Should Mets pick Seth Lugo or Jason Vargas as fifth starter?

It’s Game Seven of the World Series, the ultimate must-win game. You’re the manager and you need to decide if you should start Seth Lugo or Jason Vargas. In the most important game of the year, who do you pick? Now, is there anything that factors into your decision in this one-game scenario that would be different if you were making the choice for the Opening Day rotation? Maybe there is, maybe there isn’t. My sincere hope is that in the one-game scenario, how much you’re paying Vargas doesn’t come into the equation.

We want things to be merit-based. In an ideal world, who gets to be the Mets’ fifth starter is based solely on who the better pitcher is, not who has the biggest contract or who has the cozy relationship with the pitching coach or who made more starts last year. It should also not be based on a self-fulfilling prophecy on who’s “too valuable” to move from the pen. Why should Lugo’s ability to go multiple innings in the pen – sometimes because Vargas was too inept to get past the third inning – prevent him from being a starter?

Lugo was significantly better last year when used out of the bullpen. That’s not very surprising. It’s hard to imagine that most pitchers wouldn’t be better if they were used for shorter bursts. Randy Johnson could have been the best LOOGY in history. That’s not a legitimate reason to use him in a sub-optimal role. The question isn’t if Lugo is better as a reliever or a starter. The question is if Lugo is a better starter than Vargas.

That question isn’t as clear cut as you might think.

Vargas was beset by injuries last season and seemingly took forever to get untracked. For about two-thirds of the year, he pitched like someone who should have been released. But then in his final eight starts of the season, he limited batters to a .606 OPS and posted a 2.62 ERA with a 0.963 WHIP. You can be the biggest Vargas critic in the world yet you can’t dismiss the work he did in that closing stretch. Included in that span was six shutout innings against the Nationals and seven frames without a run against the Braves.

It’s difficult to say bump Vargas because he’s old and decrepit when he did his best pitching at the end of the year. It wasn’t like he came to a new league and ended up tricking guys who never saw him before but then once word got out about him he turned into a pumpkin. Instead, it seems like once he was finally healthy and finally comfortable in his new surroundings that he pitched like what the Mets hoped he would when they gave him the multi-year deal.

Obviously it’s a small sample. And on top of that, the estimators paint a different picture, as Vargas had a 3.88 FIP and a 3.72 xFIP in this span. Those numbers are still significantly better than what he had done previously in 2018. But they’re not the dominating numbers that his actual ERA and WHIP were. There was definitely some good fortune wrapped up in those last eight starts, specifically a .229 BABIP.

Meanwhile, Lugo was allowed to make just five starts in 2018. In those games, he posted a 3.91 ERA, a 3.86 FIP and a 3.25 xFIP. But that was an even smaller sample than Vargas’ closing kick, as Lugo notched just 23 IP as a starter last year.

Lugo has been in the majors three years and has made a total of 31 starts, right about a full season’s worth. As a starter in the majors, he has 168.1 IP, a 4.06 ERA, a 4.16 FIP and a 4.26 xFIP. Compare that to Vargas’ All-Star season in 2017, when he notched 179.2 IP, a 4.16 ERA, a 4.67 FIP and a 4.94 xFIP. Now, Vargas was pitching in the AL with the DH that season. But his full year numbers last year did not show a ton of improvement, if any.

My opinion is that Vargas is better than his 5.77 ERA in 2018 would indicate. My expectation is that his 2019 ERA will be much closer to his 4.42 xFIP of a season ago. But is that better than what Lugo would do over 25+ starts? It’s like asking which is better – pocket 7s or A-K in Texas Hold’em.

Now, gun to my head, my choice would be Lugo because all things being equal, my choice would be to wager on the guy in his age 29 season rather than the one in his age 36 season. But prior to Spring Training, it’s probably not enough to get worked up about when you hear that Mickey Callaway prefers to keep Lugo in the bullpen.

Still, it’s hard not to notice that the Astros, in need of starting pitching due to the loss of both Lance McCullers Jr. and Charlie Morton, are engaging the Mets in trade talks for Lugo. Houston, often trotted out as a team that others should emulate, sees Lugo as a starter.

And how a team enters the season doesn’t mean that’s how it will end the year. It’s very possible that Lugo begins the year in the pen and finishes the year in the rotation. And if that’s the case, perhaps he can be the answer for who starts that pivotal Game Seven.

16 comments for “Should Mets pick Seth Lugo or Jason Vargas as fifth starter?

  1. Eraff
    December 30, 2018 at 6:35 am

    7th game is all hands on deck, so I want To Preserve as many possible pitching weapons and moves as I can

    I start The righty, keeping Vargas available for a clutch spot versus a Lefty.

    This also depends on the rest of the staff composition and whether anyone is unavailable

  2. Metsense
    December 30, 2018 at 7:51 am

    If the Mets want to win the Division then they should start Lugo right from the start of the season. Contending teams need players who are consistent and Vargas has not been consistent for the past two years. He began the first half of 2017 with a 2.62 ERA but in the second half he posted a 6.38 ERA. His 2018 first half ERA was 8.60 and his second half was 3.81. Lugo’s ERA splits for 2017 were 4.59 and 4.76, and for 2018 were 2.61 and 2.78. It is obvious that Lugo is the more consistent of the two pitchers.
    The Astros need starting pitching because they lost the 35 yoa Charlie Morton and his 2018 $7M salary to free agency. Why don’t the Mets trade the 36 yoa Vargas with his $8M salary and option year to the Astros to replace Morton’s spot and doing it as a salary dump.The Mets could then put the saved money toward signing Robertson for the bullpen.

  3. December 30, 2018 at 8:05 am

    Career vs. LHB

    Lugo — .230/.300/.373
    Vargas – .261/.316/.401

    2018 vs LHB

    Lugo — .180/.259/.293 in 197 PA
    Vargas – .250/.344/.381 in 96 PA

  4. December 30, 2018 at 8:38 am

    I knew my “Loogy” move would awaken Brian.

    I’ll assume that the Mets arrived at Game 7 and that they have a choice of 2 pitchers who’ve had outstanding years–Lugo and Vargas.

    Brian’smatchup stats do not apply to the specific LH Bat that’s coming off the Bench or in the Lineup, necessarily. In fact, It’s Justin Bour who’s hitting…and He has outrageous Career L/R Splits…and his recent season is even Worse!— a 570 OPS versus LH versus. My pitching move may be more Hitter specific than Pitcher specific.

    So..I’m combining the Statistical Analysis with My feeling that Bour’s results add weight to Vargas’s general Stats…. I’m looking for a Matchup against an Overweighted Lefty–Not Every Lefty…and I know I’m gonna see that Bench Bat or Lineup Bat somewhere in the 6th inning or later.

    In fact, this is not a choice made about a specific Pitcher for any LH Batter—this is a choice made for Any LH Pitcher against a sepcific LH batter–Bour

  5. Mike Walczak
    December 30, 2018 at 8:46 am

    Who has the better mental makeup for a game seven?

    I may pull a Tampa Bay. Start Vargas and let him pitch one inning and then bring Lugo in out of the pen.

    Or, you could flip a coin.

    All that being said, my emotions rule. And because I have a strong dislike for Vargas, I would pick Lugo.

    Here is an interesting idea. I think it would be fun to have a “Who is your most disliked Mets player of all time?”

  6. Chris F
    December 30, 2018 at 10:50 am

    Maybe Im missing something. Its game 7. Given the way 7 game series’ function, starter for game 1 gets game 4, and game 2 starter gets game 5, game 3 gets game 6, and then you need a 4th starter, or it goes back to game 1 starter on short rest.

    deGrom
    Syndergaard
    Wheeler
    Matz

    For game 7, Ill take 3 from deGrom, 1 from Syndergaard, 2 from Lugo, 1-2 from Familia, and 1-2 from Diaz.

  7. TJ
    December 30, 2018 at 11:08 am

    As it stands right now, I am ok with the Mets defining Lugo as a bullpen piece with Matz as #4 and Vargas as #5. That said, Lugo is #6 and the guys ahead of him need to be on an extremely short leash. Vargas is tough to measure as he is a “feel” guy who had been wildly inconsistent. Hopefully he has a regular spring with no anomalies/excuses so he can be quickly assessed in April. But, I agree that the Mets need to act like every game matters, no long auditions. It is good that the Astros are interested in Lugo but he is extremely important to the Mets not only in 2019 but beyond as he is a controllable and likely quality rotation piece. I’d need an awful lot from the Astros to part with a guy like that. Go sign a couple more quality pen guys and let Lugo force someone out of the rotation. That’s what the big boys do.

  8. TexasGusCC
    December 30, 2018 at 12:09 pm

    I read this on another website, but I liked it. The thought was to use Oswalt to open since he is better when used just for three or four innings. Go to Vargas for another four, while the righty lineup of lefty hitters is in there. Teams won’t take any lefties out because the Mets bullpen is dominated by righties. So in essence, Vargas will have an advantage for his four innings.
    ———————————————————-

    I’ve always liked Lugo, but if you take out Vargas you can’t go back to him later. You might as well start him and see what he can offer, but keep a short leash of starts. I’d leave it alone for now. Although I understand Brian’s meaning about not taking games for granted, you can’t manage 162 Game 7’s.

    The guy that intrigues me is Flexen losing 30 pounds. He has decent stuff, and a good aggressive approach. He may also be a good depth piece. Overall, who has more arms than the Mets? They have plenty of starters, but they need the relievers to develop and they need another bat for the lineup.

  9. December 30, 2018 at 12:14 pm

    Lugo should be a starter, imo. Mets should sign Kelley and Parker and use Vargas as a mop up man he’s a sunk cost. I believe Lugo with his great curveball and very good fastball has more upside than Vargas and Matz

  10. Eraff
    December 30, 2018 at 12:22 pm

    As a General question, I’m not at all impressed by Vargas… and I’m way up on Lugo as a multi use guy forward

    Flexed was especially impressive— he took the ball and pitched, even with a low level of minor league prep. Unfortunately, he showed almost zero Stuff

    Oswalt was similarly Willing—- he also demonstrated a lack of Stuff. His 88-91 Velocity was shocking, given the reports of low mid 90’s, touching 95-96—-/ it makes me wonder if there is any legitimate reporting on non tier one guys. I’ve been reading reports on oswalt for 2-3 years, and He then appeared with a very different, unimpressive offering

  11. MattyMets
    December 30, 2018 at 1:05 pm

    Big Unit LOOGY is a funny thought.

    I love Lugo and hope he doesn’t get traded. He has not been lights out as a starter. Versatility is his value. That said, projecting opening day lineups and rotations is a fruitless exercise as it presupposes an empty disabled list, something I’ve never seen in my 40 years of rooting for this team. I actually hope the Mets add another reliable bullpen arm primarily because I fully anticipate Lugo and maybe also Gsellman in the rotation at some point. If there is one sure thing with this team it is that we will not be getting 162 starts out of our projected starting five.

  12. jennifer c
    December 30, 2018 at 4:08 pm

    Lugo along with the brilliant deGrom were the most consistent pitchers last year from April through September. That’s how I judge it. I cannot buy into 2nd half goodness from any player on a losing ballclub during their garbage time, especially when you have a Lugo. It’s straight up foolish. The best SP starts. It’s not rocket science. But, for the Mets, this might as well be an Einstein equation. You’re “win now”? The April games count. Vargas out there is just, great, can’t wait.

  13. jennifer c
    December 30, 2018 at 4:15 pm

    Another issue with Lugo: he’s down lower now on the BP depth chart after Diaz and Familia. So, what high leverage situation on the reg is being used that would be more important than him being the 5th starter on a SP strength team? Jake is going to go 7 on the reg, are they going to us Lugo in the 8th if they’re ahead? Not likely. This isn’t a BP strength team like the Yankees. The Mets should make their starting rotation as strong as possible, not have a red flag weak link like Vargas. I see Lugo in the BP mostly cleaning up messes for the Matz/mostly Vargas in the 6th and 7th innings just so he can get some work in to keep him fresh. Once in a while, he’ll get a high leverage moment, but will it be for deGrom/Thor starts? Don’t see it.

    • TJ
      December 30, 2018 at 9:27 pm

      Jennifer,
      Good points but one addition – the Mets should not only make their rotation as strong as possible, they should make their bullpen as strong as possible. They can have a strong five in the rotation and have a Yankee-like BP. It is almost a certainty that they won’t have a prolific offense, but the can still have prolific pitching, and if married to a average/adequate offense that can create a strong contender for the division. They need two to three more quality arms to get there.

    • MattyMets
      December 31, 2018 at 4:09 pm

      Jennifer C –
      First, are you my cousin Jen from LI??
      Second, you lead me to an interesting strategy. The order of the rotation should be set so that the least likely pitchers to go deep are separated. So rather than JDG-Thor-Wheels-Matz-Vargas perhaps it should be JDG-Matt-Thor-Vargas-Wheels. That way we break up the 8-inning and 5-inning starters as well as the lefties. Having Vargas or Lugo pitch the day after Matz is gonna tax the hell out of the pen. Those three rarely go more than six where as the others are more likely to go deep in the game.

      BVW talked about eliminating “ifs.” A great way to do that is with rotation insurance. As a team that already has six starters, we’re not an attractive destination for a veteran starter. But with swing men like Lugo and Gsellman, it makes sense to beef up the pen so it doesn’t thin out when those two inevitably get pushed to the rotation.

  14. steevy
    December 30, 2018 at 9:52 pm

    Imagine Randy Johnson as a typical 1 inning or less closer….

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