He's no Dan Haren, heck he may not even by Ervin Santana (although that might be a good thing) but he is the first of three new starters in the Angels rotation. He even has extensive experience in the AL West as a bonus! Let's take a look at Jason Vargas has in store for us in his first and possibly last season in Anaheim.
2012 Stats: 217.1 IP, 15-11, 3.85 ERA. 4.69 FIP, 201 H, 55 BB, 35 HR, 141 SO, 0.99 GB/FB, 0.8 fWAR
2013 ZiPS Projections: 186.0 IP, 4.35 ERA. 4.43 FIP, 189 H, 48 BB, 26 HR, 118 SO, 1.5 fWAR
2013 Bill James Projections: 205.0 IP, 10-13, 3.82 ERA. 4.29 FIP, 206 H, 55 BB, 27 HR, 135 SO
2013 CAIRO Projections: 200.1 IP, 10-12, 4.25 ERA. 4.39 FIP, 208 H, 51 BB, 28 HR, 125 SO
2013 MWAH Projections*: 210.0 IP, 14-11, 4.07 ERA. 4.38 FIP, 207 H, 49 BB, 29 HR, 138 SO
*The MWAH projections are simply my best guess based off my own personal opinion and research (my wOBA and FIP calculations are approximate)
2012 in Objective Review:
By most appearances, Jason Vargas is coming off a career season. He threw the most innings of his career, posted the lowest walk rate of his career, registered the highest strikeout percentage of his career and his second-best ERA as well. However, the valuation models greatly disagree as to whether or not his season really was the best. According to fWAR, 2012 was easily the worst of his three full season in the majors at 0.8 fWAR. However, rWAR says it was easily his best at 2.8. To settle the bet WARP actually has Vargas checking in at an abysmal -0.3. So I guess what you take away from Jason's season depends on which valuation model you prefer.
Part of the big discrepancy between the models is Vargas' peripherals. His FIP was nearly a full run higher at 4.69 and his home runs allowed were through the roof with 35 allowed on the year. There is also the small matter of his home park being the cavernous Safeco Field which naturally serves to make his home numbers look much better than they should be. That is perfectly exemplified by his 2.74 ERA at home and 4.78 ERA away from the vast expanse of Safeco's outfield.
2012 in Revisionist History:
Combing through the splits and game logs, it becomes apparent that something went sideways in a big way in June for Vargas. Jason had two months in which he posted an ERA over 3.51. August at 5.21 was one of those, the other was June where he got tagged for an astronomical 7.34 ERA and ELEVEN, let me say that again, ELEVEN homers allowed in just five starts. Amazingly, five of those dingers came in one very unfortunate outing in Arizona. What that suggests is that his homer binge might've been something of a blip. He's always going to be homer-prone, but maybe not 1.45 HR/9 kind of homer-prone.
Other than the whole longball thing, the indicators seem to be going in the right direction for Vargas. His walks are down, his velocity was up a tick (considering he seldom ever cracks 90 MPH on the gun, that is defintely something), and he must also have gotten a larger horseshoe implanted up his butt because his BABIP and strand rate were career bests. Now that lower BABIP and strand rate might not be repeatable, it is possible he could keep them lower than he normally would.
Vargas was actually something of a new version of himself last season. Actually, the change started in 2011 when he traded in his slider for a cutter. He fell in love with the cutter a bit too much in 2011, but he dropped his usage of the pitch in about half in 2012 and the results speak for themselves.
Three Lingering Questions for 2013:
1) So how much should we worry about him leaving Safeco Field?
Not a a huge amount but probably not an insignificant amount either. Safeco is obviously a pitcher's haven, but Angel Stadium is no bandbox itself. Seattle was the most pitcher friendly stadium according to park effect, but the Big A placed as the fourth most pitcher friendly and Vargas should also have the benefit of one of the most talented defensive outfields of all time playing behind him this season.
2) How does Vargas have so much success despite being such a soft tosser?
For those unfamiliar with Vargas, that is a fair question. You see, it turns out that it doesn't matter how hard you throw when you have one of the best change-ups in baseball. That's why him gaining a half mile per hour on his "heater" is kind of a big deal because his change-up stayed at the exact same average velocity. And it is this change-up of his that allows him to be so effective against righties, so effective that he is arguably better against them than lefties, which is weird.
3) Could the Vargas trade blow up in the Angels' face?
In a swap of spare part players who are both one year away from free agency, nobody should get burned too bad, but there is a chance. Vargas is what he is. He has no unrealized upside. This is as good as he is going to get. Kendrys Morales, however, could be something more. We saw his upside back in 2009, but then he snapped his ankle
Three Irrelevant Questions for 2013:
1) Is it bad that I am anticipating his first bad start so that I can call him "Circus" Vargas?
Yes, yes, it probably is. I really need to find other things to amuse myself with besides contrived nicknames.
2) Should we care that he's a local boy?
If that floats your boat, why not? It probably doesn't mean much of anything on the field and there is only a slight chance that it will mean anything on the financial ledger since Vargas isn't exactly the sort of pitcher that can afford to be granting hometown discounts on a long-term contract, although stranger things have happened.
3) Why the hell did he pick 60 as his number?
This is bothering the hell out of me. It is such a weird number and he picked it deliberately. He didn't even wear it in the past either. Does this mean he is a quirky guy? I guess that makes sense because he is a southpaw and southpaws are notoriously quirky, but I haven't heard any stories suggesting as such. Of course, I haven't ever paid much attention to Vargas, so those stories may have flown under my radar. Or does this mean that he just doesn't give a crap about his number? That in itself is kind of weird too because most baseball players care at least little bit about their number and wouldn't want to wear a number that is typically handed to the 29-year old journeyman minor leaguer who got a token invite to spring training camp. I demand one of you investigate this. It bothers the hell out of me, but not enough for me to actually do work and stuff.
2013 in Subjective Projection:
One of the oft-mentioned reasons to be bullish on Vargas is that in seven career starts in Anaheim, he's registered a 2.27 ERA and 1.099 WHIP. That's a small sample size to be sure, especially since he has had a similar mastery against the Halos in Seattle, but it is a solid indicator that the Big A will maximize Vargas' strengths in the same way that Safeco did.
Even with that on his side, it is still hard to believe that a guy who throws 88 MPH and has only been using that fastball more and more si going to continue to defy his peripherals in the same way he did last season. That strand rate seems particularly due for regression as it was the tenth-best amongst qualified starters in all of baseball last season. So, yeah, he's going to be a bit worse, but hopefully not that much worse.
Of course, his performance almost isn't that big of a concern for the Angels. The reason the Angels brought in Vargas was to stabilize the rotation after a year of seeing it racked by injuries and inconsistency. Vargas doesn't do much well, but he does eat innings, throwing 192 or more three seasons running with an ERA that has fluctuated between 3.78 and 4.25. He is what he is a league average, maybe a touch below, starter. You get what you pay for folks and I suspect the Angels could well pay Vargas some more beyond this season if he does what they expect him to.