A Look at San Francisco Giants Journeyman Ryan Vogelsong

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1998 Giants draftee Ryan Vogelsong puts the "journey" in journeyman with stints in Pittsburgh, Hanshin, Orix, Salt Lake, and Lehigh Valley before making his first career start with the Giants over a decade after the franchise drafted him.

After rallying to defeat the Cincinnati Reds in the NLDS, the San Francisco Giants announced that Ryan Vogelsong would start Game 2 of the NLCS against the Cardinals. That Vogelsong is in the majors and starting in the postseason in 2012 is somewhat surprising, given the path his career has taken since making his big-league debut in 2000. Today I thought we'd take a look at Vogelsong's circuitous route to the Giants major league rotation and how he has performed since landing a spot in it. If Vogelsong weren't facing the Cardinals tonight, I'd be rooting for him.

Vogelsong was drafted by the Giants in fifth round of the 1998 amateur draft. In 2000, he made his big-league debut with the Giants as a September callup. In 2001, Vogelsong was called up in late May and stuck with the big-league bullpen until the trade deadline, when he was sent to the Pirates as a part of the package that brought Jason Schmidt to the Giants. The Pirates sent Vogelsong to their Triple-A affiliate and called him up when rosters expanded in September. After joining the Pirates, Vogelsong suffered an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. He was able to work his way back to the big leagues as a starter for the Pirates. After posting a 6.50 ERA, 5.55 FIP, and 5.45 xFIP in 133 IP over 26 starts and 30 appearances in 2005, Vogelsong was banished to the Pittsburgh bullpen. After a 6.39 ERA over 30 relief innings in 2006, Vogelsong was banished to Japan.

Okay, so Vogelsong wasn't banished to Japan. He was actually given his release and he signed with the Hanshin Tigers as a free agent. Vogelsong pitched for Hanshin in 2007 and 2008. In 2009, he played for the Orix Blue Wave. From The Baseball Cube, here are his stats:

YEAR

TEAM

G

IP

K/9

BB/9

ERA

WHIP

2007

Hinshin

20

106.2

7.68

3.46

4.13

1.44

2008

Hinshin

12

65.1

6.89

2.62

3.99

1.29

2009

Orix

30

41.2

12.10

3.46

4.54

1.32


There isn't much in those stats to suggest a future successful return to the Major League Baseball, which is part of what makes Vogelsong's story so compelling. In 2010, Vogelsong signed a minor league deal with the Angels of Anaheim. Anaheim released Vogelsong and the Phillies signed him to a minor league deal. Vogelsong made seven starts each for Salt Lake and Lehigh Valley, but made the vast majority of his appearances in relief for Lehigh Valley. Here are his stats in Triple-A during the 2010 season:

TEAM

G

GS

IP

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

BABIP

ERA

FIP

Salt Lake

8

7

36.2

9.08

5.40

0.49

.402

4.66

3.94

Lehigh Valley

25

7

58.2

11.20

6.14

0.92

.346

4.91

4.24


After the 2010 season, Vogelsong signed a minor league contract with the club that drafted him. After starting the season with the Giants' Triple-A affiliate, Vogelsong was promoted to San Francisco. After making two appearances in relief, Vogelsong made his first start for San Francisco on April 28, 2011, over twelve years after being drafted by the franchise.

In 2011, Vogelsong burst on the scene with his impressive 2.71 ERA, which ranked fourth in the NL and was good for an excellent 74 ERA-. Of course, the defense independent pitching stats undercut the excellence of Vogelsong's 2011 campaign. Vogelsong's ERA was 0.96 lower than his FIP, which was the second-largest gap amongst pitchers who outperformed their FIP in 2011. At 3.67, Vogelsong's 2011 FIP was good for an exactly average 100 FIP-. Vogelsong's 3.85 xFIP was also good for an exactly average 100 xFIP-. In 2012, Vogelsong was due for some regression.

In 2012, Vogelsong saw his ERA jump to 3.37, which works out to an 89 ERA-, which is still pretty good. Vogelsong's FIP of 3.70 equals an essentially league-average 99 FIP-. His xFIP of 4.15, however, is a worse-than-average 106 xFIP- for the year.

YEAR

GS

IP

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

BABIP

ERA

FIP

xFIP

2011

28

179.2

6.96

3.06

0.75

.280

2.71

3.67

3.85

2012

31

189.2

7.50

2.94

0.81

.284

3.37

3.70

4.15


Vogelsong has had success as a starter during his renaissance due to a large repertoire that he uses to its fullest extent. Vogelsong throws a fair number of sinkers, but also deploys a fourseamer. He also uses a cutter and curveball in near-equal shares. For good measure, he also throws an occasional changeup. Using the wonderful data at Brooks Baseball, here is a chart showing Vogelsong's pitch selection since joining the San Francisco rotation last year.

VOGELSONG OVERALL PITCH SELECTION

YEAR

FA

FA%

SI

SI%

FC

FC%

CU

CU%

CH

CH%

2011

979

32%

753

25%

437

14%

592

19%

302

10%

2012

983

33%

705

23%

375

12%

541

18%

399

13%

TOTAL

1962

32%

1458

24%

812

13%

1133

19%

701

12%


Not surprisingly, Vogelsong deploys his arsenal of pitches differently when facing lefthanded and righthanded batters. He is more likely to throw his fourseamer against righties and his sinker against lefties. Unsurprisingly, Vogelsong uses his curveball more against righthanded batters and his changeup more often against lefthanded batters. The veteran likes to use his cutter in equal measure against lefties and righties alike. Using Brooks Baseball's data, here is chart showing Vogelsong's pitche selection by handedness of the batter and count.

VOGELSONG PITCH SELECTION VS. LEFTHANDED BATTERS

SITUATION

FOURSEAM

SINKER

CUTTER

CURVEBALL

CHANGEUP

All Counts

30%

23%

11%

17%

19%

1st Pitch

19%

31%

9%

23%

18%

Batter Ahead

30%

31%

9%

8%

21%

Even

24%

25%

12%

19%

20%

Pitcher Ahead

38%

13%

12%

23%

14%

2 Strikes

47%

8%

14%

17%

13%


One of the most interesting tendencies of the righthander Vogelsong is how he attacks lefthanded batsmen when ahead in the count. He doesn't use his changeup or his curveball, as one might expect. Rather, he uses his fourseamer and he does so nearly 50 percent of the time.

When behind in the count, Vogelsong likes to go to his sinker. This is common amongst righthanders. Chris Carpenter also does this, but at a much higher rate than Vogelsong (perhaps because Carpenter's sinker is superior to Vogelsong's). Another interesting tendency for Vogelsong is the fact that he uses his changeup against lefthanders more when the batter is ahead in the count or the count is even than when the count is in the pitcher's favor.

Also of note, Vogelsong is just as likely to throw his curve to a lefthanded batter on the first pitch of a plate appearance as when Vogelsong is ahead in the count.

VOGELSONG PITCH SELECTION VS. RIGHTHANDED BATTERS

SITUATION

FOURSEAM

SINKER

CUTTER

CURVEBALL

CHANGEUP

All Counts

35%

25%

15%

20%

5%

1st Pitch

38%

20%

18%

22%

2%

Batter Ahead

40%

31%

13%

10%

6%

Even

34%

23%

17%

21%

5%

Pitcher Ahead

31%

22%

15%

28%

5%

2 Strikes

38%

21%

9%

26%

6%


Vogelsong throws his fourseamer a plurality of the time in every situation when facing righthanded batters. As is the case when notching two strikes against lefthanders, Vogelsong also uses his fourseamer more than any other pitch when he is facing a righthanded batter with two strikes. Even so, Vogelsong likes to use his curveball when ahead of righthanders, as well.

Using the wonderful Pitch F/X Pitcher Profile at Baseball Prospectus, we can get a good idea of how Vogelsong deploys his pitches.

Against lefthanded batters, Vogelsong likes to attack lefthanded batters middle-in. He also throws the pitch up in the zone.

FASTBALL FREQUENCY VS. LHB

Vogelsong attacks righthanders in the opposite fashion. Rather than challenging them in with his fourseam fastball, he prefers to work away against them with the pitch. One similarity with the way he deploys the fourseamer against lefthanders and righthanders, is his tendency to work up in the zone.

FASTBALL FREQUENCY VS. RHB

A look at how Vogelsong generates swings-and-misses with his fourseamer gives us an idea of how he will deploy the pitch when ahead in the count. Vogelsong generates the vast majority of his whiffs by getting batters to chase his fourseamer up and out of the zone.

FASTBALL WHIFFS VS. LHB & RHB

The high fourseamer is a nice complement to Vogelsong's curve against righties and his change against lefties. One often hears analysts talk about changing a hitter's eye level by working both up and down. The dramatic illustration of whiffs generated up in the zone by Vogelsong's fastball is made all the starker when compared to the whiffs he generates with his changeup vs. lefthanders and his curveball vs. righthanders.

CHANGEUP WHIFFS VS. LHB

CURVEBALL WHIFFS VS. RHB

Even though Vogelsong does not have a very high Swinging Strike Percentage, I use the whiff rate charts to demonstrate how Vogelsong will deploy his pitches when ahead in the account. Whether a whiff or weak contact, this looks to be how Vogelsong will approach batters when ahead.

In 2012, the splits available at Fangraphs demonstrate that Vogelsong has been harder on righthanded batters during the 2012 campaign than he has against lefthanded batters even though he struck out 21.6 percent of the lefthanded batters he faced compared to 18.5 percent of the righthanded batters he faced. Vogelsong is more likely to strike-out and walk lefthanded batters. He walked 8.9 percent of the lefties he faced and 6.5 percent of the righties. On the season, lefthanders have hit for a higher average, walked more, and hit for more power against Vogelsong.

2012 BATTING SPLITS VS. VOGELSONG

SPLIT

BA

OBP

SLG

ISO

wOBA

vs. LHB

.249

.321

.402

.153

.314

Overall

.238

.309

.379

.141

.300

vs. RHB

.228

.297

.357

.129

.285


Vogelsong has an incredible personal story. His career renaissance is remarkable. However, his ERA since rejoining the Giants is lower than his fielding independent stats by a fair amount. The veteran righthander is due for a regression in runs allowed, whether by home run or base hit. With the highly skilled batsmen in the Cardinals lineup, it will be interesting to see if they can generate some runs against the righty.

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