May 15, 2013
An Out-of-Tune Vogelsong
The Giants saw enough from Ryan Vogelsong in his first season back from oblivion that they gave him a new contract that could keep him in San Francisco through the 2014 season. In 2012, Vogelsong picked up right where he left off in 2011, but that success story has not continued thus far in 2013.
To date, opponents have hit .323 against him with a 939 OPS and a .370 batting average on balls in play. Those numbers are a dramatic spike from the past two seasons, when batters hit .243 against him with just a 680 OPS and a .286 BABIP.
The struggles are not sitting well with Vogelsong, who has both shown his frustrations and expressed them. He recently said, “I wish there was something wrong so I could blame it on that, but there’s nothing wrong with me.”
From reviewing Vogelsong’s player card at Brooks Baseball, a few things stand out. His average fastball velocity is sitting at 90.5 mph this season, down from 91.3 in 2012, and continuing a three-year decline in average velocity. Given the fact that he is 35 years old, this is not terribly surprising. What does stand out is a slightly higher vertical release point that coincides neatly with a decline in horizontal movement on his pitches. As a result of that diminished movement, his ground-ball rates are in decline, and his swing-and-miss rates are trending downward, too.
From a skills standpoint, here is how Vogelsong’s rates in 2013 compare to his work over the previous two seasons:
Despite the inferior batted-ball outcomes, Vogelsong’s supporting skills are very much in line with what he did over the previous two seasons. He is striking out more hitters now than in the past while throwing a smaller percentage of strikes in the zone. The .370 BABIP would normally be indicative of an inflated line-drive rate, but his current rate is not much different than it was when he was pitching well, and it is still better than the league average.
While reviewing Vogelsong’s pitch plots, you can see that he is elevating pitches at a higher frequency this season. That helps to explain his biggest issue in 2013: the long ball. Vogelsong gave up 32 home runs over the previous two seasons in 1,540 plate appearances, yet he has already surrendered nine home runs in just 183 plate appearances in 2013. His HR:FB in each of the previous two seasons was 8.2 percent, but that ratio has skyrocketed to 19.6 percent this season.
His pitch mix has changed, as well. It now includes fewer regular fastballs and and a higher percentage of cutters. His usage of his changeup and his curveball is nearly identical to the previous two seasons, but he is still turning to his hard stuff nearly 70 percent of the time.
Many of Vogelsong’s issues appear to be situational. From 2011 to 2012, Vogelsong held hitters to a .197 batting average and a 499 OPS when he had the advantage in the count, a sample of 726 plate appearances. He has been up in the count 82 times in 2013, but hitters are still hitting .250 against him with a 706 OPS. The numbers are even worse when hitters have the advantage. In those cases, they are teeing off for a .355 average and a 1.222 OPS, compared to a .306 average and an 887 OPS over the previous two seasons.
Vogelsong still has enough life on his pitches to be a successful hurler worth keeping on your fantasy roster. He is having issues locating his pitches in the places where he previously found success. Over his past four games, he has given up 22 earned runs in 21 innings despite striking out a batter an inning, with seven home runs accounting for most of the damage. Nonetheless, given his success in 2011-2012, it could be worth your while to attempt to acquire Vogelsong now, with his value at its low point and frustrated owners potentially willing to jump ship.