A lot of baseball fans seem to have forgotten about Jason Vargas. The 34-year-old lefty fell off the radar after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2015, returned for three starts last year and is back at full strength this year.
Here's the kicker. Vargas is quietly having a career season with the Kansas City Royals and could be a dark horse contender for the American League Cy Young Award.
A true underdog
Let's start at the beginning. Vargas joined Kansas City on a four-year, $32 million deal in 2014 and was 11-10 with a 3.71 ERA across 187 innings while posting a decent 2.4 WAR. The Royals made the World Series that year and Vargas made three starts, going 1-0 with a 3.52 ERA. The following year, though injured, he received a World Series ring as the Royals beat the New York Mets in the Fall Classic.
Kansas City took a significant step back in 2016, but Vargas was excellent upon his return. He made three starts and though he did not register a decision in any of them, he still posted a 2.25 ERA and 0.92 WHIP across 12 innings.
Fast forward to today, and Vargas has not taken his foot off of the gas pedal. He leads the AL not only with 12 wins but also a 2.62 ERA. Opposing hitters are batting just .244 against him and his WHIP is an impressive 1.15.
And yet, nobody seems to be talking about Vargas. Attentions are instead focused on bigger names like Chris Sale, Clayton Kershaw, and Max Scherzer to go with many others. That certainly is valid since those three arms in particular currently play for first-place teams, whereas Vargas' Royals currently rank third in the AL Central, but doesn't take away from the veteran lefty's strong 2017.
In fact, Vargas is doing just what he did before his surgery. He's pitching to contact rather than blowing hitters away with velocity and is doing a fine job at just that. He's even earned his first All-Star selection for his efforts.
There's no doubt that Vargas will draw strong consideration for the AL Cy Young Award if he keeps up his current pace, even if his strikeout totals (78 in 106.1 innings thus far) aren't off the charts. Moreover, this is also his contract year and given how he's still only 34, he's likely looking at another lucrative deal this offseason.
But what really stands out is that Vargas was doing just what he's doing this year during his days with both the Seattle Mariners and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. His strikeouts aren't much, but he has a respectable ground ball rate of 37.4%. He is giving up less than one home run per nine innings.
Needless to say, Jason Vargas is the best pitcher in baseball that no one is talking about. With All-Star week upon us, that needs to change.