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Pitcher preview: Jason Vargas

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A changeup with untapped potential.

Gregory Shamus

Rays fans could be forgiven for being worried about crafty lefties after watching the drubbing their team got at the hands of Mark Buehrle last week. Take heart, though, because while Jason Vargas is every bit as left-handed as Buehrle, he's not nearly as crafty. Here's what he throws:

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via pitchfx.texasleaguers.com

His two fastballs averaged 88 mph last season, his seldom-used cutter was at 84 mph, his changeup at 80 mph, and his 12-6 curve way down at 76 mph.

Now, you're probably thinking, "That changeup has a ton of movement," and you're right. The changeup was Vargas's best swing-and-miss offering by far, with a 39% whiff per swing rate in 2013 (from Brooks Baseball). None of his other pitches topped 20% whiffs per swing. The good news for the Rays is that Vargas mostly only uses his live changeup against righties (34% of the time in 2013), despite the fact that it has good success against righties in a smaller sample (8% in 2013). This usage pattern is likely the reason Vargas has posted a very small (but not actually a reverse) split for a lefty. I don't know that he needs to be Danks Theoried, but I do think Maddon should give some thought as to which lefties to sit and which to leave in.

Of course, there's a chance that Vargas's teammate, James Shields -- who is perhaps the greatest example of the power of throwing a changeup to batters of both handedness and to both sides of the plate -- will have convinced him to up his usage. Hope not.

Assuming no Shieldsian intervention, expect Vargas to wear out the outside edge of the strikezone with four-seam fastballs and changeups against righties, and with four-seamers, two-seamers, and curves against lefties. His approach and his stuff would make him a groundball pitcher, but for his four-seam, which spoils the effect by getting put in the air often, and hard.