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Jason Vargas still needs to be in Royals playoff rotation

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The Royals really don't have another good option, so Vargas needs to pitch in the playoffs...

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

I try to keep my thumb on the pulse of "Royals Twitter." No, not literally THE Royals Twitter, but more so the community of Royals fans that are collectively on Twitter and as such have been deemed "Royals Twitter" by the internet Gods above. And last night, boy, were they not happy.

Now I can't say it's not for no good reason they were unhappy. Jason Vargas had a very un-Jason Vargas start. That is, in relation to the rest of this season. Vargas was tagged for four earned runs on four hits in four innings pitched with three walks to one strikeout. Three of those hits weren't too bad.

Vargas wobbled with command for most the night.

Varg_medium

Generally, you don't want your strikezone plot to look like that. That is unless you want to throw mainly balls, then that's exactly what you want your strikezone plot to look like.

So back to the hits he allowed, here's the at bat against Michael Brantley

Brantly_medium

Got a borderline pitch for strike one, then fell behind 2-1 on a not even close third pitch, then Brantley laced a pitch on the corner for a single.

Next up would be Carlos Santana.

Santa_medium

An extremely generous first pitch strike, but that wouldn't last and Vargas would walk Santana on more not even close pitches.

Up came Yan Gomes with two on and delivered the blow of the inning.

Gomes_medium

And there you go... Gomes hits a pitch outside the zone and it went boom, in turn driving in three early runs.

After that Vargas would yield a double to Mike Aviles two batters later but get out of the inning unscathed further. In the fourth he would give up a single to Rafael Perez on a ball basically down the middle, but all in all, four hits in four innings doesn't seem so bad overall.

Now I'm not saying Vargas was the victim of sequencing only, but the game looks much different if instead of single, walk, home run it went home run, single, walk.

The question that bounced around Royal Twitter last night was if Vargas should even be allowed to pitch in the playoffs if the Royals needed to use four pitchers in a series. I think that's a poor question on several matters.

First, who else is there? Seriously... who else is there? Do you really want to start Jeremy Guthrie and his 4+ ERA, FIP, and xFIP? This would be a worse choice over Vargas.

Second, Vargas has had a poor string of starts on the surface, but there's other factors when you look just slightly deeper.

Over his last six starts, excluding last night, Vargas has a 5.51 ERA. If earned runs are your thing then by all means he's been poor. Hitters have strung hits off him and much like last night, it seems like he was victim of some sequencing a bit.

Looking further than just the earned runs, Vargas has been almost the same Vargas that we've slowly grown to love all year.

Last six starts:

IP H HR BB SO K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% GB% HR/FB ERA FIP xFIP
32.2 46 3 8 28 7.71 2.2 0.83 0.377 66.30% 30.40% 7.10% 5.51 3.34 3.74

You can see the more hits than innings pitched and opponents batting average on balls in play and wonder if he's just getting BABIP'd to death over that span. He's done well in both the strikeout and walk department have helped his FIP, and even with the slight bump up in his home run rate to get him to league average the xFIP looks fine.

Now let's compare his last six games, his 2014 stats, and his 2014 stats without his past six starts included:

IP H HR BB SO K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% GB% HR/FB ERA FIP xFIP
Last 6 32.2 46 3 8 28 7.71 2.2 0.83 0.377 66.30% 30.40% 7.10% 5.51 3.34 3.74
2014 183 193 18 38 127 6.25 1.87 0.89 0.300 75.00% 38.40% 7.90% 3.59 3.72 3.98
Not last 6 150.1 147 15 30 99 5.93 1.8 0.9 0.281 77.60% 40.30% 8.10% 3.17 3.8 4.03

The strikeouts have been up more than a full K over his last six starts, but he's also seen about a half more walk per nine. The homerun per nine is near equal, but there's a pretty nice variation in BABIP in those three figures. There's some regression built into his last six starts, but it was at a near 100 point jump. The BABIP jump has led to a decrease in runners stranded as well. Another aspect of the BABIP jump can be seen at the large decrease in groundball rates as those are turning into fewer high percentage out chances (ala line drives, flyballs, home runs). Another look on that shows a decrease in HR/FB% as well which without looking at the answer, could mean: decrease in GB% + decrease in HR/FB% = increase in LD% which could be sparking his BABIP.

Survey says:

LD%
Last 6 32.10%
2014 22.90%
Not last 6 20.70%

Ding ding ding! I promise I didn't look this up beforehand. Vargas's career LD%: 19.8%.

The biggest jump there has been the aforementioned ERA as it's moved up two runs higher than his 2014 season to date. The increase in strikeout rate and decrease in home run rates has led to a better FIP and xFIP even when adjusted.

Let's see if we can find any differences in his plate discipline figures too that could further explain things. Again we'll look at last six, 2014, and this year without his last six.

O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% Zone% F-Strike% SwStr%
Last 6 35.10% 59.70% 45.00% 61.90% 87.50% 75.60% 40.40% 68.00% 10.80%
2014 33.80% 62.20% 45.30% 70.80% 86.60% 79.60% 40.40% 63.60% 9.10%
Not last 6 33.50% 62.80% 45.30% 73.10% 86.40% 80.50% 40.40% 62.50% 8.70%

I promise I didn't change the Zone% myself. It's literally been the same on all three inputs. More of basically the same Vargas. Hitters are still swinging at nearly the same amount of outside pitches, but in the past six they are making far less contact... which is a good thing. He's getting more first pitch strikes, allowing less contact overall, and getting more swinging strikes as noticed in the increase K/9.

Let's look at just a little more data, but give Vargas some park and league adjustments.

ERA- FIP-
Last 6 -143 -87
2014 -93 -97
Not last 6 -82 -99

So we see a drastic shift in both those figures recently.

Maybe Vargas has been mixing his pitches differently recently:

FA% FT% KC% CH%
Last 6 45.00% 10.30% 10.60% 33.20%
2014 43.30% 13.40% 12.00% 30.70%
Not last 6 42.80% 14.20% 12.30% 30.10%

He's cut down on his two-seam fastball and curve usage and leaned more towards fastball and change.

A thing to note here, Pitch F/X has all the sudden stopped labeling Vargas as throwing a knuckle curve and a regular curve. I combined the two for the two bottom figures. Let's look quickly at the v-movement of those pitches:

V-Movement CU KC
Last 6 -3.9
2014 -4.6 -4.9
Not last 6 -4.6 -5.7

Now, I can't tell you how much or little a six game sample means in reality and generally six games is enough data to point out a bonafide change in a player, but I do think that Vargas has run into some bad luck recently whether it be sequencing, BABIP, both, or some sort of anti-Royals magic.

This is the first time this year that Vargas has allowed 4+ runs in 4 consecutive games and only the second time since July 14-31 back in 2011.

Vargas is the Royals third or fourth best option in the rotation behind Shields, Ventura, and Duffy. Maybe that's debatable, and maybe you think Guthrie deserves the nod over Vargas (did you not read everything above!?!?), but this is most likely just a bad string for Vargas rather than the regression train running into him at the speed of the Large Hadron Collider (Large Hadron is way too close to another set of words).