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With The Potential Of A Starting Job, Is Kennys Vargas A “Sleeper” To Target?

Thursday, February 9, 2017 5:48
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by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

With the surprise move to designate Byung Ho Park for assignment, the Minnesota Twins have essentially handed a starting job to Kennys Vargas (barring Park not being trading and earning the job this spring).  Having seen time in the Majors over each of the past three seasons Vargas has made it clear that he brings power potential with him.  Just look at the numbers:

  • 24 HR over 595 PA in the Majors
  • MLB career 18.9% HR/FB
  • 25 HR in 482 AB between Triple-A and the Majors in ‘16

Last season, when he had 177 PA in the Majors, brought question of swinging for the fences  His line drive rate, which had been solid in his first two seasons (18.6% and 25.6%), plummeted to 14.6% as his fly ball rate ballooned to 47.9% (0.85 GO/AO).  It’s a trend that’s been building over the past two seasons in the minors, and is something that needs to be monitored carefully (GO/AO):

  • 2013 – 1.39
  • 2014 – 1.79
  • 2015 – 0.81
  • 2016 – 0.97

Among those who qualified for the batting title in ’16 there were 13 players who posted a fly ball rate of 45.0% or greater.  Seven of them hit .251 or worse, while three hit for a solid though unspectacular mark (.265-.275).  There were three who hit at least .290, and no one is going to put Vargas in their class (Nolan Arenado, Kris Bryant & David Ortiz).  So the fly ball rate alone (regardless of power) makes a poor average likely (even though you can argue that he’s going to improve his .132 average against fourseam fastballs).  If the home run rate falls, something that’s not unbelievable, the matter gets worse.

Then you have the strikeout rate, as he’s struggled significantly in the Majors:

  • 2014 – 26.9%
  • 2015 – 29.3%
  • 2016 – 32.2%

While he did see a significant improvement in his Whiff% on breaking balls (11.72%), he continues to struggle mightily against offspeed pitches (22.06%).  Unless he makes an adjustment, why shouldn’t opposing pitchers throw him a steady diet of these pitches?

A switch hitter, it’s also interesting to note the split that he’s posted in his three years in the Majors:

  • vs. RHP – .223/.281/.411
  • vs. LHP – .302/.360/.474

Sure he’s shown some power against right-handed pitchers, but could the split lead to some type of platoon?  It’s not unthinkable, and he would also be on the short side of things.

Power across the game has been steadily improving, so this type of power hitter isn’t as attractive as he once might have been.  We can see it in the struggles of Chris Carter and Mike Napoli to find a job (though both finally signed), and you can argue that Vargas’ upside isn’t that of either player.  There’s going to be excitement with him getting an opportunity, but that doesn’t make him a player worth targeting.

Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball,

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Make sure to check out our other Early 2017 Rankings:

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Relief Pitcher 01/02/17


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