Giants Extend Vogelsong

The San Francisco Giants are hoping 2011 was the beginning of great things for veteran pitcher Ryan Vogelsong. After posting mediocre numbers that led to a three-year stint in Japan, the 34-year-old returned to the United States with a vengeance this past season, posting a 2.71 ERA in 179.2 innings. The Giants rewarded that performance on Wednesday and signed Vogelsong to a two-year, $8.3 million extension.

Since they already had him under team control through arbitration for 2012, the contract essentially just buys out his 2013 season (for something like $4 to $5 million in salary) when he would have otherwise been eligible for free agency. Given Vogelsong’s inconsistent career, making the decision to lock him up now seems a little odd. Is there reason to believe that Vogelgong’s 2011 performance represents a true step forward that would justify guaranteeing his 2013 salary in advance?

Certainly, it would be incredibly difficult for Vogelsong to repeat last season’s success.  Few pitchers can consistently post a sub-3.00 ERA, so a step backwards should be expected regardless of what his other numbers were. The question is how big of a step back it will be, and now that he’s signed for 2013 as well, whether he would have performed well enough to earn more money on the open market next winter.

So, what should we expect from Vogelsong next year? If he was able to repeat his career-best performances in walk rate (8.1%), strikeout rate (18.5%), and ground ball rate (45.6%), he’d likely be a slightly above average starting pitcher. Those marks were good for a 3.67 FIP, which is a 97 FIP- after you adjust for AT&T Park. Any starter who can post that kind of mark is certainly useful, and pitching in San Francisco might help him maintain his below average HR/FB rate, as we know that the Giants have a long history of getting better than expected performances from the pitchers in that regard.

So, even if Vogelsong’s ERA regressed back to be something closer to his 2011 FIP, he’d still be a pretty valuable player, and would likely be able to command more than $5 million as a free agent next winter. For example, Bruce Chen got $9 million over two years this winter after having two fairly pedestrian seasons – at the same ages as Vogelsong, no less. Even Kevin Correia got $8 million for two years last winter after coming off a pretty bad follow-up to his 2010 breakout performance. Pitchers with short track records but some recent success haven’t had trouble drawing decent paychecks, so Vogelsong wouldn’t need to come close to repeating his 2011 performance to get paid next winter.

Settling on a one year deal through arbitration would have given Vogelsong a chance to put another successful season under his belt and perhaps double what he signed for yesterday. If the Giants believe he can put together another season where he runs a 2:1 K/BB ratio and maintains his ability to get ground balls, then they may have saved themselves close to $4 million and kept from having to guarantee him a salary for 2014 as well. So, there’s certainly some potential cost savings to be had if Vogelsong wasn’t a one-year wonder.

That’s the catch, though. While setting career highs in all of the major categories suggests that Vogelsong is likely a better pitcher than he was previously, his pitch data doesn’t necessarily support the idea that his prior career performances can be so easily ignored.

From 2003 to 2006, his fastball averaged 92.0 MPH. Last year, it was 91.4. Previously, opposing batters made contact with 82.7% of the pitches he threw. Last year, they made contact 83.4% of the time. He didn’t add any new pitches, didn’t make batters miss bats with any more regularity, and didn’t find the ability to pound the zone with strikes like never before. He basically threw the same stuff he threw before he went to Japan, only this time, it got him outs.

Maybe he just learned how to pitch. Maybe he hid the ball better. Or maybe Dave Righetti’s just a magician. There’s no real way to know exactly why Vogelsong got better results last year, and without an obvious explanation for the improvement, the risk of regression has to be considered higher than it would if we had some reasonable cause for the phenomenon. So, while the Giants lined up some potential cost savings, they also are taking a risk that Vogelsong’s performance wasn’t just a monumental fluke.

The cost isn’t high enough that having him on the books for 2013 is going to be all that harmful even if he implodes, but the Giants should at least prepare for the fact that it’s a realistic possibility. Perhaps he’ll show that the improvement is real and justify the risk, but this is one that certainly has the possibility of going either way.



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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.


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Brian
Guest
Brian
4 years 7 months ago

Not a ton of money. Good risk to take.

James Gentile
Member
4 years 7 months ago

“Vogelsong”

say it soft and it’s almost like praying.

tdotsports
Guest
4 years 7 months ago

The ballpark certainly helped a bit, obviously.

tdotsports
Guest
4 years 7 months ago

*and division

mavery405518
Member
mavery405518
4 years 7 months ago

yea with two of the better offenses and offensive parks in the league in the rockies at coors and the dbacks at chase…. division is kinda irrelevant

Yirmiyahu
Member
4 years 7 months ago

It’s almost always a bad idea to buy high on a guy like this, but it doesn’t look like there’s much risk. Assuming he would make just $2.5M in arbitration this year, the extension pays him about $5.8M next year. Or a little over 1 WAR. He can get there with about 150 IP’s @ 4.30 FIP. Consider that he had a 3.67 FIP, 3.85 xFIP, 3.97 SIERA last year. And that ballpark’s voodoo is always good at suppressing HR’s.

The commitment is only 1 extra year. I’d bet he earns the extra money. There’s a good chance at excess value. And even if he completely collapses, $5M isn’t exactly franchise-crippling.

I don’t think it’s particularly useful to compare his 2011 stats to his pre-Japan stats, considering how long ago it was and how volatile pitchers are.

DrBGiantsfan
Guest
4 years 7 months ago

First of all, gotta be happy for Ryan Vogelsong. Maybe if he turns back into a pumpkin I’ll be grinding my teeth over his salary in a couple of years, but I am so happy for him and his family. This guy has struggled for so long. His family has stuck with him through thick and thin, but mostly just thin. His wife had watched him try and fail for so long she would burst into tears every time he walked off the mound at AT&T Park after another terrific start. He just seems like a genuinely nice person. To top it all off, when the Dodgers offered him a minor league deal after he failed to hear anything from the Giants, he begged his Mexican League catcher, Guillermo Rodriguez to make one more call on his behalf to the Giants because HE DIDN’T WANT TO BE A DODGER! Now, how great is THAT anyway? After what he’s been through and what he did last year, to finally get financial security for his himself and his family, well, I’m happy for every penny he got.

Secondly, if you go to his stats page on fangraphs.com and look up the history of his pitch selection and pitch effectiveness, there are clues to why he was more successful last year:

1. He threw the fastball less often, but more effectively.

2. He’s junked his slider and replaced it with a cut fastball and threw it more often. It wasn’t as effective as his fastball, but easier to control than the slider.

3. He was able to throw a very good curveball for strikes. He was able to use it both as a K pitch and for jumping ahead of hitters by pitching backwards.

4. He threw the changeup more often. It wasn’t as effective a pitch as the FB and CB, but it likely kept hitters off balance and set up the other pitches.

Look up his HR/FB’s. He’s ALWAYS had very low ratios even when he was in Pittsburgh, so can we dispense with the silly ballpark talk? It has been shown over and over that the Giants pitchers are just as good at suppressing HR’s on the road as at home by the writers on this site, so why are we continuing to invoke the ballpark as the cause?

From Dick Tidrow and Mike Krukow, the Giants preach fastball command to both sides of the plate as a mantra. That is the main reason why they are able to suppress HR’s so effectively and that is what was most different about Vogelsong in 2011.

I don’t know if he keeps it up or not. He could get injured. He could lose command of the curveball which was a huge part of his success last year. I just know it wasn’t because his HR/FB was a fluke. The numbers prove it.

Rob
Guest
Rob
4 years 7 months ago

Accidentally gave you a thumbs down, not intentional. I too think that he improved over his previous stuff. Looking at the swing %’s and related data, Vogelsong threw more first pitch strikes, induce more swings and got more contact on pitches outside of the zone, reduced swings and contact on pitches inside the zone, and cut a walk per 9 off his career walk rate. He might be throwing with similar velocity and generating a similar number of swinging strikes, but the way he’s getting there seems improved.

channelclemente
Guest
4 years 7 months ago

You said it, fastball command and the cutter. Add the pitch sequencing that Righetti seems to dictate and a lot of the ‘magic’ is there to see.

My echo and bunnymen
Guest
My echo and bunnymen
4 years 7 months ago

i’m not going to get choked up over the whole “not being a dodger thing” because that still would be financial security for him and his family, and a possible seat mid season or earlier for him. Also there’s nothing wrong with being a Dodger. However, I believe what this article says, he just hit his peak but he did improve his game so we have to decline from his new skill. Good deal for San Fran whether or not he was highly overrated.

DrBGiantsfan
Guest
4 years 7 months ago

If you’ve been a Giants fan since 1966, yes, there is something wrong with being a Dodger. Vogelsong seemed like he felt he had something in particular to prove to the team that drafted him a brought him up through their farm system. What’s more, he seemed to be on a mission to prove something to himself and I’m guessing he felt he had something to prove to his family.

He didn’t want to be a Dodger, but from the context it seems clear that if the Giants hadn’t called right back answering his last minute plea, he would have taken the Dodgers offer. Whether it would have worked out for him the way it did in SF is a whole ‘nother matter.

But yeah, Dude wanted to be a Giant and didn’t want to be a Dodger and that will get this old Giants fan choked up.

drewcorb
Member
drewcorb
4 years 7 months ago

Wasn’t Correia’s breakout in 2009? Just a minor detail, but I thought it was 2009 and not 2010.

Antonio bananas
Guest
Antonio bananas
4 years 7 months ago

was that the year he was almost average?

Ben
Guest
4 years 7 months ago

He’s their 4th starter, so even if his WAR drops by a whole win next season which his FIP somewhat predicts he is still worth about the per year money he received. As a free agent on the open market he probably would have received a similar deal to possibly be a 3 starter for a worse pitching staff. Because of Lincecum, Cain, and Bumgarner they can afford to say they have a pretty good 4th starter at a fair amount of money. Good deal for Giants and congrats to Vogelsong on his comeback.

Yirmiyahu
Member
4 years 7 months ago

His FIP does not predict a drop in his WAR. WAR is based on his FIP, not his ERA.

agam22
Guest
agam22
4 years 7 months ago

Bruce Chen and pedestrian only belong in the same sentence if he’s walking to the ballpark

drewcorb
Member
drewcorb
4 years 7 months ago

He’s accumulated 5.9 WAR in 14 seasons. If anyone is sprinting for the HoF, it’s Bruce Chen.

Will
Guest
Will
4 years 7 months ago

In an NL-only keeper league, where does Vogelsong project for 2012 and 2013 vs. Collmenter?

Brendan
Guest
Brendan
4 years 7 months ago

You’re talking to the fans who are living through the Rowand and Zito contracts (not to mention paying Aubrey Huff $12MM this season), and you think we’re afraid of a 2 year $8MM commitment? Ha!

Kevin
Guest
Kevin
4 years 7 months ago

Hey, it’s an even year. That means Huff will be an all-star!

Yirmiyahu
Member
4 years 7 months ago

The Giants still owe those three players $70M.

Yirmiyahu
Member
4 years 7 months ago

That just blows my mind

Baltar
Guest
Baltar
4 years 7 months ago

So $8.3M is a drop in the bucket.

Evan
Guest
Evan
4 years 7 months ago

If the deal was just 2/8 it would probably be a slight overpay BUT since there are reports of a team option on the end for 2014 which makes it a risk worth taking for the Giants

Baltar
Guest
Baltar
4 years 7 months ago

This is the only Giants offseason move so far that makes some sense, other than cutting Keppinger.
I give it better than a 50-50 chance of paying off.

MrKnowNothing
Guest
MrKnowNothing
4 years 7 months ago

Given that we’ve seen relief pitchers get more per yer, I’d say this is a solid deal.

Is there risk? Well, duh. EVERY deal carries with it risk. But, it’s a two year deal with a total value that really isn’t all that great. Seriously, $4MM/year for a guy who could be a decent big league starter is a steal.

I know comparing starters to relievers can be unfair at times, but this is less total money than Ryan Madsen just got for one year – and for a starting pitcher who could give you 300-350 innings over the next two years.

soladoras
Member
soladoras
4 years 7 months ago

I’d rather have Vogey on a 2 year, 8.3 million dollar deal (with a 3rd year club option or not) than pickup my backup LOOGY’s 5 million dollar option–oh wait Sabean did that too.

Hurtlockertwo
Guest
Hurtlockertwo
4 years 7 months ago

If you watched all of Vogelsong’s starts, which I did, you are struck by his intensity and focus. Lincecum has all the talent in the world but seemed bored out there sometimes, almost distracted. This is a good signing for the Giants.

Stocktopus
Guest
Stocktopus
4 years 7 months ago

Giants fans, I designed some T-shirts. Check it out, “like” the page, or whatever. Let me know what you think. http://www.facebook.com/pages/Giantsteez/338713356158492?sk=wall

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