You know you’re off to a rough start when you allow 4 ER in 4 IP and your ERA goes down. But that’s what free agent acquisition Jason Vargas is going through right now. He’s made three starts, managed just 12.1 IP and has allowed 19 ER, which works to a 13.86 ERA. He’s allowed nine runs in the first inning, as opposing batters are 11-19 with a HBP against Vargas in the opening frame. Four of those hits are for extra bases, including two homers.
Vargas made the All-Star team last year but then, following a pattern that’s been consistent throughout his career, he performed much worse in the second half of the season. In his final 16 starts of 2017, a span of 78.1 IP, Vargas allowed 19 HR and posted a 6.66 ERA. Adding that to what he’s done so far in 2018, that’s 24 HR in 90.2 IP for a 7.64 ERA.
So, how long do you keep starting a guy who’s been that bad over 19 starts?
Vargas is in a good place in that regard. His contract gives the Mets a reason – not a good reason, mind you – to keep giving him chances. But even beyond that, neither Steven Matz nor Zack Wheeler are inspiring a ton of confidence right now, either. Since they already sent Wheeler to the minors once this year, you’d figure he would be the first of that trio to be shipped out if they decided to shake up the rotation. And they don’t have enough starting pitching depth to make two changes.
Furthermore, Vargas is a pet of new pitching coach Dave Eiland, as the two were together previously in Kansas City. Eiland’s recommendation no doubt carried a lot of weight in the Mets choosing Vargas among the free agent options available this past offseason. If they removed him from the rotation, it would also be an indictment of the new pitching coach. And the new pitching brain trust already has to answer for Matt Harvey and the vast majority of pitchers not being ready to compete in the first inning.
It’s hard to imagine he doesn’t have at least two more starts to turn things around. In the meantime, let’s hope Corey Oswalt pitches well while he rides the New York-Las Vegas shuttle. If they decide Seth Lugo is too valuable in the bullpen to use as a starter, he’s the most likely guy to be used in the rotation if the club makes a change. P.J. Conlon got the spot start recently because Oswalt had just pitched in the minors and wasn’t available when the Mets needed an arm.
DEFENSIVE WHIZ TO GET THE CALL – During last night’s game, it was announced that Luis Guillorme was going to get promoted to provide another infielder while Todd Frazier is on the DL. Guillorme is one of the more interesting prospects in the system. No one doubts the defensive tools but there is a big difference of opinion among fans and analysts as to whether he can hit enough to be a viable MLB starter. Guillorme did well in 2017 offensively, thanks to a .376 OBP. But he has very little power and the fear is that MLB pitchers will be much stingier with free passes to a hitter that doesn’t offer the threat of turning on a strike.
It’s been more of the same this year for Guillorme in Las Vegas, where he has a .300/.394/.433 line. That .828 OPS compares to a team average .772 mark. He’s drawn 14 BB and 9 extra-base hits in 105 PA. It would be great if he could deliver power like that in the majors but we have to remember the hitter-friendly environment of the Pacific Coast League. Either way, it’s not likely to be a long stint in the majors for Guillorme but it will be nice for him to get his MLB debut under his belt.
END OF THE METS ROAD FOR HARVEY – After designating him for assignment, the Mets traded Matt Harvey to the Reds for Devin Mesoraco. It’s a surprisingly good return given the fact that the Mets had to trade him and Harvey’s been, well, awful. It makes you wonder what they might have been able to get for him at the Winter Meetings, if Mickey Callaway and Eiland hadn’t asked Sandy Alderson for a chance to work with Harvey.
Mesoraco was an All-Star in 2014 but has run into injury problems ever since. Last year he posted a .711 OPS in 165 PA and that seems like great production compared to what the Mets have gotten from Jose Lobaton and Tomas Nido. Mesoraco had lost his starting job but should be the Mets’ starter, at least until Kevin Plawecki returns. If he can rediscover his 2014 stroke, when he delivered an .893 OPS, he’ll be the starter for the rest of the year. Meanwhile, it’s hard to think of a worse destination for Harvey. He’s had trouble with the gopher ball and there have been 61 homers hit at the Great American Ball Park, the most in the majors and 10 more than the field in second place. Good luck, Mr. Harvey, you’ll need it.
BIG GAME ADRIAN – With his two-homer game Monday, Adrian Gonzalez raised his OPS 110 points to a .793 mark. He followed up with an 0-3 with a walk day on Tuesday for his current .774 mark. That was the type of production that his supporters felt he was capable of delivering. But he’s had four big days and hasn’t been good for the overwhelming part of his other 23 games.
On Opening Day, he went 2-3 with a double and two walks.
On April 19, he went 2-4 with a homer
On April 29, he went 3-6 with a double and a homer
On May 7, he went 3-4 with two homers.
In his four big games, he’s 10-17 with two doubles, four homers and two walks. In the rest of the season, he’s 11-68 (.162) with one extra-base hit. To be clear, no one is going to look good when you remove their best games from their stats. And you might even argue that packing so much of his value into a few games maximizes his worth to the team. If we had a Magic 8 Ball that could tell us when those games would be, that would be great. But we don’t.
However, we can look at Gonzalez’ WPA to see how valuable packing his production into a handful of games has been. Right now, Gonzalez has a 0.31 WPA, the fourth-best mark on the club. Comparing him to Yoenis Cespedes, the two players have nearly identical wOBA marks with Gonzalez at .327 and Cespedes at .329, shows that Cespedes has been more than twice as good, with a 0.79 WPA. But Cespedes has a significant playing time edge.
If instead we compare Gonzalez to Aaron Hicks, who has 95 PA compared to Gonzalez’ 98 and a .324 wOBA compared to Gonzalez’ .327 – we see Hicks with a 0.14 WPA. Preston Tucker has 86 PA and a .330 wOBA and has delivered a 0.07 WPA. Yan Gomes has 96 PA, a .331 wOBA and a 0.24 WPA.
So, it seems that to this point that packing his value into a handful of games has been a good trade-off for Gonzalez. Will it continue to be one in the future? I don’t pretend to know. Will Gonzalez be able to continue to pack his value into certain games? Can’t predict that one, either. One thing that does seem safe, however, is that Gonzalez will continue to get the lion’s share of starts at first base in the foreseeable future.
REGRETTABLY TRUE FOR HANSEL – Reliever Hansel Robles continues to allow too many gopher balls. He surrendered another one Tuesday night, giving him 5 HR in 10.1 IP this season. But the homer parade started last year for Robles. In his final 37.2 IP, he gave up 9 HR. How a reliever who has allowed 14 HR in his last 48 IP continues to see action in major league games is a head scratcher. Tim Peterson deserves Robles’ spot on the 40-man but the Mets are likely saving it for when Anthony Swarzak returns from the 60-day DL. Assuming that he does – shouldn’t he have been back by now?