Mets starting pitcher Jason Vargas is back to doing what he does best on the mound. And, because of it, while keeping the Mets afloat in the standings, he's also establishing trade value.
During last night's game, the Yankees managed to score three runs on seven hits against him during his six innings on the mound. The results helped even his record at 3-3 through 11 appearances, during which his 3.68 ERA ranks behind only Jacob deGrom among the team's starting pitchers.
"This is who we signed. This is who we wanted," Mets manager Mickey Callaway said after the game. "He's doing now (what he did in) the second half last year."
Vargas struggled through much of 2018, due in large part to injuries and, according to him and Callaway, getting inconsistent work prior to the middle of August.
However, once he began pitching every five or six days, he went 6-1 with a 2.56 ERA, giving hope to himself, the Mets, and some fans that he could continue his success into 2019.
So far, this is exactly what he's done, as his 2.20 ERA since April 19 is fourth best among NL pitchers that have thrown at least 40 innings.
In fact, when combining his last seven starts in 2018 and 11 appearances (10 starts) this season, he's 9-4 with 3.22 ERA and 80 strike outs in 89 innings.
The above stats make it hard to believe most fans and talking heads spent the past offseason debating whether he should be cut from the roster, or moved to the bullpen.
"This is who he is. This is who he's been. This is who we signed," Callaway concluded Tuesday.
To better understand what is giving Vargas success of late, I talked with multiple friends in baseball -- two executives in player development and one scout -- all of whom agreed that he's basically doing again what has always done when pitching well.
In early 2017, when he had a similar string of success, Vargas set up hitters by throwing in and off the plate, but he also went front to back because of how well he mixed up his fastball and changeup, while occasionally slipping in a curveball to keep hitters guessing and off balance. The results, then, tended to be either a strikeout, base hit, or ground ball.
He's doing the same this season.
"He's best when precise and, so far, that's what he's doing, just like the end of last season," a scout said. However, he cautioned, "I just hope it continues because when he loses his arm slot and struggles with his location and variance in speed, he can't even buy an out."
With this in mind, it's not surprising he has me thinking a lot about Jamie Moyer, Tom Glavine, and even Pedro Martinez when with the Mets later in his career. They might want to consider a comeback given how today's hitters have left themselves vulnerable to the touch-and-feel pitcher.
"Look at the top performers in the NL so far this season, what do they all have in common," a former Mets hitting coach now with another team told me. "They all survive with an average fastball less than 95 mph and they have breaking pitches in the 80s."
The above coach's contention, which is similar to what I had written a few weeks ago and is being bandied about all across baseball, is that as hitters adjusted their swings and approach at the plate the past few years -- to be able to better handle upper-90s fastballs -- they also left holes that can be exploited by pitchers like Vargas, Marcus Stroman, Trevor Bauer and Mike Minor.
"I think batters are used to these high-velocity guys," former Yankees manager Joe Girardi told WFAN's Mike Francesa in early May. "They see it in the minor leagues, they see it at the start of the game, they see it from the bullpens, and I think it's not that big of a deal anymore."
It's because of the above that -- get this -- Vargas is emerging as a possible target for contending teams needing pitching at the trade deadline - assuming the Mets look to sell, not buy, during July.
In the end, assuming he continues to pitch the way he has this year and the end of last season, Vargas offers any team a different look in the rotation. He also has experience pitching in the postseason, knows mostly everyone in baseball thanks to 14 years in the game, and he'll be due just $2-3 million the final two months of this season, after which he'll be a free agent.
"I think most teams would take him," an American League team executive told me by text last night. "We wouldn't give up a lot to get him, but he'd be an asset to us and most pitching staffs."
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is lead writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003. He also hosts the MetsBlog Podcast, which you can subscribe to here. His new book, The New York Mets Fans' Bucket List, details 44 things every Mets fan should experience during their lifetime. To check it out, click here!