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On Jason Vargas' Success, And Some Comparable Pitchers

So by now you're a believer, right? Jason Vargas has turned in five starts, and in those five starts, he's struck out three times as many guys as he's walked. He's thrown even more of that changeup that keeps him employed than he did a year ago, and the results have been...well, not terrific. But they've been terrific for a guy like Jason Vargas. Amazing performances come in all shapes and sizes.

While thinking about Vargas, I waltzed on over to his Fangraphs page, as one is wont to do when he doesn't trust his memory. I observed that Vargas has generated a lot of swings on balls out of the zone (OSwing%), and from there, I got an idea: why not build a list of comparable pitchers based on their OSwing%, ZSwing%, OContact%, and ZContact%?

I don't know if there's any validity to this, but I went ahead and looked at those plate disciplined statistics and summed the absolute differences anyway. What follows are the ten 2010 starting pitchers with the most similar discipline numbers to Vargas so far:

1. Tom Gorzelanny
2. Randy Wells
3. David Price
4. Phil Hughes
5. Dallas Braden
6. Max Scherzer
7. Adam Wainwright
8. Anibal Sanchez
9. Hiroki Kuroda
10. Kyle Davies

Visually, it isn't the most impressive list of names, but then you go to the numbers and find out that those ten guys have combined for 249 strikeouts, 94 walks, and 133 runs in 331.1 innings. 7 K/9? 2.5 BB/9? Not surprisingly, the pitchers with the most similar plate discipline stats to Jason Vargas have posted similar peripherals. Nice to see that Braden shows up, as he's a very similar pitcher.

The least similar pitcher, by the way, is Ervin Santana. Ervin Santana hasn't generated many swings on balls out of the zone, but when he has, they've missed.

After coming up with that list, I decided to take Vargas' current numbers into the past and see which pitchers from 2009 were most comparable to what he's been doing so far in 2010. Again, top ten:

1. Carl Pavano
2. Roy Halladay
3. Hiroki Kuroda
4. Roy Oswalt
5. Zach Duke
6. Jered Weaver
7. Johan Santana
8. Randy Wells
9. Justin Verlander
10. Brian Moehler

Vargas' own self would've shown up at #5, but he just missed the 100 IP cutoff. The least similar pitcher was A.J. Burnett.

That's some decent company. Decent company, and Brian Moehler. Combined, they posted a K/9 of 7, a BB/9 around 3.3, and an RA of 4.14 over 1900 innings. Again, not too different from what Vargas has been doing.

I don't know what this proves, if it proves anything. It was intended simply as an exercise. If you're looking for a take-home message, though, I suppose it would be this - Jason Vargas induces a lot of swings on balls out of the zone, and though many of them make contact, that's still a skillset with which a number of starting pitchers have found success. A swing on a ball is good. If it misses, that's a strike. If it hits, it's likely weak contact. Jason Vargas probably won't keep striking out a fifth of the people he sees, but as long as he's able to make them go fishing at a decent clip while staying out of the middle of the zone, there's no reason to believe he can't stick as a legitimate, effective Major League starter.