away from the comments a year or two on.


But in this case, I'd almost feel like being a little bit daring.  
If you did miss out on the 'hometown discount' for Vargas at $7-8M per, what's the delta on what you're really losing?
Supposing you could have had him for $8M and he turned out to be worth $11M per?  It's not that much of a deterrent to me.
Call me crazy:  I'd just as soon have Iwakuma at 3/$15M, if you want insurance, but am not sure if he'd sign that.


You saw that Mal when Capt. Insano asked to learn Felix' change?
Your post reminds me of the Cubbies asking Moyer whether he wanted to BE a coach rather than a pitcher :- ) ...
Maybe we need Geoff Baker for this one.  Not sure to what extent Erasmo Ramirez listens to a Jason Vargas - even though Vargas is a vet, he's still a smoke-and-mirrors type.  I remember a story where Phil Bradley and Harold Baines were watching Pete Rose and Baines scoffed, "what you watching him for?  All he gets is chip shots."
Guess here is that the only two guys that Vargas would stop and talk with, would be Luetge and Hultzen.  


That I agree we don't want to see more Trayvon Robinson-style Physically Talented Spaghetti against the wall.  One more Vargas-for-Chiang deal and we're scuttling the blog, as it were.
In general, I agree with all you guys that top-10 Baseball America prospects are easy to talk about, but that Jason Vargas is money on the barrelhead.  As a general rule that one is golden.  Fans put 3x the weight they should on prospects.
In THIS SPECIFIC CASE I'm clearing the decks for my young pitchers.  The "Break In Case Of Emergency" delta between Vargas, and Beavan-Noesi-Iwakuma-Millwood2013 isn't that big a deal in my view.
Next spring, I want Erasmo, Paxton, and Hultzen in there.  You are not talking about ordinary prospects here.  The M's have top, top class AAA pitchers ready to go.  If they walk a few guys in 2013, shrug.  So does Hector Noesi.


Good catch OBF.
It's not the last word, but it's worth noting that other teams have scored fewer actual runs during his games than they have during the games of --- > Yu Darvish, Matt Moore, James Shields, and Josh Beckett.
We know, Egbert, we know.  But it's also worth asking, "How much did they score."
We're talking about 600 innings now the last three years.  In each of those innings, something really bad could have happened, if a 1995 Mariner starter had been on the mound.  :- )
Darvish strikes out 10 and walks 5; Moore strikes out 8 and walks 4; Vargas strikes out 6 and walks 2.  It looks funky but he chews up innings.


"Prospects" as in the fishin' for gold, here's this #15-in-the-system toolsy AA guy. No. We got plenty of those, thank you very much, and if our current crop of superprospects--literally, a superprospect at every spot on the infield--works out, we're in contention already. The best player in the deal, that's the way to go. The thing is, the Mariners just aren't that far from contention. They aren't in Astros "get-warm-bodies" mode.
Since Jason Vargas isn't going to bring back the best player in the deal all by himself, we're talking a package deal. And while I'm hesitant to dump one of our only reliable-ish starting pitchers, a homegrown innings eater... man, that Cardinals farm system sure does look tempting...
Think of Jason Vargas, perhaps, as an upgrade-your-prospects card. Got a Brad Miller? Just add Vargas... boom, now Miller is Kolten Wong.
But if you're dealing Vargas just for the sake of dealing Vargas, then what are you doing? That's what you do with Millwood, with League--with Ichiro, sadly. Vargas might be had for 3/25. I'd pay that.


Collecting a lot of baseball rats here, guys that love the game, guys that want to learn, I hope at least all the lefties listen if Vargas says standing 6 inches closer to third base will help you handle right handed batters easier but give a little something back to the same handed guys. I notice that there aren't a lot of Cy Young winning pitching coaches; Carl Willis started 2 games his whole ML Career, and was never a big strike out guy. I'm just saying, you learn from the guy who had to learn it himself.

JD_EM11's picture

As stated above by Gordon we have a 40-man full of guys *who can contribute* to a team in the bigs. We are not in the same position as last year. IF we are trading Vargas he will not net us a 25-man guy that we may not already have in the org. IF we are trading Vargas we need to trade him for something we don't have on the 25-man. Which means we need to package him. We are past trading for prospects, we have enough decisions on the ones we currently have. While I am all for putting the young guns behing Felix next season it wouldn't hurt to have another experienced arm in there. Vargas would be very sutiable in that role. The only way we go wrong here is trading Vargas for another Trayvon, or -insert name here- guy who won't be impacting our 25 man roster right now. It's not a bad position to be in. Keep the guy extend him and he'll continue contribute to our team, or package him to get someone who makes our big league team better now. Not easy to mess this one up IMO


and it maaakes me woooooonderrrrrr .... 
Yes there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run... there's still time to change the arm slot you're on.
Kolten Wong, eh, Thirteen.  Hey, maybe you can hold down the #75-100 BBA territory that's been light since Justynius left.
Churchill says that a prospect, and a player off our 25-man, could get Brandon Belt.  You have any interest in something like Vargas and Miller and ? for Belt?
 .... minor site note:  BABIP on four-letter words has to be .000 here.  :- )


Who's Vargas gonna replace, Tim Lincecum? They're not giving up on Tim. Barry Zito? They owe him too much money, and it's not that much of an upgrade. Naah, that rotation's pretty set.
I think I know what Churchill's getting at, though: the Giants want an RH RP, and rumor has it they're taking a long, hard look at League. If League is the 25-man guy going then I'm all over that deal, and I can maybe see it happening (the Giants FO ain't all that bright, relative to ours, and they've long denied Belt his chances).
As for the player evaluation: I know basically nothing about traditional scouting, good swing mechanics, etc. except what I read here of course. I'm a SABR guy with a head for numbers, not a video-analysis whiz: I grabbed Kolten because dem's some shiny numbers at the same position as Miller on a team that was rumored to like Vargas, and hey, Sickels loves him too.
As for the sailor's tongue, I'll try to keep it down. A oceanic family, plus extended time on LL, have given me some (shall we say) habits.


League and Paxton for Belt or something like that.
... have done a fair bit of sailing myself amigo, both literally and metaphorically there :- )
Yeh, lay that saber shtick on us, babe.  We've all been known to dabble.

Add comment

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd><p><br>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.


  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.