Kennys Vargas is Walking a Fine Line

I was searching through depth charts the other day, trying to find an interesting tidbit or interesting name. I stumbled upon Kennys Vargas. He was covered here by Scott Strandberg upon his arrival. Of note in that piece: he’s a large human with large power; also there’s a Big Papi reference, which was purported by others. And then he was covered by Mike Podhorzer in a searching for power piece.

It’s been a little over a month since those pieces. Vargas has accumulated nearly 200 plate appearances; not a huge amount, but a substantial one upon which to at least look at what’s taken place. He’s still huge. And his power, evidenced by his ISO, is also pretty damn large-and-in charge, too. Also of note, though: a huge swing rate; a pretty large strikeout rate, and a miniscule, nearly unidentifiable, walk rate.

First things first, among batters to come to the plate at least 200 times, only fifteen have swung more often than Vargas, who has offered at over 55% of the pitches he’s seen. More alarmingly, though, is his swing rate on pitches out of the zone, currently nearly 41%, once again only “bested” by a few people. Obviously, that many swings out of the zone isn’t a good thing. It isn’t an absolute death knell, though. You just need near otherworldly contact ability, something he seems to possess, sometimes, anyways.

For comparison’s sake: Jose Abreu and Vargas aren’t that different. Before you crucify me: Abreu is more proven, has more power, and is an absolute monster. Vargas is not a monster, nor does he project to be; he likely won’t reside in Abreu’s atmosphere, because that air is rare. But we’re talking about approaches, in particular. And, in that respect, they aren’t too different.

Name PA O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% Zone%
Jose Abreu 570 41.0% 73.2% 54.6% 55.5% 87.7% 73.7% 42.1%
Kennys Vargas 182 40.0% 71.3% 54.2% 47.9% 89.6% 72.8% 45.5%

Abreu’s better at making contact out of the zone, and he seems to get pitched around a little more (understandable, undoubtedly). Other than that – those things are a big deal; I don’t mean to down play them – it’s pretty darn close. It’s not an approach that can work for everyone, or even a majority, but so far it’s worked for both; Abreu has shown signs of an evolving approach, though, becoming a more complete hitter as the year has continued.

If Vargas’s approach continues in this manner, he isn’t going to walk much. He likely isn’t going to trim his strikeout rate by much either, unless he’s able to make a little more contact on pitches outside of the zone. Even that is a fine line to walk, though, because contact outside the zone isn’t usually hard contact, unless you’re Victor Martinez. Further, fouling off poor pitches is okay, if you’re going to offer at them anyways; putting them into play weakly isn’t, though. As I said: it’s a fine line to walk. And one that Vargas is going to have tightrope.

The other – most important – part of the equation: Vargas’s power. I understand why Vargas swings so often. He wants to show off his power. And I don’t blame him. I couldn’t hit worth a damn when I “played” baseball. But the sticking point is: contact is required in order for your power to play. Luckily for Vargas, he has no issues making contact in the strike zone, which has allowed his power to be ever present during games. Plenty of prospects throughout history have had a ton of raw power, that didn’t show up in games. I believe we can somewhat safely say Vargas is getting beyond that point, though.

To the comps!

Comping his patterns to Jose Abreu is one thing. But I wanted to get a few more. The following list is taken from 2012 and 2013 data; only qualified hitters in each season were considered. I attempted to get as close to Vargas’s numbers as I could. The parameters ended up being: o-swing greater than 36%; o-contact greater than 50% (Vargas has some work to do, but there wasn’t a perfect comp here.); and Z-contact greater than 82% (Vargas, however, is much better than the pack in this category.).

Name Season Team PA BB% K% ISO wOBA wRC+ O-Swing% (pfx) Z-Swing% (pfx) Swing% (pfx) O-Contact% (pfx) Z-Contact% (pfx) Contact% (pfx)
Chris Johnson 2013 Braves 547 5.30% 21.20% 0.136 0.354 126 38.40% 68.80% 53.40% 53.50% 88.50% 75.70%
Adam Jones 2012 Orioles 697 4.90% 18.10% 0.218 0.361 127 40.40% 70.90% 54.50% 56.20% 87.00% 74.80%
Alfonso Soriano 2013 – – – 626 5.80% 24.90% 0.234 0.34 113 40.90% 69.30% 53.30% 55.00% 84.60% 71.80%
Alfonso Soriano 2012 Cubs 615 7.20% 24.90% 0.237 0.35 117 37.00% 67.30% 50.10% 55.00% 83.50% 71.60%
Mark Trumbo 2012 Angels 586 6.10% 26.10% 0.222 0.346 124 38.10% 64.40% 50.60% 51.70% 83.00% 70.70%
Marlon Byrd 2013 – – – 579 5.40% 24.90% 0.22 0.364 137 38.80% 71.40% 54.80% 54.20% 82.80% 72.40%
Chris Davis 2012 Orioles 562 6.60% 30.10% 0.231 0.352 120 39.50% 73.20% 54.20% 54.10% 82.70% 71.00%

Right off the bat, it feels like we can toss out Chris Johnson; he has no power. Adam Jones also feels like a stretch, because Vargas seems like a safe bet to strike out more than Jones does. The others, though? They’re pretty close.

On average, the hitters above were pretty darn good. They each have flaws, but their results were pretty good. And, on the bright side, despite their free swinging ways, all of the men above were still able to generate nice power numbers, which means they had fantasy value, even if it wasn’t always there in bunches.

Vargas “plays” first base, but he’s really a DH, especially if Joe Mauer is in town. From my view, Vargas should have a full time role – or at least something close – next season. As a switch hitter, he’s been better from the left side, but he’s no slouch from the opposite side of the dish. Vargas’s power is probably going to play. His approach, however, is an iffy one. Time will tell, as always.

We hoped you liked reading Kennys Vargas is Walking a Fine Line by Landon Jones!

Please support FanGraphs by becoming a member. We publish thousands of articles a year, host multiple podcasts, and have an ever growing database of baseball stats.

FanGraphs does not have a paywall. With your membership, we can continue to offer the content you've come to rely on and add to our unique baseball coverage.

Support FanGraphs




Landon is a senior writer at The Fantasy Fix. You can follow and interact with him on Twitter (@joneslandon).

newest oldest most voted
Cool WHIP
Member
Cool WHIP

“because contact isn’t the zone isn’t usually hard contact”

isn’t(1) = outside.

Thanks for this article– very interested to see how Vargas adjusts after his first stint. A question of methodology– why did you choose to use Pitch f/x data plate discipline data rather than the BIS plate disc. data? Is one more reliable than the other, or is it just personal preference?