Jason Vargas pitches to three different Paces

I previously wrote a Mariners Universe article where I briefly had time to jump into Fangraphs and Pitch F/X but I noticed that Jason Vargas has worked at much different paces throughout 2012. I decided to go back and take a look and found some interesting data.

Pace is a stat developed through the Pitch F/X system that tells baseball analysts how much time elapsed between pitches on average in an outing. It’s known that the average pitcher takes longer when runners are on base and longer than that when it’s a RISP situation.

With that being said few pitchers ever made it and stuck in the Major Leagues without having an out pitch and the mental recourse to forget the negative somewhere near Mariano Rivera levels. So I started thinking that maybe pitchers who aren’t bona-fide strikeout kings like Verlander, Strasburg, and Felix would benefit from taking a little longer between pitches instead of battering the hitters at the plate.

Using Jason Vargas, who relies heavily on his control clocking out around 88.5 MPH, as a guinea pig I gave this theory a shot.

Vargas has made 26 starts in 2012 for which I found Pitch F/X data on 25; ignore his start on 3/29 in Japan for the time being. Let’s first take a look at his Pace #’s:

Vargas works at three different paces I was able to identify:

17-18.5 seconds per pitch
18.6-21.1 seconds per pitch
21.2-22.6 seconds per pitch

In 7 starts between a pace of 17 – 18.5 seconds per pitch:

4.50 ERA
46 IP
6.5 innings an outing.

In 11 starts between a pace of 18.6 – 21.1 seconds per pitch:

3.43 ERA
76 IP
6.9 innings an outing.

In 7 starts between a pace of 21.2 – 22.6 seconds per pitch:

3.05 ERA
47.2 IP
6.7 innings an outing.

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist or even a baseball analyst to see that Vargas has performed at a higher rate when he holds the ball 1-4 seconds longer on the mound per pitch. Although he is lasting through the same amount of innings his results have been very different so I started thinking of what a pitcher can do in 1-4 seconds on the mound and decided that gripping the ball differently/tighter was the most likely option.

The change-up has long been considered Vargas’ out-pitch. So I decided to take a look at his pitch data on his fastball, curveball, and change-up throughout the three Pace sets above.

Starting with pitch velocity:

Pace

vFA (Fastball mph)

vCu (Curve mph)

vCH (Change mph)

17-18.5

87.7

75.2

79.9

18.6-21.1

87.6

75.1

79.8

21.2-22.6

87.7

75.6

79.9

Not much to take away from his change or lack of change in velocity. Some pitchers who really climb the ladder in velocity mix up their speeds throughout the contest but Vargas topping out around 88.5 mph on his fastball does not have much room to play around and stay effective.

So if it’s not velocity its movement, right?:

 Average Vertical Break:

Pace

Cu-z (Curve)

Fa-z (Four-Seam FB)

Ch-z (Change)

17-18.5

-3.14

8.4

4.11

18.6-21.1

-4.3

8.06

3.81

21.2-22.6

-4.56

9.18

3.28

**Positive numbers denote break in on a Lefty
**Negative numbers denote break in on a Righty

This graph charting vertical movement shows that Vargas is receiving different movement on all three of his pitches when holding the ball an additional 1-4 seconds. His fastball ‘rises’ .78 extra inches meaning it goes deeper into the zone, his curveball sinks 1.42 inches more allowing the pitch to get under the bat, and his change-up sits .83 inches higher in the zone. A better success rate with a change-up that sits higher in the zone, strange right? Let’s keep looking.

Average Horizontal Break:

Pace

Cu-x (Curve)

Fa-x (Four-Seam FB)

Ch-x (Change)

17-18.5

-2.1

6.85

11.2

18.6-21.1

-1.95

6.78

11.7

21.2-22.6

-2.05

6.88

11.95

**Positive numbers denote break in on a Lefty
**Negative numbers denote break in on a Righty

Where as the horizontal movement on his fastball and curveball are nearly identical through all three Pace sets Vargas is receiving .50 and .75 inches of extra movement on his change-up as the seconds between pitches go up. Coupled with the drop in vertical movement above (Vertical Break Chart) this tells me that Vargas gets an extra .75 inches to jam a lefty and hang a righty out to dry when he holds the ball longer.

Vargas is an experienced pitcher who traveled between multiple teams before landing in Seattle. He has worked with his velocity limitations and skill set for long enough that he understands where he needs to be with his pitches on each batter he faces. Vargas is logging career season highs in WHIP, BABIP, GB%, LOB%, xFIP, and ERA among others.

This is a place that I am excited for Blake Beavan to reach. *crosses fingers*

Next time you see Josh Hamilton step up to the plate against Vargas be hoping he is throwing slowly and inside all night on him.



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