Seattle right-hander Chris Young logged only 44 innings pitched in 2010 and 2011 due to shoulder issues, and missed most of the 2013 season due to thoracic outlet syndrome. Now, the 35-year-old is defying all relevant metrics by posting a 3.40 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in 2014. The veteran soft-tosser features an 84 mph fastball that he throws more often than almost every other starting pitcher in baseball. The other issue with Young’s fastball is the fact that he throws it higher in the zone than most Major League pitchers, which has resulted in 11 home runs in 79 1/3-innings of work (1.25 HR/9). Young’s pedestrian 35:32 strikeout-to-walk ratio also inspires little confidence, and the veteran hurler has struggled on the road this season where he owns a 5.18 ERA and 1.64 WHIP in six starts.
Why do I say that Young’s 3.40 ERA and 1.22 WHIP are a complete mirage? Well, Young owns a 5.70 xFIP and a 5.80 SIERA, both of which indicate that significant regression is in his future. Young also owns a woefully inadequate 6% swinging strike rate, together with an alarming 25% ground-ball rate (58% fly-ball rate). Meanwhile, Young’s counterpart, Jason Vargas, is 7-2 with a 3.25 ERA and 1.21 WHIP this season, including going 2-0 with a 2.78 ERA and 1.14 WHIP over his last three starts. Vargas’ success is predicated upon an outstanding walk rate (2.26) and home run rate (0.99). The savvy 31-year-old also owns a 6.41 K/9 rate this season, which is marginally higher than his career rate of 5.92 K/9. In his last five starts, Vargas is 3-0 with a 2.31 ERA, all of which were quality starts. In fact, 12 of his 15 starts have qualified in the “quality” category.
I also like the fact that Vargas is 3-1 with a career 1.59 ERA and 0.88 WHIP versus the Mariners, including allowing a combined one earned run on 11 hits in his last 13 1/3-innings pitched against Seattle. Vargas excels against his former team because the Mariners have a lefty-heavy lineup that ranks 29th in baseball with a .639 OPS against left-handed pitching. Specifically, Seattle is batting just .239 with a .278 on base percentage versus southpaws (3.9 runs per game). Overall, the Mariners’ scuffling offense is hitting .238 with a .290 on base percentage this season (4.0 runs per game). In contrast, Kansas City has won ten of its last 12 games and is batting .319 with a .368 on base percentage over the last ten games (6.7 runs per game).
From a technical standpoint, the Royals are 24-14 (+10.9 units) versus teams with a winning record, 47-23 (+14.2 units) as favorites of -175 or less, 13-4 (+10.5 units) in June and 4-1 in Vargas’s last five starts as a home favorite. Take Kansas City and invest with confidence.