Jason Vargas (ESPN: 15 percent owned; Yahoo!: 16 percent owned)
Despite a number of high profile injuries to pitchers on both sides of the city, there is some good pitching going on in Los Angeles and the surrounding environs. However, unlike Clayton Kersahw and Hyun-jin Ryu, Jason Vargas is actually available in most leagues.
Veras opened the season well against the Rangers, then was absolutely shelled by the A’s and the Twins in back-to-back starts that pushed his ERA up to nearly 7.00 and his WHIP above 2.30. Since then, Vargas has had three consecutive quality starts, having pitched at least seven innings each time, culminating in his complete game shutout of the Orioles on May 3.
The unfortunate thing about Vargas, like many other command specialists, is that his value is tied so closely to the Angels ability to turn balls in play into outs. His seven-strikeout performance against the Mariners appears to be something of an aberration, as he has yet to strike out more than four hitters in any other appearance. That said, if he stays that low all year, it would be the lowest strikeout rate of his career, so there is probably some growth on the horizon.
Fundamentally, nothing about Vargas has changed from last year except that he’s dealing with a better outfield defense and a slightly less pitcher-friendly ballpark. Interestingly, Vargas has been getting more groundballs over this season and last than he did earlier in his career, and while that’s never going to be a bad thing, he’s probably in the most fly ball indulgent environment he’ll ever have just in time to post a career low flyball rate.
Expecting Vargas to be substantially better than league average may be a bridge too far, but his upcoming starts are against the Astros and then the Royals in Anaheim. He’s a strong injury replacement option for someone like Josh Johnson or perhaps a spot warmer for Matt Garza or another pitcher slated to come off the disabled list in a few weeks. There are sexier options out there, but Vargas is set up for a good run of games, and is unlikely to absolutely fall apart if he doesn’t have his best stuff.
Mitch Moreland (ESPN: 7 percent owned; Yahoo!: 5 percent owned)
Much has been made of James Loney and his return to something resembling notability, but as Mike Petriello covered earlier this week, Loney’s doing most of his damage in one category and as essentially one half of a platoon. Just a hair below Loney’s production in average or OBP is Mitch Moreland, who adds some decent power to the profile.
Interestingly, Moreland is hitting fewer line drives this year compared to last, and while that’s not typically a good thing, he has turned them into flyballs, which may help him add a few home runs. Hitting lower in the Rangers order should give him plenty of RBI chances and increase the likelihood that the home runs he hits aren’t just solo shots. Even if he reverts back to hitting more line drives, Moreland provides adequate value in the power categories in addition to a solid average, which is why I prefer him to someone like Loney at first base.
The caveat with Moreland is his home/road splits, which are drastic to say the least. So far this season, he is hitting .362/.434/.638 with all four of his home runs in Arlington compared to a rather dire .200/.234/.300 on the road. He’s worth starting at home almost irrespective of opposing pitcher, but that road line is hard to stomach. The Rangers are presently in the midst of a nine-game sojourn, and while that seems like a good cue to wait on Moreland, three of those games are against the Astros, whose pitchers are struggling mightily right now.
If bench space isn’t an issue and first base or a utility slot is a need, Moreland could be a strong option for a waiver claim right now. If bench space is tight, the Rangers come home for a seven-game homestand on May 16. Picking him up ahead of that run of games could be a way to maximize his output if he can’t get his road woes sorted out between now and then.
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