Mets manager Mickey Callaway said earlier this week that he intends for Jason Vargas to be in the team's rotation next season, despite his poor results so far in 2018.
Vargas, who signed a two-year, $16 million deal this past winter, is 2-8 with a whopping 8.75 ERA and 1.83 WHIP, which is more than double his career average. He has yet to pitch beyond the fifth inning in any game this season.
Nevertheless, Callaway said he still views the left-handed Vargas as the ideal fifth starter next season behind Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler.
"I think we're the best team we can possibly be with Vargas being the guy he was last year in our rotation," Callaway said. "I think we all feel confident that Jason, when he gets going and gets on a good schedule, he's going to be competitive. That's one of the reasons we signed him."
In Tuesday's loss to the Reds, Vargas tossed 14 pitches and let up three runs before getting one out, after which the game was delayed due to rain. He did not return to pitch when the game resumed roughly 90 minutes later.
According to Callaway, while the team has discussed whether to move Vargas to the bullpen, he would prefer to see him continue being a starting pitcher because that will be his job next season.
"We would like for him to have some success at the end of the season so he can go out next year and haul a bunch of innings for us," Callaway explained. "You can't ever predict how guys are going to come into next year based on what they did at the end of the year before."
You can say that again, Mickey.
Vargas was 18-11 with a 4.67 ERA and 1.33 WHIP for the Royals last season, during which he made the American League All-Star Team. Clearly, one season has nothing to do with the other...
By the way, it's going to be difficult for Vargas to amass innings when he's consistently letting up run after run before his team ever gets an at-bat. It's also going to be difficult if he's having his starts skipped.
According to MLB.com, in an effort to keep their Cy Young candidate on schedule, the Mets will start Jacob deGrom in place of Vargas next Monday when the Mets face the Yankees.
"Things definitely haven't gone my way this season," Vargas admitted after Tuesday's loss.
To be fair, it has hardly been a fluid season for him. Baseball players in general, but especially starting pitchers, thrive when following a consistent routine. It's August and he has yet to make three consecutive starts in the rotation due to a pre-season surgery, another injury, off days, poor performance, and skipped starts.
"He can't get into a routine. We haven't been able to get him out there every five days. We think we're about to, and then this happens," Callaway said, referring to Tuesday's rain.
The concern I have with Vargas is that he's an average pitcher with average "stuff." However, even with his average "stuff," he somehow had a terrific end to his 2016 and an unbelievable April last season. Since then, though, looking more or less like the same pitcher he's always been, he hasn't been very good. He wasn't very good for the Royals during most of 2017, and he's been more or less terrible for the Mets when he's been able to take the mound.
Also, for all of the talk from Sandy Alderson and Callaway about Vargas being an "innings eater," and a "reliable starting pitcher," he has thrown 180 innings in a season just once since 2013.
So, what does this mean for him the remainder of this season and next year? I have no idea. He's been all over the place the last two seasons and has all kinds of random results in each situation he's been in. He's a total mystery.
The best I can tell is that for him to be successful, he has to throw inside to right-handed batters and keep them off-balance by mixing up his fastball and change up. If he can do this, he gets swings and misses -- no matter where he puts the ball -- and often induces weak contact from the hitter. If he's missing inside or lacking command of either pitch, let alone his curve ball, hold on to your hat because it's going to be a long night...
The point is, much like Callaway said, what we're seeing from Vargas this season is no indication of what we'll see from him next season; just as what the Royals saw from him during April 2017 was no indication of what he did for them the balance of that season.
In the end, I say give him a few more starts in 2018, get to September and hope he did enough to hit 2019 with good vibes. If that can't happen, either because he hurts himself again or can never get out of the first few innings of game, either shut him down or put him in the bullpen. Because, sadly, I have a feeling we may see up and down again from him next season, at which point it would be nice to know what he's capable of when pitching in relief.
For what it's worth, I repeatedly argued in favor of Alderson passing on Vargas and, instead, signing Alex Cobb or Lance Lynn. However, Cobb is currently 3-14 with a 5.55 ERA and Lynn, who was recently traded to the Yankees (who intended to use him in the bullpen), is 8-8 with a 4.58 ERA. So, it's not like these alternate choices are pitching significantly better than Vargas. And, in the case of Cobb, he still has another three years left on the contract he inked this past winter with the Orioles.
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is lead writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003. He also hosts the MetsBlog Podcast, which you can subscribe to here. His new book, The New York Mets Fans' Bucket List, details 44 things every Mets fan should experience during their lifetime. To check it out, click here!