Is Jason Vargas For Real?

Never thought I’d ask that question. Though most of us to have adapted to the cold-blooded and calculated lineup engineering championed by our computer overlords, sometimes I feel quaint pangs of 20th-century “emotion” when making decisions on my players. In this particular case, that meant blackballing Jason Vargas from ever appearing on my teams for no apparent reason. Sometimes he’d pitch a good game, but hey, replicants have gotten pretty advanced since Rutger Hauer — I’ve got multiple blade runners out making sure Vargas, Scott Feldman and Mitch Talbot never throw a pitch for me.

But then the existential question emerges: What if we’re ALL replicants?

Vargas was a top-10 prospect for the Fish in 2005, managing a 4.03 ERA and 59/31 K/BB in 71.2 rookie innings. He mixed in a nice changeup, but he’s never lived up to the “gas” part of his name. His fastball averaged out at 89, and in recent years — he lost all of 2008 due to a bone spur in his elbow and a torn labrum in his hip — his velocity has dipped even further. Despite the lack of oomph, his repertoire helped him average 8.0 K/9 throughout his minor league career. He’s never whiffed as many major leaguers as he had at this year’s clip, 7.67 K/9.

I have to admit: I’m developing a strange fascination for his ch-ch-changes.

In ’05, when he was last effective, that changeup was a killer out pitch. FanGraphs valued it at a robust 3.2, declaring all his other pitches average. His change hasn’t come anywhere near that value — until this year. FanGraphs estimates it to be 2.6 this season, good for 20th in all of baseball, for what that’s worth. He’s sporting a decent xFIP of 4.17, and his groundball percentage is 40.7%, the highest of his career (though not stellar).

So Vargas seems to have turned a corner of some kind, but can he keep up this pace (3.69 ERA, 1.04 WHIP) all season long? His BABIP is .252 and his HR/FB rate is a low 7.0, so he’s had a little luck so far, but nothing extremely out of the ordinary. I’d say AL-Only leaguers have to take a chance on him at this point. Streamers desperate for a hero — just for one day — may want to give him a shot against the Angels tomorrow. That glimpse will be the true test for us curious mixed-leaguers to see if he’s the faker. My guess? His ceiling looks to me like a fringe no. 5 starter in 12-team mixed leagues capable of posting a respectable Kevin Correia-type season from last year.

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