Closing the book on Vargas, Mets

June 26, 2019 12:03 AM

Jason Vargas of the Mets is scheduled to take the mound Wednesday for his first start since last weekend’s media melee. 

Much of the fallout has focused on whether or not the team will rally from its short-term feud with the press, or suffer more distractions amid what’s been a season-long disappointment. VSiN would prefer bettors to think about these  analytics angles involving the Mets and Vargas.

First, it’s reasonable to ask why a baseball manager in 2019 doesn’t use his best reliever when a game is most likely to be decided. You can tell which teams are innovating in their attempts to win championships…and which are sticking to outdated old-school strategies that have already been exposed, simply by how they handle this challenge. 

If a team is trying to protect a late lead in the eighth inning against the heart of the order of a rallying opponent, why would you cross your fingers and hope for the best with somebody besides your best relief arm? You’re saving your ace for the bottom of the order in the ninth? 

The so-called “closer” doesn’t have to pitch the eighth and the ninth in that scenario. Use him to shut down the opponent’s most dangerous bats. If he tires after three outs, use the next guy down on the totem pole to close out the bottom of the order in the ninth. Which do you think decreases disaster potential the most? 

If somebody says to you, “they’re called closers for a reason,” please point out that a franchise’s job is to win games and win championships, not assign inflexible job titles. Do what gets the job done.

Bettors would be well-served generally fading managers who haven’t realized how “playing the percentages” has evolved. 

Vargas is an interesting case study for handicappers this season. His WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) is 1.33, virtually identical to his mediocre career mark of 1.32. His ERA is a surprisingly good 3.75, a half run below his career mark of 4.25. 

Sharps like to use a stat called xFIP. That stands for “expected fielding independent pitching.” It’s an evaluation that focuses specifically on what the pitcher has the most control over. Pro bettors believe this stat does a great job of capturing a pitcher’s skill sets in a number…a number that has much better predictive value moving forward than ERA. 

According to respected baseball stat site fangraphs.com, Vargas has an awful xFIP this season of 5.29. This strongly suggests he’s been pitching in good luck, and his ERA is going to be rising in short order. 

Even bettors not into analytics should realize that a hurler lasting 5.1 innings or less in nine of his 12 starts…while allowing a WHIP of 1.33...is very likely to get lit up in future outings. 

Time will tell if the Mets can return to relevance this season. Be sure you’re properly playing the percentage game so you can Bet Smart.

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