Welcome back, Jason Vargas.
The veteran lefty made only three starts last season in his return from Tommy John surgery. In an equal number of starts early this season, Vargas is 3-0 with a 23/2 K/BB and only one run allowed in 20.2 innings. According to our Player Rater, he’s been the fifth best pitcher this season.
Vargas also happens to be one of the softest tossers in baseball. Only Jered Weaver, Bronson Arroyo, and Kyle Hendricks have slower average fastballs among starting pitchers this season. Of course, Vargas does have the slight advantage of being left-handed, but this still isn’t the type of performance we expect from a 34-year-old starter who has a career 4.11 ERA and 6.0 K/9.
So what’s changed? Despite lower velocity than ever (sub-87 mph average fastball), Vargas isn’t showing that he’s scared in the early going with 52 percent of his pitches in the strike zone, easily his highest percentage since 2007. Formerly a flyball pitcher, Vargas is also seeing a sharp increase in his groundball rate, up to 53 percent this year, compared to sub-38 percent for his career.
All of the numbers above deserve the disclaimer of 20.2 innings, an extremely limited sample size. Still, late-career improvement for a soft-tossing lefty isn’t unprecedented, as Jamie Moyer showed us in the 1990’s.
For the immediate future, this week’s two starts against the White Sox and Twins are relatively attractive. Vargas owners, both new and old, have reason to ride out this streak until it runs out.
-When mentioning fast starts from AL Central starting pitchers, we also must mention Miguel Gonzalez. He’s 2-0 with a 2.84 ERA in 19 innings this season. The success isn’t out of nowhere for Gonzalez, who showed a career-best 2.3 BB/9 last season after walking only eight batters in 65.1 innings during the second half. So far he has two good starts, with three walks in 14.1 innings during those outings, and one poor start against Cleveland.
-There was lots of nervousness, including in this column, when Zack Greinke’s velocity was down in spring training. The poor velocity has carried over to the regular season, with Greinke’s average fastball down almost one mph from 2016 after it was already down last season, but he’s managed just fine. Still, Greinke’s strikeout rate has continued to decline early on, so his owners shouldn’t feel like they’re out of the woods yet. He has a pair of home starts vs. San Diego and Colorado this week.
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-Luis Severino has been an elite pitcher so far, even if his 4.05 ERA doesn’t confirm it. He has an elite 27/2 K/BB in 20 innings, and a terrific 0.80 WHIP, with double-digit strikeouts in two out of three starts. The former top prospect has shown a significant uptick in velocity as a starter, with an average fastball of nearly 97 mph. Even with tough matchups against Boston and Baltimore, he’s become a must-start in the early going.
-The early trends for Felix Hernandez are interesting. His velocity has consistently decreased in recent seasons, and he had a career-worst 3.8 BB/9 last season. Through four starts this year, King Felix has walked only one batter in 24.2 innings as he pitches to contact and gets consistent groundballs. Hernandez now leads the league in hits allowed (33), but the crash in walk rate is a very encouraging sign for a pitcher who simply isn’t what he was a few years ago. He’ll attempt to keep up the trend at Detroit and Cleveland in the week ahead.
-Get your Rockies hitters ready! They have a four-game series at Coors Field against the Nationals before going to favorable Chase Field for three games. It’s not a full week at home, but Chase Field is also one of the most hitter-friendly parks in baseball.
Dallas Keuchel: @CLE, OAK
Chris Archer: @BAL, @TOR
Jason Vargas: @CHW, MIN
Luis Severino: @BOS, BAL
Rick Porcello: NYY, CHC
Miguel Gonzalez: KC, @DET
Ricky Nolasco: TOR, @TEX
Kendall Graveman: @LAA, @HOU
Francisco Liriano: @LAA, TB
Felix Hernandez: @DET, @CLE
Martin Perez: MIN, LAA
At Your Own Risk
Jordan Zimmermann: SEA, CHW
Josh Tomlin: HOU, SEA
Phil Hughes: @TEX, @KC
Ubaldo Jimenez: TB, @NYY
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Clayton Kershaw: @SF, PHI
Zack Greinke: SD, COL
Amir Garrett: @MIL, @STL
Stephen Strasburg: @COL, NYM
Wei-Yin Chen: @PHI, PIT
Michael Wacha: TOR, CIN
Hyun-Jin Ryu: @SF, PHI
Julio Teheran: @NYM, @MIL
Patrick Corbin: SD, COL
Chad Kuhl: CHC, @MIA
Joe Ross: @COL, NYM
Brett Anderson: @PIT, @BOS
Robert Gsellman: ATL, @WAS
Vincent Velasquez: MIA, @LAD
At Your Own Risk
Jhoulys Chacin: @ARI, @SF
Clayton Richard: @ARI, @SF
Matt Cain: LAD, SD
Matt Garza: CIN, ATL
Tyler Anderson: WAS, @ARI
Chris Rusin: WAS, @ARI
The following pitchers are generally available in over 50 percent of fantasy leagues and have favorable match-ups this week:
Wednesday, April 26: Nate Karns @ CHW
Karns hasn’t been perfect early in the season (particularly in his first appearance), but he won’t have to be against a White Sox lineup that has just a .601 OPS against right-handed pitching.
Friday, April 28: Adalberto Mejia @ KC
The Royals lineup hasn’t fared well against left-handed pitching this year, to say the least. They have just a .527 OPS, while Mejia is coming off a solid start vs. the White Sox.
Friday, April 28: A.J. Griffin vs. LAA
Won’t the real Griffin please stand up? The injury-prone right-hander is coming off two strong starts after opening his year poorly against Oakland. Facing a thin Angels lineup and potentially call-up Alex Meyer, Griffin has a strong matchup.
Wednesday, April 26: Alex Wood @ SF
The Giants are struggling against southpaws for the second straight year, while Wood has a rotation spot back with Rich Hill (blister) on the DL again. He’s allowed only one run in nine innings this year.
Thursday, April 27: Adam Wainwright vs. TOR
It’s 2017, and the two realities we must face are that Wainwright is no longer worth being owned in shallow mixed leagues and the Blue Jays can’t hit with Josh Donaldson injured. Something has to give, and without the aid of the DH next week, I think it will be Wainwright who wins out.
Friday, April 28: Chase Anderson vs. ATL
Anderson continues to roll early this season, while the Braves offense has been expectedly mediocre early in the year.
6: BAL, BOS, CHW, CLE, DET, HOU, KC, MIN, NYY, OAK, SEA, TB, TEX
7: LAA, TOR
6: ATL, CHC, CIN, MIL, NYM, PHI, PIT
7: ARI, COL, LAD, SD, SF, STL, WAS
Here’s some injuries to prominent players over the last week, and other players to watch for in the coming week. You can get a full listing of injured players at Rotoworld's Injury Page.
Zach Britton: Could return this week (arm)
Yoenis Cespedes: Likely to miss the weekend (hamstring)
Josh Donaldson: Out 2-4 weeks (calf)
Lucas Duda: Status uncertain (elbow)
Sam Dyson: Out indefinitely (hand)
Brandon Finnegan: Out indefinitely (shoulder)
Logan Forsythe: Out two weeks (toe)
J.A. Happ: Could return in early May (elbow)
Rich Hill: Out indefinitely (blister)
Jose Iglesias: Out indefinitely (concussion)
Howie Kendrick: Placed on DL (ribs)
Starling Marte: Suspended 80 games (PEDs)
Jake Odorizzi: Hopes to miss only one more start (hamstring)
Jarrett Parker: Out indefinitely (collarbone)
Jhonny Peralta: Could return late next week (illness)
Aaron Sanchez: Could return next week (finger)
Jean Segura: Should return early next week (hamstring)
Marcus Semien: Out at least two months (wrist)
Trea Turner: Could return this week (hamstring)