His rough season start notwithstanding, the offseason signing of Jason Vargas made a lot of sense. As General Manager Sandy Alderson noted after last season’s ridiculous number of starter injuries, this team needs another Bartolo Colon type. Clearly missing last year was that stabilizing veteran in the middle of the rotation. Someone to reliably eat innings, share wisdom with the young hurlers, and give opposing lineups a different look.
The 80’s Mets had the crafty lefty Bobby Ojeda taking the hill in between the hard throwing young hot shots Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez and Rick Aguilera. Ojeda’s career year in 1986 (18-5, 2.57 ERA) was a huge contributing factor to the team’s 108-win season and World Series win. Gio Gonzalez plays this role effectively for the Washington Nationals, making 30-plus starts in six of his seven seasons with the team. Vargas may not quite be in the same class, but the classic junk baller has had five seasons of 30-plus starts, none with an ERA north of 4.25.
Vargas missed the first month of the season after taking a batted ball off his non pitching hand and perhaps came back a bit too soon. Critics noted that he rejoined the big league club without a true rehab start, instead pitching in front of an L-shaped pitcher’s screen to protect his healing mitt hand. He struggled mightily in his first three starts, but has been quite effective in two of his past three. His three quarter delivery from the left side and mix of off-speed and breaking pitches gives hitters a very different look from the mid 90s heat coming from the other Mets starters. He also brings with him the wisdom of 234 big league starts for five franchises covering both leagues. He has a World Series ring. He’s been in rotations with a who’s who of quality veteran starters, including Al Leiter, Josh Beckett, James Shields, Felix Hernandez, and Johnny Cueto. And he’s worked with pitching coach Dave Eiland before. Vargas knows how bear down, pitch to contact, mix speeds and location, and get through a game when he doesn’t have his best stuff. These are all lessons most of our pitchers still need to learn.
A healthy and effective Vargas is important to this team’s success this season. The other four starters have each now missed a start due to minor injury, but it’s a matter of time before one of them, particularly the fragile Steven Matz or Zack Wheeler, winds up missing extended time forcing Seth Lugo into the rotation and thinning an already taxed bullpen. Having a third reliable arm in the rotation mitigates the need for spot starts from the likes of P.J. Conlon and *gasp* Chris Flexen.