Denny Medley/USA TODAY Sports

Behind the Box Score: Figuring out Jason Vargas

The three-pitch mix of Jason Vargas induced four double plays and kept Indians hitters off-balanced with weak contact on Friday evening at Kauffman Stadium.

Jason Vargas is a rare breed of a pitcher.

With a fastball averaging 86.2-mph on the radar gun and a knuckle-curve registering 73.1-mph entering play, the 34-year-old left-hander used impeccable command to work ahead of hitters and limit damage on the base paths.

“His command is flawless and his breaking ball, he can shape it,” said manager Terry Francona last Saturday, moments before the southpaw pitched 5.2 innings of two-run ball against the Indians at Progressive Field. “He’s got such a nice feel for it, he can slow it down and sometimes it’s to the point where guys, it’s just hard to stay back.”

For the second consecutive start, Vargas earned a win in the AL Central clash by working nine scoreless innings to record his sixth career shutout.

In looking at the road nine’s spray chart from Friday, it is evident that Vargas wanted right-handed hitters to pull the ball to either the shortstop or left-center field…

Two of the three balls hit to the right side of the field happened to be hit by Jason Kipnis, one of two left-handed hitters in the Tribe lineup.

The opposition has pulled the ball at a 44.3% clip against Vargas this year, a high mark that exceeds his batted ball totals up the middle (33%) and to the opposite field (22.7%). The above example is not an exception to this historical trend.

“We got those rollover ground-ball outs,” Francona said after the contest. “That’s part of why he’s good. You’re always reaching. You want more.”

Cleveland grounded into four double plays en route to Vargas’ final line of 9 IP, 7 H, 0 R/ER, 1 BB, 3 K (103 pitches, 69 strikes, 67%, 14 groundouts, four flyous).

Not only does Vargas like to locate his knuckle-curve in the bottom third of the strike zone (see chart below), but he keeps hard contact to a minimum (29% hard contact rate) while the baseball stays in the park (0.75 HR/9 innings and 6.3% HR/FB rate).

Sample Size: 27 pitches (26.2% usage rate)

Average Velocity: 72.2-mph

Minimum Velocity: 69.6-mph

Maximum Velocity: 74.2-mph

Average Exit Velocity: 77.1-mph

Minimum Exit Velocity: 40.7-mph

Maximum Exit Velocity: 99.1-mph

Strike Percentage: 48.1% (13 strikes, 14 balls)

Vargas had opposing hitters on their front leg for the duration of his outing by keeping the off-speed low in the zone. The 34-year-old veteran thrives when runners are on base because of his ability to keep batters guessing at what he will throw next and eventually have them top the ball into the ground on either pull side of the infield.

"A guy like that, talk about keeping the line moving, the right-handers (are) going to have to hit the ball the other way at times," said Francona.

While the Indians have struggled against left-handed pitching all season long (.236/.321/.379 slash line vs. lefties), this appears to be more of a special case.

Jason Vargas is a unique hurler, one that played to his strengths by throwing strikes, leaving runners stranded and living in the bottom of the strike zone to produce both ground balls and weak contact to the pull side of the diamond.

John Alfes has covered the Indians for IBI since August of 2016. Follow him on Twitter @JohnAlfes for breaking news and in-depth coverage all season long.

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