Ryan Vogelsong’s Miracle Season Continues

Trying to play the “If you thought…” game with Ryan Vogelsong can get so out of hand, that we’ll just start here — if you thought Ryan Vogelsong was a good pitcher heading into the 2011 season, you were undeniably crazy. Everything that has happened since then has been completely unpredictable. Not only did Vogelsong re-emerge in the majors after nearly five seasons, but he managed to establish himself as an effective pitcher when injuries forced him into the rotation. After 13 starts and a 2.13 ERA, Vogelsong’s miraculous season continued as he was been named to the NL All-Star team last Sunday. While his selection is fairly controversial — Bruce Bochy did make the selection — no one can deny that Vogelsong is having an exceptional season. Even if his performance isn’t All-Star worthy, Vogelsong is proving that he’s a completely different pitcher.

Just six starts into his season, Tommy Rancel took a closer look at Vogelsong’s stats. Rancel concluded that while Vogelsong looked like an improved pitcher, there were some signs that regression could be coming. Still, his peripherals seemed solid enough that regression might not hurt Vogelsong as much as we would expect.

For the most part, Rancel’s prediction has been correct. Although Vogelsong’s peripherals haven’t regressed all that much, his FIP and xFIP has risen despite the fact that his ERA has dropped over that same period. Even with that tiny regression, Vogelsong’s 3.61 xFIP tells us that his improvements are real. How exactly has he been able to come back and pitch effectively after five years out of the league?

There are two factors that seem to be propelling Vogelsong’s strong season. The first of which seems to be that he loves pitching at home. As Dave Cameron has profiled many many times on this site, there’s magic in the air at AT&T Park. Vogelsong has been a huge beneficiary of not only the park in general — where he’s allowed only five runs in 44.1 innings and carries a 1.01 ERA — but he has also benefitted from it’s magical home run preventing powers. Over those 44.1 innings, Vogelsong has only given up one home run at AT&T Park — good for a .20 HR/9 rate. While that number is ridiculously unsustainable, there’s something going on in San Francisco that limits home runs. We know his HR/9 rate is going to rise as the season progresses, but it’s still likely to remain pretty low.

The second factor behind Vogelsong’s emergence has been the effectiveness of his fastball. Despite never really being a strong weapon for Vogelsong, his fastball has been worth 13.8 runs above average this season. If you look at Vogelsong’s wFB/C — the average value of his fastball per 100 pitches — his current 1.82 rate leads all of major league baseball. For some reason, batters have had a much more difficult time picking up Vogelsong’s fastball this season. Since our PitchFx data on Vogelsong is so limited, it’s extremely tough to pinpoint exactly why his fastball has become a useful weapon at this point in his career.

Armed with a shiny new fastball, and some good fortune at his home park, Ryan Vogelsong has emerged as a useful mid-rotation starter for the San Francisco Giants. Perhaps he’s not All-Star worthy, but Vogelsong’s already exceeded expectations this season. If he can use his fastball to continue to strike out batters at a career-high rate, Vogelsong should continue to post solid stats even if his peripherals start to slip. We’ve expected regression from Vogelsong since May and it still hasn’t fully set it yet. Even when that regression comes, Vogelsong looks he’s done enough to overcome a total collapse.




Print This Post



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.


49 Responses to “Ryan Vogelsong’s Miracle Season Continues”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
  1. DrBGiantsfan says:

    I will say this: I saw Vogelsong pitch a few innings for the Giants way back before he was traded to the Pirates in the Jason Schmidt trade, and I thought he was going to be a star. Great size, long arms, great arm action, a live fastball with all kinds of movement, a sharp breaking ball. I figured the TJ surgery was just a temporary setback like it is for a lot of pitchers.

    I have no idea what was going on in his life or pitching mechanics all those years he literally wandered in the wilderness, but what I see now is exactly what I thought he could become 10, that’s right, 10 years ago!

    When the Giants signed him to a minor league deal this spring, of course I could not have predicted we’d see him do anything resembling what he’s doing now, but I did know that the Giants seem to have a knack for fixing talented pitchers who are struggling for whatever reason and I had reason to hope he might help this team out.

    One more thought: I don’t know the history of when or how Vogey met his wife, but she seems to be a special woman. For one thing, she is gorgeous and for another she seems to be a driving force behind his career resurgence. She urged him to give it one last try and attends all of his games. She tweets and says she cried all the way through his first start. She still cries when he walks off the field at the end of another successful start. Never, ever underestimate the power of a good woman in a man’s life!

    Oh and one more thing: Vogey’s winter ball catcher was Guillermo Rodriguez, long time Giants farmhand and now a coach in their organization. Vogey told GRod that he’d like to pitch for the Giants again. GRod sent along a recommendation, but no word came from on high. Then came an offer from the Dodgers. Vogey told GRod he wanted to give the Giants one last chance because HE DIDN’T WANT TO BE A DODGER! How great is that? Anyway, the Giants responded this time with a contract offer and the rest is history. Never underestimate the power of a man who has something to prove, not only to himself but to the organization that developed him and then traded him all those many years ago.

    Just a great, great story, the stuff movies are made of!

    +7 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Feeding the Abscess says:

      Poe’s law

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • state school grad says:

      check out vogelson and beckett

      vogelson age 33

      becket age 31 (bos redsox)

      6 feet 3 to becketts 6’4.6″

      similar stance similar delivery, same fastball ( a few ticks off for vogel )

      similar cutter, same curve, same changeup…. practically same W total and practically same SO per 9.

      what im saying is they are almost identical in velocity and delivery and height.

      almost same age too. very very scary, if you put vogelson in a beckett redsox uniform 99% of the drunk bo sox fans wouldnt recongize a difference.

      this is the “BECKETTS LAW”

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • state school grad says:

        you can email me for a job interview, i am currently looking for a job. i do research in the baseball and football field and am accurate 86% of the time.

        no one has pointed out the differences between beckett and vogelson until now on fangraphs. thank you.

        i do research in crunching numbers, deliveries, stances, bubble butts on starting pitchers, body fat indexes and other goodies.

        have a good day.

        -7 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • DrBGiantsfan says:

        I have no idea at all what that means or what the point of it is. There are a lot of pitchers in baseball who are between 6’3″ and 6’5″ with fastballs that go 91-93 MPH. Inneresting comp though.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • X-Terminator says:

        well, Rush Limbaugh is accurate 99.6% of the time so i think you need to kick it up a notch….

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Oasis says:

      “Just a great, great story, the stuff movies are made of”

      The movie “The Rookie” comes to mind. That guy had an awesome career too, right?

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • DrBGiantsfan says:

        Vogelsong has already accomplished way more in his career than the guy in the rookie, but great comp there. Let’s see, the guy is the rookie was a flash in the pan so Vogelsong must be too.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. Steve says:

    I, like everyone else on the planet, have no idea how Ryan Vogelsong has become good, but I don’t think it’s going to continue. I know the peripherals look good now, but I believe it’s just some random variation over 84.1 innings.

    There was an article on SB Nation about a month ago comparing him to Colby Lewis, who also spent time in Japan before coming back to the US and pitching well. The difference is that Lewis was dominant in Japan, while Vogelsong was just ok. He put up a 3.2 BB/9 and an 8.3 K/9 (7.4 as a starter). He then came back to the US and didn’t pitch well in AAA. He was then put in the Giants rotation had has pitched great, which doesn’t make much sense to me. I can be convinced that he’s magically a better pitcher, but it’s going to take a lot more than 84.1 innings to make me dismiss 10 years of mediocrity.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • DrBGiantsfan says:

      I’m sorry, but if you think what Vogelsong has done this year is due simply to random chance, you are an idiot. Have you watched any of his games? That is not just slop he’s throwing up there with hitters hitting rockets into gloves. Can he sustain it the rest of the year, or into next year? He might get hurt. He might suddenly forget whatever mechanical changes he made to get himself here. The stuff he is currently throwing is certainly commensurate with his results. He keeps that up and he’ll keep getting good results.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • DrBGiantsfan says:

      BTW,

      I watched Colby Lewis pitch in the post season last year and he wasn’t doing it with mirrors either. He was throwing great stuff out there.

      Maybe it’s hard for pitchers to stay healthy and maybe it’s hard for them to maintain good mechanics, but what Lewis did last year and what Vogelsong is doing this year is not due to random chance. To call it random chance is a lazy way out. It means you don’t have to understand the game and what produces certain results.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • DrBGiantsfan says:

      I want to apologize for using the term “idiot” in the above response. While I strongly disagree with Steve, it was wrong and inappropriate to call him an idiot.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Steve says:

        I was just trying to look at this from an unbiased view (unlike yourself). I have nothing against Vogelsong, it’s just hard for me to believe he’s suddenly a new pitcher. I think you’re just a Giants fan who hopes it’s real without any explanation. If you’re going to attack my reasoning, provide a little more reasoning than telling me his stuff is so great. He stuff had always been good, but he walked too many guys. Why at age 33 has he suddenly learned to throw strikes?

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • DrBGiantsfan says:

        Well, there’s that thing that the Giants seem to have darn good pitching coaches and maybe the Pirates don’t?

        What reasoning did you provide except to come on and say “I don’t think he can keep it up.” Well duh, he’s 33 years old and starting into his physical decline. Obviously he’s not going to keep it up forever. That does not make what he’s doing now a fluke.

        I ask you once again. Have you watched any of his games?

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • DrBGiantsfan says:

        Oh, and I have never, ever claimed to be unbiased. I’m a die hard Giants fan. I watch most of their games on TV. I like to share my observations and opinions about players on the team. Take it for what it’s worth.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Notagiantsfan says:

        Steve’s right, 84 IP is not near enough of a sample. In fact, his last two starts he’s walked 8 batters. I have seen Vogelsong pitch, and he did pitch well. If he continues to throw strike one consistently he’ll be average to above average, given his park and the lack of offense this year. You need to take off the homer glasses.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • DrBGiantsfan says:

        I’ll keep the homer glasses on, thank you. They fit just fine.

        Maybe you could point out where I ever said that Vogelsong is going to continue to put up 2.00 ERA’s indefinitely. All I said is if you have watched his games you know it’s not just due to random chance. He’s got great stuff. Like I said, I have no idea what is different in his life than the last 10 years: The Giants have better coaching? A good wife? Realizing time was running out on him? Learning something in Japan? I just know it’s not because he’s throwing the same old slop up there and hitters just happen to be hitting right at his fielders.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Steve says:

        That’s such a flimsy argument. I’m not a professional scout and I’m pretty sure you’re not either. It’s easy to say someone’s stuff looks good when the results are so good. I prefer to look at things from a numbers perspective because that’s the only way I know how. Zach Greinke’s stuff looks plenty good to me and his ERA is almost 6. I don’t know what effect good coaching can have on a player. I don’t know what he’s learned throughout his career. All I have to go on is what he’s done in the past, and looking at that I have no reason to believe his success will continue. I not simply saying he won’t maintain a 2 ERA like you are saying I am, but I don’t know if he can maintain an ERA under 4, regardless of how awesome his wife is.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • DrBGiantsfan says:

        Come back and talk about it after you’ve seen him pitch a few games.

        Even looking at it from a statistical standpoint, his peripheral stats back up that this is real. Your use of Greinke actually helps support my contention about Vogelsong because I believe Grienke’s peripheral stats point to his current high ERA as being very likely due to chance while Vogelsong’s point to his current success as being for real and possibly sustainable.

        Just because you don’t understand something or have an explanation for it doesn’t make it due to chance. That’s a lot like in ancient times, when natural phenomena occured that people did not understand the mechanism for, they would attribute it to an “act of God” or some other supernatural power.

        Attributing everything you see in baseball but don’t understand to chance is the lazy way out and discourages further investigation.

        I never said Vogelsong’s success was due to his awesome wife. I simply suggested that her presence in his life may have played some role in his success. Ditto, his determination to prove something to himself and the team that originally drafted and developed him. Ditto the skill of the Giants pitching coaches. I don’t know what roles all those factors played in his current success either, but there are a whole lot of possibilities other than simply attributing it to chance.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Steve says:

        I don’t understand why thinking his success is random variation can’t be a reasonable explanation. I don’t think that everything that can’t be quantified doesn’t exist. It’s certainly possible that he’s had some sort of epiphany that has caused him to pitch well. I just don’t believe that’s the case. There’s a ton of pitchers who have a good half season and then go back to what they were. There’s a chance he becomes Cliff Lee and magically figures things out after years of pitching, but that’s not very likely. Anything can happen over 84 innings. You just want to see him do well because you’re a Giants fan, and you’re coming up with any possible reason why it’s real. I don’t care if he fails or succeeds, I’m just sating my opinion. Maybe he’s the real deal, but I need to see more. And yes, I have seen him pitch. I’m just not skilled enough to watch a guy on tv and be able to see the difference in his stuff now compared to 5 years ago, just like 99% of people watching him. DO you say his stuff is better because you can see the extra movement on the fastball or bite on the slider or simply because the results are better?

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • DrBGiantsfan says:

        I saw Vogelsong pitch when he was first called up by the Giants in 2001 after putting up good numbers in the PCL which is pretty tough on pitchers. He had great stuff then and I thought he was going to be a star. I see the same great stuff now. I don’t know what happened in between except he had TJ surgery and he was pitching in a crappy organization.

        Sounds like you need to watch a few games on a HDTV with Mike Krukow doing the color commentary. You really can see what pitches are being throw, location and movement quite well. It’s not that hard to tell the difference between good stuff and slop.

        I notice you never address the peripheral stats which support the notion that he’s throwing good stuff except to just repeat your mantra that it’s all do to chance because, because….well, you just believe it.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • DrBGiantsfan says:

        There are 3 kinds of people in the world: Those who admit they are biased, those who are in denial about it and those who lie about it.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Steve says:

      Why would I lie? I just enjoy watching baseball (I’m a Cubs fan by the way, so Vogelsong has no effect on my team). I believe it’s a fluke because it’s the most likely explanation in my eyes. I’m sure you were watching Moseley (a bad pitcher) strike out 9 and walk 1 with a 7-1 goundball to flyball rate tonight. Those seem like pretty good peripheral numbers to me. That doesn’t mean I think it’s going to continue, because of what he’s done in the past. Vogelsong wasn’t very good in the past either, so I’m going to need more evidence that he’s changed. I thought Cliff Lee was a mirage when he dramatically cut down on his walks and became a much better pitcher, but I was wrong and I might be wrong here too. I simply need to see more innings if I’m going to believe it. I’m not sure why you find this so offensive. You have no tangible evidence on your opinion and neither do I, yet you somehow think your is vastly superior. I love to argue, but we’re just going in circles here. I wish you and your Giants good luck. Maybe there will be a Vogelsong for Cy Young article at the end of the season and you can laugh in my face.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. GreenApples says:

    Here’s a graphic I updated of Vogelsong’s career k/bb: http://imgur.com/973cb

    I’m not convinced Vogelsong was terrible in Japan (although I don’t know league averages for NPB). He certainly wasn’t Colby Lewis, but he showed improvement (perhaps because he was used sparingly, likely in relief).

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • GreenApples says:

      I forgot to update the date. I pulled the 2011 data from today (7/4/11).

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • X-Terminator says:

      where do you get that Japanese League data(or Korean leagues as well)?
      i tried searching on the internet every so often and can’t find anything….would think sites like BBRef and the Cube and FanGraphs might add them to the individual players’ career stat pages…

      also would be nice if stupid mlb.com would add minor league data some time this decade…

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. kmlogvf says:

    ok ji

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. Barkey Walker says:

    “regression could be coming” regression is always coming, but it is a population phenomenon, not an individual phenomenon.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • DrBGiantsfan says:

      It’s also going to be next to impossible to tell with Vogelsong what is regression due to random chance and what is due to eroding skills as he is now 33 years old and nearing the physical downslope of his career.

      Also, you don’t have to be a sabermetrician to know he’s not going to maintain an ERA close to 2.00 indefinitely.

      I do think there is a bette than even chance he has found something that will enable him to be a productive pitcher until the inevitable downward physical slope surpasses the newfound skills.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • DrBGiantsfan says:

      From a statistical terminology standpoint, getting older is not part of regression. Regression to a Mean and Career Trajectory are two completely separate mathematical functions.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Fiveloko says:

      You obviously haven’t seen my hairline.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. BDF says:

    Do visiting teams reap the same homerun-prevention benefits at AT&T as the Giants? Have those numbers been crunched?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Graham says:

      Well, the Giants have something like -8 home runs at home this year. But given that they’re running out one of the worst offenses in baseball on a daily basis, it’s a bit tricky to separate how much of that is the ballpark, how much is the effectiveness of their opponents’ pitching, and how much is having Manny Burriss, Miguel Tejada, Brandon Crawford, Eli Whiteside, Chris Stewart, et al creating outs equivalent to plate appearances. (But I love you, Brandon Crawford — you just keep picking it and working the count and you’ll be fine.)

      I am thrilled that Vogelsong made the All-Star team. I completely agree with DrB above — the dude has been dealing, start after start, and while it may be tempting to just write this off as some kind of fluke that can’t continue, that stance isn’t really borne out by any sort of statistical investigation. If you want to gripe about Tommy Hanson not making the squad — and he’s clearly All-Star worthy, though it’s always a numbers game — the gripe should be that Lincecum made it, not Vogelsong. (This is particularly true since Lincecum allegedly dislikes the ASG anyway, but that’s his prerogative.)

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  7. Matt says:

    How did you write about what is fueling his success and leave out BB/9? In his first stint in the USA he averaged about 6K/9 and 4-5BB/9. Then, he went to Japan, came back to the states, and in the minors averaged about 10-11K/9 and 5-6BB/9, then he was promoted to the majors and where he was walked less than 3 per 9.

    He apparently learned how to strike guys out when he went to Japan and then magically cut his walk rate in half when he came back to SF. His HR rate helps explain the difference between his ERA and his xFIP, it does nothing to explain how he went from scrub who couldn’t stick in the league to better than average starter.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • hairball says:

      You’ve hit the nail on the head. Vogelsong will live or die by his BB rate. His last two starts he’s allowed 4 walks each time out. This is a trend to watch.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. Phantom Stranger says:

    I hate throwing accusations around, but his fastball moves way too much for the ball not to be doctored. Honestly I don’t believe at his age that he somehow just figured out how to pitch, he was an established commodity that was well-known around MLB. Lots of players when faced with the choice of being a career Minor Leaguer, or cheating, choose cheating.

    The regression will come when he has to temper whatever edge he is currently employing, or the scouts dissect his new approach.

    -8 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Graham says:

      Please crawl back under your bridge.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • holls says:

      he does lick his hand and wipe the ball and then wipe off the jersey a lot. good eye by me of course

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • X-Terminator says:

      i think the Vogelsong’s are religious or Christians or whatever…i looked at the Twitter page a few weeks ago….not that that would preclude cheating but seems unlikely…

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  9. Jason says:

    Sometimes it just takes guys awhile to “get it”.

    If he’d been picked up by the Cardinals, all you’d hear about way how great Dave Duncan is.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Graham says:

      Good point. And it begs the question: when do we elevate Righetti to the status of “elite pitching coach?” The Giants have had above-average staffs pretty much throughout his tenure, and he’s had more than his share of successful reclamation projects. Dave Cameron’s research into home-run suppression is just more grist for the mill.

      For me, Righetti is on a short list with Don Cooper, Leo Mazzone, and the aforementioned Duncan as a coach who at least appears to have made enormous contributions to his team over the past 15 years or so. His VORC has to be way up there on the leaderboard.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Jason says:

        When Jonathan Sanchez figures out how to throw strikes?

        Snark aside – Rags is great and doesnt get enough credit. The Giants are doing something right with their pitching development in the minor leagues too.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  10. I’ve wondered whether the ‘Fukedome’ like batting stance used by lots of hitters in Japan plays a part in the changed nature of pitchers who go through their leagues. If you can’t hit the outside corner and don’t develop downward tilt on your 2 seam fastball, they’ll make short work of you. Add to that the better fielding skills usually exhibited by Japanese infielders, a pitcher learns to trust his ‘sink’. If you watch Vogelsongs fastball action, it’s really extreme and quite late.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  11. Oasis says:

    When did fangraphs annex McCovey Chronicals? Vogelsong is much closer to being one of the worst ever All-Star choices than an elite pitcher.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • holls says:

      says who, you? right….

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • X-Terminator says:

      he’s had 1 bad start out of 13….

      8.0 IP – 1 ER
      8.0 IP – 1 ER
      7.0 IP – 1 ER
      6.2 IP – 2 ER
      6.1 IP – 0 ER
      6.0 IP – 0 ER
      6.0 IP – 0 ER
      6.0 IP – 2 ER
      6.0 IP – 2 ER
      5.2 IP – 2 ER
      5.0 IP – 1 ER

      5.0 IP – 3 ER(okay maybe one mediocre start also)

      4.0 IP – 5 ER (May 3rd vs. NY Mets)

      and he pitched another 4.2 scoreless in relief and in 2 starts at Fresno to begin the year he was 2-0 with 1.59 ERA and 17 k in 11.1 IP…and he had a decent ST iirc…something must be different because he really attacks the strike zone…seems to have confidence in his stuff…

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  12. X-Terminator says:

    btw i do notice that he’s been getting hit just a shade more in his last 5 or so starts….

    Vote -1 Vote +1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>