People say wine gets better with age.
That’s why probable first ballot NBA hall of famer Kobe Bryant nicknamed himself “Vino,” which is Italian for wine. He played well into his late 30s, so the nickname made sense.
Now that Bryant is retired, maybe the Kansas City Royals can also call left-handed pitcher Jason Vargas “Vino,” which is also Spanish for wine, as well.
Now, he has put up mediocre numbers most of his career. He has a career record of 71-71, a 4.09 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP. He’s never had better than a 3.71 ERA in any year and has always been middle-of-the-rotation kind of guy.
Those are some painfully average numbers.
But the 34-year-old is currently not only making a case to be the team’s ace but is a way-too-early candidate to win the AL Cy Young Award. He’s been absolutely magnificent as he has a 4-1 record, a 1.19 ERA, 0.982 WHIP, a career-high 8.4 strikeouts per 9 innings clip and 1.9 WAR (wins above replacement).
Now Vargas doesn’t throw hard. His fastball tops out at 89 mph, but he commands it well. And his changeup is just filthy. Teams are slugging just .103 against that pitch. That is just insane.
The Royals have an abysmal 11-20 record, but Vargas is responsible for nearly half of those and was the winning pitcher in the game that ended the team’s nine-game losing skid. On Saturday against the Cleveland Indians he tossed six scoreless innings and allowed just four hits and struck out six.
“Vargy was just awesome again,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “He did his job getting us through six innings with the lead. He kept us in the ballgame and didn’t give up anything.”
Vargas seems to be holding himself to a higher standard and the way he has been pitching, who can blame him? Although he pitched well by most people’s standards, he wasn’t completely please with his performance.
“I don’t think I was sharp command-wise,” Vargas said. “(My first three games) were pretty sharp command-wise. But as far as results, it’s hard to say (no, he didn’t pitch well). We were able to put up seven straight zeroes.”
He sounded like another pitcher that is a perfectionist – someone most baseball fans might have heard of, Clayton Kershaw. I remember when the Dodger lefty pitched eight shutout innings and gave up eight hits in a win over the Royals in 2014. Kershaw, too, was not all that happy with the way he pitched despite the results.
Vargas having that same attitude seems like he’s expecting better while pitching perhaps the best stretch of his career. Right now, he’s tied for second in wins, he’s first in ERA and tied for seventh in WHIP in the American League. He’s hanging in there with some of the elite pitchers in the league like Dallas Keuchel and Chris Sale.
I know it’s only May, So, is there a possibility for Vargas to regress to the mean? Of course. But if he’s able to keep this up, he will definitely be in the Cy Young race.
But there may be one obstacle standing in Vargas’ way if he is able to keep up this pace – the Royals’ offense. It’s been absolutely putrid and has drawn the ire of Kansas City fans. Before Monday’s game, the Royals are dead last in runs scored with 82 and are still 23 runs behind the second-worst team at scoring runs – the San Francisco Giants. Ouch.
“You’ve got to put up runs to win ballgames,” center fielder Lorenzo Cain said. “And we definitely haven’t been doing that.”
Kansas City is averaging less than three runs per game. That’s just not going to cut it if the team wants to compete for a playoff spot. It’s not going to help Vargas’ case for the Cy Young either. The lowest amount of wins for an AL Cy Young award winner that was a starting pitcher is 16 (David Cone in 1993 and Zack Greinke in 2009, ironically both with the Royals).
With the way the Royals have been hitting, Vargas may have a hard time even getting 16 wins.
If the Royals want to help the veteran to the first major award of his major league career, they will have to start hitting better. I mean, they can’t slump forever right? For Vargas’ sake, we certainly hope so.
Michael Smith is assistant sports editor for The Examiner. Reach him at 816-350-6317 or email@example.com.