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Joe Saunders is Jason Vargas (Not Literally)

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Figuratively.

Remember when Joe Saunders and the Orioles beat Yu Darvish and the Rangers in the Wild Card Playoff?
Remember when Joe Saunders and the Orioles beat Yu Darvish and the Rangers in the Wild Card Playoff?
Tim Heitman-US PRESSWIRE

It's an easy comparison to make. To note that Joe Saunders will basically fill the spot that Jason Vargas left in the rotation. They are both softer-tossing lefties around 30 years old. The very mention of either one of their names could cause instant boredom even in the midst of an exciting roller coaster ride or helicopter chase scene. Speaking of, there should be more helicopter chase scenes in movies.

Their pitch repertoires, though they don't align perfectly, are similar.

Jason Vargas Joe Saunders
chart chart

Vargas relies primarily on his changeup, which is a quality pitch across the board. He backs it up with basically three various forms of a fastball. Saunders is essentially Vargas in reverse. He throws fastball after fastball at about the same speed as Vargas does and features his changeup behind the fastball instead of in place of it.

It's not just the pitches that are similar. They share about identical pitching paces. And their core results are very close as well. Here are Vargas and Saunders compared from 2009-12 as starters.

Pitcher BF K% nB% GB% xHR Swg% Cnt% Zone% RAA
Saunders 3304 13.4% 7.4% 43.8% 23 44% 86% 47% -10.4
Vargas 2882 14.3% 6.4% 38.5% 29 46% 83% 50% -10.6

The xHR and RAA columns are on a per-800 BF basis. What you see backs up what their pitch grades should tell you. Vargas is better at avoiding contact, but he hasn't actually transferred that into a big strikeout advantage. Saunders also walks a few more hitters but he's clearly superior when it comes to controlling batted balls and keeping them from being potential home runs. Because of that, the two have graded out as very similarly-skilled pitchers over the past few seasons. Over 2010-12, they have nearly identical total fWARs.

If you want a reason to be hopeful about getting something better than 180-innings of below average but not catastrophic performance, you can turn to Saunders' 2012 year, which was noticeably better.

Pitcher BF K% nB% GB% xHR Swg% Cnt% Zone% RAA
Saunders 745 15.1% 5.3% 42.1% 24 46% 85% 47% -1.4
Vargas 887 15.5% 6.3% 40.8% 33 45% 82% 49% -7.4

Depending on the terms of the contract, and the actuality of the contract being signed, this could end up really making the trade of Vargas to the Angels for Kendrys Morales more of a win for the Mariners. Remember that Jason Vargas is on a one-year contract for $8.5 million. If the Mariners were able to deal away Vargas and then essentially sign a pseudo-Jason Vargas for the same price as Vargas would have cost, then they essentially lost nothing and gained Kendrys Morales.