Is Kevin Millwood Better than Jason Vargas?
Kevin Millwood is a 37 year old pitcher with a 4-9 record on the season who the Mariners signed to a minor league contract in the offseason. Jason Vargas just won A.L. Pitcher of the Month after posting a 5-0 record in July with a 1.64 ERA, pushing his season totals to 12-7. Thus it seems to be a ridiculous question that Kevin Millwood could possibly be better than Jason Vargas. In fact, the media has talked at length recently about signing Vargas to a multi-year extension while lamenting the fact (or flat out ignoring him) that Millwood didn’t get traded. Some even assumed no one would want Millwood.
And I would have agreed with all of this until today when I started looking at the statistics a little more closely. It started by examining the old, trusty Wins Above Replacement (WAR) stat. Did you know Kevin Millwood is at 2.3 while Vargas is only at 0.7? (For review, wins above replacement is exactly as it sounds: the amount of wins the players is worth above a replacement player). For some perspective, Josh Beckett of the Boston Red Sox is at 2.5 and the season isn’t going so well for him. So maybe WAR isn’t the best indicator.
When examining three of the best pitching indicators in FIP, xFIP and SIERA (essentially FIP and xFIP take into account that fielding can bail out a pitcher and SIERA takes into account the amount of flyballs a pitcher gives up), Millwood still comes out on top amazingly.
Millwood – 3.53 FIP, 4.28 xFIP, and 4.37 SIERA
Vargas – 4.75 FIP, 4.38 xFIP, and 4.39 SIERA
Another way to look at it is BABIP or Batting Average Balls in Play. A hitter can expect to have a .300 BABIP which means when they actually make contact, the player will hit .300. Of course, they aren’t actually a .300 hitter because of strikeouts. A great fielding team can drop a pitcher’s BABIP against them obviously be robbing players of hits and covering a lot of ground (miss you Franklin Gutierrez). Yet if two pitchers are on the same team, it would seem that they should have close BABIP against if they are similarly talented.
Millwood – .264 BABIP
Vargas – .234 BABIP
So is Vargas just luckier? Maybe. At home, where people often cite Vargas’s biggest advantage as a “flyball pitcher”, Vargas is putting up a 2.63 ERA while opponents have a .234 BABIP. Millwood has a 4.33 ERA at home with opponents hitting .326 on balls in play. Yet, Millwood has a 3.44 FIP and 4.14 xFIP at home, while Vargas has 3.41 FIP at home and 3.61 xFIP. Again, is Vargas just lucky then?
Well, maybe Vargas gets more swings and misses. Or maybe Vargas gets more ground balls, which tend to lead to more outs than line drives or fly balls.
Millwood – 16.6% strikeouts, 21.5% line drives (on batted balls), 45.7% grounders (on batted balls), 32.7% flyballs (on batted balls)
Vargas – 16.4% strikeouts, 20.2% line drives (on batted balls), 40.3% grounders (on batted balls), 39.5% flyballs (on batted balls)
Hmmmm. Clearly Vargas has been dominant in July. He must be turning it up now and thus proving how much more valuable he is than Millwood.
Millwood in July – 1-2 record, 3.66 ERA, 32 IP, 3.34 FIP, 0.7 WAR
Vargas in July – 5-0 record, 1.64 ERA, 44 IP, 3.97 FIP, 0.6 WAR
Uh oh. Oh yeah – Millwood got 2.53 runs per nine innings in support while Vargas got 6.14 runs per nine innings.
It seems that no matter how you examine the advanced statistics, it shows that Vargas is equal or LESS valuable than Kevin Fricking Millwood. So what do we do with this information?
Well aside from giving it to the Mariners for their arbitration case in the offseason, we realize that Jason Vargas appears to be on quite a lucky streak this year. Celebrate it, be happy about it, but know that he is not irreplaceable by any means. Remember this when people are clamoring that we “have to sign Vargas”. We don’t have to sign him. In fact, the Mariners signed a 37 year old that no one else wanted this year who is actually a better pitcher this season.