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Jason Vargas was probably fine, but needed to go

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Threatening a reporter isn’t cool.

San Diego Padres v New York Mets Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

There’s only one place to really start when discussing Jason Vargas’s 2019 tenure with the New York Mets: the time he threatened to beat up reporter Tim Healey. This buffoonish, despicable action has never been atoned for, nor even really apologized for, which is hard to believe. But that’s the truth of the matter, and Vargas should not get a pass for creating an unsafe work environment for a beat reporter.

And it was for that reason, among others, that fans were more or less absolutely fine with the Mets trading Vargas to the Phillies ahead of the July 31st trading deadline, even with the relative pittance the team received. But even without that incident, most Met fans would likely have been fine with trading Vargas because, frankly, he wasn’t the most fun guy to watch pitch.

There is always going to be a role on a team for a player like Vargas, a player with little sizzle but a fair amount of steak. His 1.6 bWAR for the Mets puts him twelfth on the team, behind his four rotation mates, but still respectable for a back of the rotation pitcher. However, the stats that Vargas put up look a lot better on paper than they did on the field, as Vargas’s starts were often interminable and frustrating to the nth degree.

Vargas’s approach on the mound was just shy of Steve Trachsel, with lots of time taken between pitches, enveloped by a seemingly never-ending series of cap adjustments, mound maintenance, and shake-offs. My description may seem hyperbolic, and it seems that way writing this in the second half of October. But in June, every start felt like a Beowulf-length epic, but with far fewer exciting parts.

Vargas only reached the seventh inning thrice in 2019, and only pitched two outings that didn’t result in an earned run. Those two statistic dovetailed on June 5th, when Vargas pitched a complete game shutout, replete with eight strikeouts and one walk against the Giants. It was the undisputed highlight of his season.

The antithesis of this was his third start of the season, where he recorded exactly one out against the Braves. He was pulled after issuing three walks and two hits to the first six batters, and looked absolutely gassed five minutes into the game. Fortunately for Vargas, he wound up being much better than his nadir, but never really reached the heights of his shutout.

As our Michael Drago put it shortly after the trade, Vargas was often competent, but always frustrating. He was a solid enough fifth starter, and provided the Mets with some (perceived) stability in their starting rotation. But in 2019, the Mets’ rotation was fine, if not good, and Vargas just couldn’t hang with the likes of Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard, nor Zack Wheeler and Steven Matz.

But even if he was on their level, his behavior during the clubhouse incident meant that he was better off somewhere else. Vargas reportedly expressed his desire to go to a playoff team, and so the Mets got the final laugh when they finished ahead of Vargas’s Phillies in the standings.

Sorry, not sorry, Vargy.