Ryan Vogelsong and Roy Halladay have returned to the big leagues. Both have had decent results so far, and ones that can’t completely be explained away by matchups. On the other hand, the underlying realities of their arsenals right now combine to make a powerful argument against trusting either veteran with a crucial late-season start for your fantasy team.
We have more data on Vogelsong, and holding teams like Pittsburgh (11th in the NL in runs), Boston (second in the AL) and Baltimore (third in the AL) to a combined four runs over 21 innings is an accomplishment in grit. That he did so with 14 strikeouts and five walks is not even a problem — he’s always shown average strikeout and walk rates at best. He’s fly-ball heavy again as usual, too, but he’s succeeded with this package in the past.
Vogey had a serious case of homeritis before he got hurt, but his injury was a hit-by-pitch so if anything beyond his finger ‘got right,’ it was merely the rest that made it happen. If he’s giving up fewer homers now, it’s probably just regression to the mean in other words. His 15.5% home run per fly ball ratio this year is much higher than the league average (10.6%), and after giving up 11 home runs in his first nine starts, his two home runs in the five games since is closer to the work he’s put up in the last two years in San Francisco. Since he threw a clunker in against Washington on the road (three earned runs and nine baserunners in 3.2 innings), it might be tempting to use him when he’s home and his homer risk is mitigated.
Now the bad news. Movement and velocity on every single one of Vogelsong’s pitches are down from earlier in the season, when his velocity was down from last season. He went from averaging close to 92 last season to 90.5 earlier this season, and is now down to 88.4 on his fourseamer according to Brooks Baseball. Even worse, Vogelsong has decided to throw his cutter more than either his four-seamer or sinker — up to 26% of the the time from the mid-teens — and his cutter floats out of his hand at 85.6 mph on average these days.
Velocity isn’t everything, and we haven’t yet proven that ten miles per hour difference between your fastball and changeup means as much as the folklore says it does. But Vogelsong used to throw a 92 mph fastball most of all, with an 84 mph change that was maybe his best secondary pitch. Now Vogelsong throws an 85.6 mph cutter most of all, and his 81.3 mph changeup is getting smoked and giving him about one third of the whiffs of an average changeup. If we call Vogelsong’s cutter his fastball — heck even if we focus on his 88 mph four-seamer — we have to remember that right around 87-88 mph is where fastballs lose swinging strikes and gain home runs.
Vogelsong was iffy before, when his combination of swinging strikes, walks and ground balls didn’t really add up to his ERA results. Now the arsenal behind those mediocre peripherals is worse, making him an even iffier play despite a decent run since his return.
Fellow 36-year-old Roy Halladay? Well, Jeff Sullivan sussed his start out pretty well. Interesting to hear that Halladay’s doctors believe that velocity is the last thing to come. We know from the numbers that fastball velocity for pitchers returning from the DL stabilizes very quickly. Since he average over 88 with his fastball last year, we can say (yes, even from one start), that it’s 68% likely that he won’t average much over 89 on his fastball going forward. If he averages 88 with his fastball in his next two starts, he’s 95% likely to sit between 88 and 89 on the gun the rest of the way.
So Doc is most likely going to pitch in that same 87-88 mph border zone, a tick away from more home runs — but he’s pitching in a worse park and returning from a surgery that fells most pitchers. Even without the surgery, just being older than 35 and going on the DL for a shoulder problem puts Halladay in a bucket that produces, on average, 59 more innings over the course of the average career.
Both of these veteran pitchers are stories to root for. They’ve overcome many obstacles in their career, and are just trying once more to hold back the arms of the clock as they mercilessly tick forward. Anybody in their thirties that has hurt themselves knows that they aren’t getting the same cooperation from their bodies. And that’s why the peripherals, and the arsenals, show that their early results aren’t a bedrock for future success. Be careful even how you spot start these two.
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