In The Interest Of Fairness
During Jarrod Washburn‘s tenure as a Mariner, we spent a lot of time talking about him. Way too much for my taste, but he was something of a lightning rod, especially last year, as he became the biggest beneficiary of the Mariners decision to build a great defensive team. While people wanted to chalk up his improved ERA to “the Dolphin” or some other magical ability to get people to hit the ball right at his defenders, we staunchly stood our ground and said that he couldn’t possibly sustain his ERA with the way he was pitching. The low strikeout/high flyball combination can look good for a while, when the ball is staying in the park and fielders are running them down in the gaps, but it’s not the recipe for long term sustained high level success.
So, since we wrote that about Washburn, it’s only equitable that we write the same about Jason Vargas. Vargas is far easier to root for than Washburn, considering he doesn’t eat up a huge chunk of our payroll and complain publicly about his catcher, but in reality, they’re basically the exact same pitcher. As David Golebiewski wrote on FanGraphs the other day, it’s eerie how similar Washburn’s 2009 and Vargas’ 2010 seasons are. They are, for all intents and purposes, the same pitcher.
So, yes, Vargas was exceptional last night, and he’s had a fantastic run to start the season. Yes, he’s a perfect fit for the Mariners, given how his skills line-up with Safeco Field and the roster the M’s have put together. And considering that he’s still both young and cheap, the Mariners should pencil him into their rotation for the next several years. But, as we warned with Washburn a year ago, this ERA won’t last. It is built on a foundation of a .259 BABIP and a 4.9% HR/FB rate, both of which are among the lowest in the league and generally have very little predictive ability.
Even factoring in Safeco and the outfield defense, the best we can hope for from Vargas is a 4.00ish ERA going forward. That still makes him an asset, but he hasn’t turned a magical corner and become a front line starter.