Vogelsong Resurfaces in San Francisco

Bartolo Colon has taken the early lead for American League Comeback Player of the Year. Over in the National League, Ryan Vogelsong is in the middle of a nice comeback story of his own along the San Francisco Bay. Once upon a time, Vogelsong was a prospect in the Giants system after he was selected in the 5th round of the 1998 draft. He jockeyed for position in the organization before he was shipped to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2001 as part of the Jason Schmidt deal. From 2001-2006, he appeared in 103 games for Pittsburgh with mostly replacement level results.

The right-hander spent a few seasons in Japan before returning to the United States in 2010. He pitched in the Philadelphia organization last season, but did not appear in a big league game. More than a decade after his selection in the draft, Vogelsong has returned to the Giants and is contributing on the major league level.

A longshot to make the club out of spring training, he reported to Triple-A before receiving a call up in early April. After missing four full seasons in the big leagues, he made his first two appearances since 2006 out of the San Francisco bullpen. He was given the chance to start once Barry Zito hit the disabled list and opened a spot in the rotation. Although it’s just four starts, Vogelsong has been quite the surprise for the Giants.

Vogelsong has logged 22 innings as a starter this season, earning an FIP of 3.30 and xFIP of 3.44. He has 21 strikeouts to just eight walks and surrendered just two home runs in 93 batters faced. At age 33, he still throws in the low-90s and works off a cut-fastball, curveball, and changeup as well. In limited sample size, his breaking ball has been effective against left-handed batters. On the other side, his cutter has been solid against his fellow right-handers.

Despite the solid strikeout rate of 8.10 per nine, Vogelsong is not collecting whiffs in bunches. Considering his 62% overall strike rate as well as his sub 2.75 BB/9, it appears as if the late model of Vogelsong has become a better-rounded pitcher.

This weekend, Vogelsong received credit for his first major league complete game and shutout. I say credited with because the game lasted just six innings before it was called because of rain. Had the game continued, Vogelsong would have probably been finished after the sixth inning because of pitch count (102).

Nonetheless, the right-hander was once again effective in his work on the mound. He allowed seven hits (all singles) while walking one batter and striking out seven. Of the 15 balls the Cubs put in play against him, 11 stayed on the ground – including an infield hit. On the season, he owns a groundball rate just above 45%.

With Barry Zito’s return uncertain, the Giants will continue to roll with Vogelsong. There is room for regression in his .240 BABIP and 83% strand rate, but the solid peripherals suggest that he is not just a byproduct of luck. Considering the cost to sign him was a non-roster invite to camp, the half win the team has already received makes the signing an early season success. The success stories of Vogelsong and Colon are more exceptions than the rule, but they do show that once in a while there is some life left in the many arms that lay on the major league scrap heap.

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Tommy Rancel also writes for Bloomberg Sports and ESPNFlorida.com. Follow on twitter @TRancel

22 Responses to “Vogelsong Resurfaces in San Francisco”

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  1. johngomes says:

    zito appears set to be the highest paid long reliever in mlb history… another accomplishment to his illustrustous career.

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    • Big Jgke says:

      Maybe this is a tired opinion, but, lay off these guys (Zito, Wells, etc) for their contracts. Its just a cheap, meaningless, opinion. Zito is an incredibly accomplished pitcher who took the best deal offered to him; he didn’t force the giants into this deal and has handled himself with class while being constantly pilloried by morons for taking what the market decided was his just compensation.

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      • Everett says:

        Exactly – not his fault that the Giants offered him a pile of cash. What is he supposed to do? Say no? Blame the front office, not the player.

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      • Sour Bob says:

        Agreed. It’s not like Zito purposefully went into decline to spite the Giants. A team he thought he would like to play for told him he was worth an exorbitant amount of money. Yeah, we could see some problems with that deal in advance, but can honestly you fault a professional athlete with a track record of success for believing he would continue to excel?

        And who here would give the money back? Okay, you would, Gil Meche. Good for you. Very few others, though.

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      • Graham says:

        Look: Zito is, by all accounts, a great guy. Supportive teammate, upstanding guy who didn’t cause a distraction during the postseason last year when it’s reasonable to assume that the vast majority of players would’ve cried publicly in similar positions, etc. But if you haven’t actually endured more than a handful of Zito’s starts in a Giants uniform, you’re only getting half the equation.

        You’re quite right that Zito is not to blame for his contract. In fact, I’d go you one further and say he should be high-fived for it. But the WAY in which he achieves his mediocre results is the reason why Giants fans feel entitled to a certain amount of vitriol. The unbelievably imprudent lapses in command and concentration, the constantly shifting tea-leaf public self-reflection…Zito can be incredibly frustrating simply on his own merits, without taking into account the $126 million.

        I’m glad FG did a ‘leave Lackey alone’ piece the other day, and I’m glad that there is such a strong sense of fairness towards Zito as well. But I think this chatter of Zito “pilloried by morons” is more than a little over the top.

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      • Scout Finch says:

        So you want to be professional athlete and make lots of money in a media saturated era…

        … this is what you bargained for.

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      • Deelron says:

        “So you want to be professional athlete and make lots of money in a media saturated era…

        … this is what you bargained for.”

        Except Zito isn’t the one complaining, it’s the rest of us who are tired of hearing people rip on another human being because a team gave him a horrific contract.

        If he was eating babies that’d be one thing, or if he was saying he was still incredible against facts that show the opposite that’d be another but all he’s done is not be worth the money he was given, and that’s for many of us that is not worth the derision and snark directed at him and others in his position. Rip the decision makers, not the player.

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      • Big Jgke says:

        @Graham, that’s a fairly evenhanded analysis, clearly based on game-observation. As a Jays fan in Toronto, I don’t see the Giants play all that often, so its good to understand where some of the vitriol in this specific case comes from.

        My larger point, however, is that this line of argument is tiresome and unnecessary and adds nothing (or very very little) to the discourse.

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  2. Scout Finch says:

    Let’s say Vogelsong keeps this up over his next four starts with 3 good ones and a rough one and his FIP regresses to somewhere in the 3.5-3.7 range.

    At the same time, a rehabilitating Barry Zito pitches like Barry Zito in San Jose & Fresno (lots of walks, lots of hits).

    What’s the most realistic outcome given the above scenarios ? Extend the DL to 60 ? Cut bait ? Pay the Yankees to take him ? Bring him back aboard regardless ?

    Should be interesting…

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  3. Kriz says:

    I wonder how long they can leave Zito “rehabbing” in AAA? Forever?

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  4. Levi Davis says:

    I’m having fun watching Vogelsong, and I’m rooting for him, but I would hardly characterize it as a comeback; more like finally breaking through.

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    • My echo and bunnymen says:

      He’s only pitched more than 100 innings in year once and that was worth an incredible -.1
      So I gotta say that’s it a breakthrough as well.

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  5. xeifrank says:

    Nice article. Any reason to believe his true talent level is way better than what the mainstream thought before the season started? Is there any new pitch that has made him better? Or are we just waiting for the heavy regression towards replacement level?
    vr, Xei

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    • GiantHusker says:

      I’d like to believe he’s found something that actually makes him better, but I think regression is far more likely.

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    • Paul says:

      He was always a big arm guy with poor command. I can’t imagine the trade to Pittsburgh helped him. Remember that Colby Lewis was a first round pick who was considered a bust, went to Japan, then last year happened. Not saying he’s Lewis, but you could probably do a lot worse than Vogelsong as your 5th starter. Actually, let me just throw Kyle Davies out there.

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  6. SFSUGatorAlum says:

    Also watching the game on Saturday night in extremely rainy and horrible conditions he was still able to get the break and rotation on his curveball. Something Doug Davis was unable to do.

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  7. Paul says:

    From Baseball America’s Top 10 from 2002:

    7. Ryan Vogelsong, rhp

    Age: 24. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 195. Drafted: Kutztown (Pa.), 1998 (5th round). Signed by: Alan Marr (Giants).

    Background: San Francisco traded Vogelsong and Armando Rios to the Pirates for veterans Jason Schmidt and John Vander Wal. Vogelsong was sent to Nashville to build up arm strength as a starter after serving as a reliever for the Giants. He was part of Pittsburgh’s late-season callups and tore an elbow ligament in his second start, necessitating Tommy John surgery in mid-September.

    Strengths: Vogelsong doesn’t have one dominant pitch but has command of four good ones. His fastball reaches 94 mph and he throws it to both sides of the plate. He also has a fine curveball, a late-breaking slider and an improving changeup. Vogelsong has outstanding makeup, as he’s intelligent and noted for his competitiveness.

    Weaknesses: Vogelsong’s future is cloudy after surgery. He’ll miss all of 2002, which figured to be his first full season in the major leagues.

    The Future: The Pirates hope Vogelsong eventually can slot into the middle of their rotation, maybe even as a No. 2 starter.

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  8. BillWallace says:

    The info going around on him before this year was decent stuff, bad control, and the stats back that up. So far this year you can see he has major league stuff, but he’s also had solid control.

    There is precedent for pitchers gaining control later in their careers, but the smart money is still on some regression there. So put him at 7 K/9 3.5 BB/9 40% GB and 8.5% HR/FB, that’s about 4.2-4.4 FIP, which is at least good as Zeets right now.

    Let him pitch!

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  9. gonfalon says:

    “From 2001-2006, he appeared in 103 games for Pittsburgh with **mostly replacement level results**.”


    You don’t earn the nickname “The White Flag” by posting replacement level results. Vogelsong was especially horrible in 2004 (-1.6 bWAR), where the only starting pitcher worse was Hideo Nomo, who also missed 2 months of the season.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy for the guy. But let’s not rewrite history here.

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  10. Fergie348 says:

    One of the better baseball stories this year, I think. I’m going to see his next start in person on Friday, but from what I’ve seen so far it looks like he’s been able to spot all his pitches. He’s been the G’s best, most consistent starter since he came up. He thows 4 pitches with movement and now he seems to be able to control them all. Maddux-esqe is probably the best way to put it. There may be some regression in his control or results, but he’s got a long way to go before we consider putting Zito back in the rotation..

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