The Orioles and Jason Vargas

The still-surprising Baltimore Orioles are rumored to be “poking around” on Seattle Mariners pitcher Jason Vargas. I am not sure how that sort of physical contact is permissible (nailed it!), but it makes some sense for the Orioles to try and improve their team. Is Vargas the right pitcher to aim for, though, even if they can’t get player like Matt Garza?

Vargas (29) floundered around for a few years on the Marlins, Mets, and his initial work in Seattle. His main problem was the long ball. While Vargas mostly displayed good control, he did not strike out enough hitters to make up for his gopher-itis. Seattle’s massive park was a good fit. In 2010, he did quite well, with both his ERA and FIP being under four. He was not quite as good in 2011, but still managed around 200 innings of roughly league-average pitching. This year has been better according to FIP, worse according to ERA (they are virtually identical for his career: 4.45 ERA and 4.48 FIP). His strikeouts and walks are better, but more balls are leaving the park on him.

Would he make sense as a low-end trade option for Baltimore? Starting with the Orioles’ overall situation: low-end trade options do seem to make sense for them. While they are seven games behind the Yankees, they do have a shot at one of the two American League wild-card spots. Even if one thinks (just to put some hypothetical examples out there) that the Tigers, Rays, or Red Sox have more talent than the Orioles over the rest of the season, things are tight enough that if the Orioles can make small improvements to their team without trading away much of consequence for the future (as they did with the Jim Thome trade), it would make sense. A couple of months ago, it was understandable if people were skeptical, but at this point in the season, they have a real shot.

The Orioles could use another starter. Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen have both been very good, but with Jake Arrieta and Brian Matusz struggling and demoted (although Arrieta may have been suffering through some “bad luck” with runners on base) and Chris Tillman not exactly a sure thing after one good start, there is a great deal up in the air for the Orioles’ rotation at the moment. Given that the playoffs are far from a sure thing for them, giving up good young, cost-controlled talent for the likes of Matt Garza would be a really bad idea at this stage in the rebuilding process that should still be going on in the background.

Vargas would not cost that much, probably. His salary this year is just under $5 million, and next year would probably be around $7 or $8 million, assuming he is offered aribtration (it would be his last season of team control). That’s not a bad price for a pitcher of Vargas’ quality, but it is not dirt cheap, either. Assuming no money changes hands, the Orioles would not (or should not) have to give up much of consequence for him. It would probably take a a non-elite minor-leaguer or two, or something along those lines.

But is Vargas a good fit? Some people will point to his big home-away splits. However, by itelf that is not really sufficient analysis for any player. Almost all players perform better at home. Yes, Safeco is is pitcher’s park, but we would expect pretty much any pitcher to have better numbers there. Moreover, home-road splits vary widely year-to-year for most players; they are not great predictors on an individual level. Taking a different sort of case, remember how Matt Latos’ good numbers away from Petco where supposed to show that the park was not helping him, and that he would be just as good elsewhere? Uh, yeah…

SafeCo has helped Vargas, but just noting that does not really get us that far. After all, moving from a pitchers park to a hitter’s park does hurt a pitcher’s un-adjusted numbers, but runs are also individually less valuable relative to a win in a hitter’s park. This does not mean we should ignore the park, but we should look more closely.

And, yes, there is an issue. Look at the home run factors for Safeco and Camden Yards. Safeco’s home run factor is 96, while Camden Yards’ is 109 (these numbers are already adjusted to account for playing half of the teams’ games away). While I do not think Vargas is a 14.6 percent home run per fly ball pitcher (his 2012 rate so far) in terms of his “true talent,” he is a fly ball pitcher. His low home run rates in 2010 and 2011 were likely to regress, and were likely quite park-influenced. Put him in Camden, and things could get pretty ugly.

The Orioles have surprised just about everyone this year and are in a nice position for a shot at the playoffs. It makes sense for them to “poke around” while looking for low-cost improvements. However, given his pitching style and the Orioles’ home park, it does not seem like Jason Vargas would be the best choice for the Orioles, unless their goal is simply to improve on Tommy Hunter.

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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.

30 Responses to “The Orioles and Jason Vargas”

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  1. Mike says:

    Why would the Mariners give Vargas for nothing? A guy that gives you decent outings over 200 innings every year is a little too valuable to a rebuilding team than giving him away for nothing.

    This sounds like a great deal for the Orioles. I’m just not sure it makes any sense for the Mariners.

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  2. Choo says:

    When you take Kendrys Morales and the Arizona Diamondbacks out of the equation, Jason Vargas is practically a Cy Young candidate. The Orioles would be CRAZY not to make this deal. I would even advise them to sweeten the pot just a bit before they lose Vargas to a contender.

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  3. Snowblind says:

    Give us Adam Jones back!

    But seriously, the M’s could use some higher quality infield depth. Smoak is busting out, there isn’t enough catching depth (until Zunino arrives) to move Montero to 1b, Carp is getting older and coming off an injury, and Liddi / Catricala aren’t too inspiring.

    If the O’s have a minor-league bat that might be a diamond in the rough, that might help make a Vargas deal work. Another catcher or utility man to back up Ackley and eventually Franklin couldn’t hurt either.

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    • randhyllcho says:

      Have you ever researched anything? Ever? More catching depth? John Jaso! Liddi/Catricala aren’t inspiring? They need playing time. Instead of wasted roster spots on Kawasaki, smoak and olivo. And how about Kyle Seager? P.S. the rest of the baseball world realizes how awfull Franklin Gutierrez is, when will all of Seattle get the fact he isn’t Griffey? Losing Vargas would be a minor setback, however until the two million prospects we have in our system debut. Hultzen? Paxton?

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  4. duworkson says:

    Vargas would be a quality number three starter in the Orioles rotation IMO. The guy doesn’t get enough credit as pitcher because of the lack of run support in Seattle.

    Every game every inning is a presuure cooker for Vargas. As a manger I want that type of player in my ball-club.

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  5. Quong says:

    “It would probably take a a non-elite minor-leaguer or two…”

    Uhh, not even close. It would take more than that for his performance and especially once the bidding warms up.

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    • peter pinklage says:

      the going rate for a guy with a 4.86 fip (124 fip-) this year with a 17%k rate is what exactly? a top 15 prospect?

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      • Quong says:

        Very few FOs use FIP and think more emotionally about the fan base demands, etc.

        In a word, duh.

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      • Tom says:

        Well he does pitch in a tough home park for lefty pitchers.

        His road FIP is a mere 5+ over his career.

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      • David says:

        Quong: This is Jack Z we’re talking about though, probably one of the GMs that uses advanced statistics the most. I also don’t get the feeling that Vargas is *that* much of a fan favorite that it’d significantly affect trade negotiations (unlike Felix, Ichiro, etc.).

        As for the flyball issue – Jeremy Guthrie always outperformed his FIP in Baltimore and he’s just as much of a flyball pitcher (had 1 or 2 horrible HR-prone seasons as well). Vargas is basically a left-handed version of him (their xFIP and individual peripherals, except for Guthrie this season, are very similar), and I trust DD when it comes to making deals.

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  6. joser says:

    A flyball pitcher who already sports a HR/FB problem despite calling Safeco home is not exactly a good fit for the Orioles. Meanwhile, he won’t come quite as cheap as you suggest. He’s not going to get the return Fister got, but the M’s are going to ask for something. (Personally I like Hoes or Mummey or Schoop, just for their names). I wonder though if the Orioles would actually be more interested in Millwood, while calling the Astros about Wandy Rodriguez.

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    • chuckb says:

      It’s a one year HR/FB problem. His career rate is lower than league average. It seems likely that this year’s rate is a result of some bad luck. That said, he is a fb pitcher and probably wouldn’t fare as well in Baltimore as he does in Seattle.

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  7. Marc says:

    Vargie has given up 17 HRs in 69 innings away from Safeco (that’s about 50 over a full season).

    LOL, have fun pitching in Camden Yards, Yankee Stadium, Fenway, and the Rogers Centre!

    Would be a hilarious acquisition by the O’s.

    Vargie is by no means a bad pitcher but he is a horrible fit for the O’s hitters’ park and the rest of the hitters parks in the AL East.

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    • jirish says:

      Send him West-to the NL West. Try to avoid using him in Arizona and Colorado. Otherwise, he’s good to go.

      He would probably make Oriole fans cry (not happy tears!) with the number of home runs he’d allow in their park.

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  8. Jeff says:

    His xFIP is the best of his career at 4.30. The longballs have been ridiculous and he is partly to blame, but I don’t see the Mariners giving him away for nothing, considering they are a team with young talent looking to make big strides next year and hopefully have a season that is somewhat interesting, or at least not depressing.

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  9. Eric says:

    What is SafeCo? Is that a safe company? Don’t know what that has to do with Baseball or Safeco Field.

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  10. ASURay says:

    Mariners fans will overvalue Vargas, everyone else will probably undervalue him a bit. With quite a bit of money coming off of the books next year and Hultzen/Paxton potentially being ready for rotation spots, I’m guessing Jack Z feels that he can at least be competitive next year. If so, Vargas would be a reasonably inexpensive 3/4 starter to have around, particularly in Safeco, so he’s not going to dump him for a nobody prospect, as mentioned above. The Mariners would, at the least, need someone that projects to be a MLB contributor with a reasonable degree of certainty. Xavier Avery would be a good fit, IMO. He’s MLB-ready and fills a need for Seattle. I’m sure Baltimore would rather keep him, but you have to give up assets to acquire assets.

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  11. mat says:

    A couple of mid level prospect for Vargas- Matt must be from Baltimore. This year he has gone 6+ inn 16 times. 3 runs or less- 12 times. With avg. run support, he would be 10-5. Last year same thing, should of had 5-6 more wins IF he had just avg. run support. Take out the 10 runs vs AZ and era is under 4. Vargas is a grinder on the mound. I agree with the FB weakness he has and is best suited for safeco field, not camden yards. I wouldn’t trade him especially for another OF(Avery), like Sea needs more OF?

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    • ASURay says:

      How many OFs does Seattle have? Quite a few. How many MLB-quality OFs does Seattle have? One, maybe. Saunders looks like a good LF/RF option, Guti is good defensively and has shown offensive flashes, when he’s been healthy. Ichiro is almost 40 and is in the last year of his contract. If both Ackley and Franklin work out, Ackely could play LF. That’s about it. Seattle has no mid-to-decent OF prospects above A ball that I can think of.

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  12. mat says:

    Wells, saunders, gutti, ichiro. Carp is getting his head straight in AAA. Move Ackley to OF? And who is new 2b? What SEA needs is some, just some , offensive production at SS and 1B. For awhile their line up #7,8,9 hitters were under .200. The M’s have lost 12 games when they score 2 runs or less- thats 2 freeking runs or less. They need offense were they are not getting it-even just some .250-260 hitters. Heck, I’d trade figgins for mark reynolds and let him man 1B. I know, i know he his hit or miss, but smoak is in a funk and not cutting it. Now if the O’s want Millwood for some AAAA hitter that SEA could use-every could benifit. People got to stop the give me your good player for our nobdy, has been, or a sack of crappy players. By the way-ichiro is 38 (and playing as if 40-no argument on that)and saunders is a center fielder. Wells rates best as a RF-good arm and has been hitting well at home. Unlike everyone else. Dont care how much stud pitchers they have in minors, cant keep trading their good major ones away.

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    • ASURay says:

      I’m not a big proponent of the “move Ackley to the OF” movement. Per my earlier comment, the only way it would work would be if Franklin was tearing it up and it was determined that he could no longer cut it at SS (he is currently spending most of his time at 2B in AAA). Ichiro might (probably?) not be around after this year, Wells is more of a 4th OF, and Guti has serious durability concerns. Saunders is a 0 to -5 CF, but a plus to plus-plus LF. He’s probably better off in the corner long term unless the Mariners can’t find a better option. The aforementioned Avery has the speed to play center, though his arm is less-than-optimal judging from the scouting reports I’ve read. If Avery were currently a Mariner, he’d be no worse than the second best OF in the upper portion of the organization in terms of both current and future talent, IMO.

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  13. maqman says:

    Trader Jack knows Vargas’ value better than any other GM and he ain’t giving him up for a whole lot of not much.

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  14. chief00 says:

    As a Jays fan, with RH hitters Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, I can honestly say that I’d love to see Vargas pitching for BAL. Or BOS. Or NYY. Or TBR.

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    • David says:

      Funny, because the Blue Jays are actually the 2nd worst team in the AL East against left-handed pitching (only the Rays have a lower OPS). Also, 2 out of the 3 AL West teams that face Vargas on a regular basis are better against LHP than the Blue Jays.

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      • Jake says:

        Bautista has three solid years of crushing left handers and Encarnacion, in the midst of a possible career emergence, is destroying lefties this year.
        Also RANKING a team’s OPS against the other teams in their division does not tell you anything, unless both teams are forced to start pitchers who throw the ball with the same hand when they play each other, which is not how baseball works.
        The Jays have a .748 OPS against left handers, BAL .749, BOS .783, NYY .799
        That one-thousandth of a point between TOR and BAL is the difference between them being third instead of fourth. Again though, reaching this fictional podium does not mean anything.
        Anytime you have a team split OPS around .750 or higher, I think you are doing alright. Which, impressively, is what four teams are doing in the AL east.
        Stats please, not arbitrary rankings.

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  15. Jake says:

    Safeco suppresses power for right handed hitters much more than it does for lefties. You really can’t have a better possible situation for a left handed, fly-ball pitcher than to play half their games in Safeco. He also gets a lot of help in Oakland against right handed hitters, as well as a neutral factor at Angel Stadium.
    Vargas will be worth more to Seattle than he is for any other team, so unless a team drastically overpays for Vargas, Seattle can’t win this trade. The Mariners should keep him and be happy in a couple years when he gets to be the 5th guy in the rotation and eat up innings while Felix/Walker/Hultzen/Paxton anchor the staff.

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  16. mat says:

    Lets be realistic, only 1 or 2 of the 5 young studs pitchers will establish themselves as a good+ MLB pitcher. Paxton not one of them , in my opinion. Do you think Felix is going to want to be the lone sure thing in the rotation for the next 2+ years, while they figure WHO is going to make it? Absolutely not, they will need a vargas type pitcher to shoulder the load and help lead the rotation. That is another thing that makes vargas valuable to the team/rotation. You have to look at his starts and performances, reminds me of Orel hershiser-grinder and a gamer. Check his starts after the 10 runs he gave up to AZ.

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