As a finesse, fly-ball lefty, Jason Vargas was a perfect fit for Seattle's Safeco Field. Vargas will still pitch in a plum environment after being traded to the Los Angeles Angels for Kendrys Morales, considering that Angel Stadium kills right-handed power hitters and he'll have Mike Trout and Peter Bourjos covering the gaps behind him. However, Trout and Bourjos can only help Vargas if he keeps the ball out of the cheap seats. That has become a serious problem recently, as the former Long Beach State star has left more pitches over the middle of the plate.
Vargas' home run rate has climbed three years running, from 0.8 per nine innings pitched in 2010 to one per nine in 2011 and 1.4 HR/9 this past season. He coughed up 35 home runs in 2012, tying Phil Hughes for second-most among starting pitchers. Vargas got burned when he tossed belt-high pitches:
Location of Vargas' home runs allowed in 2012:
Vargas allowed 20 homers on pitches thrown to the vertical middle of the strike zone, a total topped only by New York's Ivan Nova (21). The lefty gave hitters more chances to tee off on belt-high pitches, too: He threw about 38% of his pitches to the middle of the plate, up from 36% in 2011 and 32% in 2010. For context, the three-year average for starting pitchers is slightly over 31%.
Safeco provided a safe haven for Vargas, who was highly successful at home during his M's career (3.34 ERA, 0.9 HR/9) but an also-ran on the road (4.85 ERA, 1.5 HR/9). L.A. is a great landing spot, with Angel Stadium suppressing home runs for righty batters by 20% compared to a neutral park (Safeco cuts righty homers by 30%) and Trout and Bourjos running down everything in play. That said, Vargas can't rely on Trout bringing back balls destined for the rocks every night. Great park and outfield defense aside, Vargas must sharpen his command to limit those long drives.