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October 1, 2007

Player Profile

Josh Fogg

by Marc Normandin

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After a few promising years in the minors and a trade from the Chicago White Sox, Josh Fogg found himself exiled in Pittsburgh for four seasons before his current team, the Rockies, signed him. Two years later, Fogg is starting the most relevant Rockies' contest since 1995, with a postseason berth on the line in today's one-game playoff.

Joshua Smith Fogg attended the University of Florida, where he threw mostly in relief until he was drafted by the White Sox in the third round of the 1998 amateur draft. He jumped three levels during his first professional season, though he threw more than a handful of innings at just one stop:


Year Team            IP    K/9  BB/9   K/BB   HR/9    H/9    RA
1998 Florida(NCAA)  84.0  12.2   3.2    3.8    0.5    6.8   2.89
1998 Hickory(A)     41.1   6.3   2.8    2.2    0.9    7.8   3.72

Fogg switched from relief work at Florida to starting by the time he reached Single-A, and the initial results looked decent over a small sample. The 21-year-old had issues with the long ball at a low level, and his strikeout rates dropped precipitously from his more dominant rates as a college closer, but that's to be expected to some extent. Fogg would then split the 1999 season between High-A Winston-Salem and Double-A Birmingham:


Year Team                IP    K/9  BB/9   K/BB   HR/9    H/9    RA
1999 Winston-Salem(A+) 103.1   9.5   2.9    3.3    0.3    8.1   3.84
1999 Birmingham(AA)     55.0   6.6   3.0    2.2    1.3   10.8   6.05

At Winston-Salem, Fogg brought his strikeouts back up while reducing his homers considerably, which helped him to an impressive 3.84 RA and 2.96 ERA. He had a good sense of how to pitch despite not having overpowering stuff. This will trick the younger kids, but when Fogg moved up to Double-A, he was beat around; he had three strikeouts per nine lopped off, and saw his HR/9 jump up by a full homer while his hit rate and RA soared. It isn't that Fogg couldn't pitch well against Double-A hitters using the same basic assortment, he just had to learn how to pitch to them more effectively.

Baseball Prospectus 2000 detailed the switch from closer to starter for Fogg:

He was the first-team All-American closer at the University of Florida in 1998. So what did the Sox do? Converted him to starting to give him the innings he needs to improve command of his pitches other than a good fastball. You see a lot of this, and it's the difference between a usage pattern that's development-oriented and one that apes the major-league closer-driven "way to win." What's important to realize is that not only does this make Fogg a better pitcher, it doesn't make a difference in terms of wins and losses for an A-ball team. It also reflects a sensible choice for major league organizations: if college coaches want to use their best pitchers as closers in a knee-jerk response to the way things are done in the major leagues, fine. The kid who closed isn't going to have serious mileage on his arm before he's 22. That's great for player development, because you don't want kids slagged for the greater glory of the alma mater. It also reflects a deeper problem, which is how the creation of a statistic, the save, has corrupted the way people use talent.

Fogg would spend all of the 2000 season trying to master Double-A; though he kept his strikeouts the same, he stopped allowing as many hits and home runs:


Year Team             IP    K/9  BB/9   K/BB   HR/9    H/9    RA
2000 Birmingham(AA) 192.1   6.4   2.1    3.1    0.3    8.9  3.19

So, Fogg threw a lot of innings, but they were quality ones. He wasn't talked up all that much at the time because of the pitching depth in the White Sox organization, but besides the low strikeout totals, his 2000 was a very solid effort overall. Baseball America would rank him the ninth-best prospect in the organization prior to the 2001 season:

A closer at Florida, Fogg has been used almost exclusively as a starter with the White Sox. They put him in that role to get him more work but have become intrigued by his potential as an innings-eating, end-of-the-rotation starter. He has had three solid seasons as a pro, leading the Southern League with 192 innings in 2000. Fogg has outstanding command, average just 2.5 walks per nine innings in the minors. He has an outstanding slider and a decent changeup, and isn't afraid to throw his offspeed pitches when behind in the count. He's an intelligent pitcher who works to hitters' weaknesses. In a system loaded with hard throwers, Fogg has finesse stuff. His fastball touches the low 90s but often is in the high 80s. He doesn't operate with much margin for error.

With his stuff and track record, it was pretty clear Fogg could turn into a solid fourth or fifth starter type or middle reliever on a loaded pitching staff. The White Sox moved him to Triple-A Charlotte for the 2001 season, where Fogg would struggle, allowing high homer and hit rates. This wasn't a surprise, given Charlotte's tendency to favor hitters combined with Fogg's fragile preconditions for success:


Year Team             IP    K/9  BB/9   K/BB   HR/9    H/9    RA
2001 Charlotte(AAA) 114.2   7.0   2.6    3.0    1.5   10.1  5.36
2001 Chicago(MLB)    13.1  11.5   2.0    5.7    0.0    6.8  2.03

The White Sox saw how Fogg reacted to a park that makes homers easier to hit, took a look at their own stadium, and realized they could either try him in relief or trade him for a more established starting pitcher to eat innings at the back end of their rotation. They went with door number two despite Fogg's impressive stint as a reliever during September call-ups. The idea may have been right, but the White Sox ended up dealing away three young pitchers in exchange for Todd Ritchie, whose career promptly collapsed, as his ERA climbed to 6.06 in his one season in the Sox rotation. The White Sox could have used any or all of the three hurlers in place of Ritchie, and gotten that or better.

Baseball Prospectus 2002 felt that in the long term, Fogg was going to be a set-up man, while Baseball America ranked Fogg 17th in the Pirates' organizational rankings:

Fogg relies on intelligence, finesse, and command. His statistics predictably suffered when he made a move from pitcher-friendly Double-A Birmingham to Triple-A Charlotte's bandbox, though he continued to throw strikes because he just won't panic. Fogg remained poised when promoted to Chicago in September, putting together a strikeout-to-walk ratio far superior to any of the organization's power pitchers.

Baseball America also felt the Pirates would eventually give Fogg a look as a reliever rather than keep him as a starter. Nevertheless, Fogg initially went into the Bucs rotation, and made the trade sting the Sox all on his own by performing well for most of his rookie campaign, but coming on top of Kip Wells' work, it made the deal a simple robbery of the Sox. However, Fogg's 2003 season wouldn't go quite as well:


Year Team               IP    K/9  BB/9   K/BB   HR/9  BABIP  QERA
2002 Pittsburgh(MLB)  194.1   5.2   3.2    1.6    1.3  .282   5.04
2003 Pittsburgh(MLB)  142.0   4.5   2.5    1.8    1.4  .304   5.17

Lefties were a major concern for Fogg, as they hit .304/.363/.505 against him. Opponents noticed the problem, and loaded up on the lefties in their lineup too, which didn't help things for either Fogg or the Pirates. He also seemed to hit a wall during the second half, which helped to ruin the neat stat line from his rookie year. The Pirates would keep him in their rotation for two more seasons pitching the same kind of ball, as evidenced by his peripherals and his QERA:


Year Team               IP    K/9  BB/9   K/BB   HR/9  BABIP  QERA
2004 Pittsburgh(MLB)  178.1   4.1   3.3    1.2    0.9  .295   5.56
2005 Pittsburgh(MLB)  169.1   4.5   2.8    1.6    1.4  .301   5.36

Fogg posted four straight years worthy of either the fifth spot in a weak rotation or a demotion to the bullpen. With his price tag inevitably going to rise through arbitration, the Pirates decided to cut bait and let him become a free agent. Baseball Prospectus 2006 was direct about Fogg's ability to pitch in the majors:

Fogg doesn't make batters miss, and he can't keep the ball in the park, which is why he's ill-equipped to be a starter in the bigs. Between his complete inability to handle lefty batters and problems getting out of the sixth inning of his starts, he'd be much better suited to a role in the bullpen. Non-tendered in December, he might still be in danger of being asked to start in some sad-sack rotation.

PECOTA forecasted 142 1/3 innings with an ERA of 4.62, but that was for a neutral park due to his not signing anywhere by the time BP went to press. When he was picked up by Colorado, you can bet that his park-adjusted forecast changed for the worse. However, given that he started (and survived) 31 games as a Rockie, his 2006 isn't really that terrible, but it also doesn't inspire much confidence:


Year Team               IP    K/9  BB/9   K/BB   HR/9  BABIP  QERA
2006 Colorado(MLB)    172.0   4.9   3.1    1.6    1.3  .317   5.28

That's serviceable work for the tail end of a rotation, and consistent with what Fogg had done in the past, so the Rockies put Fogg there again for 2007. They're perhaps lucky that they didn't cut him based on his performance in 2006, because injuries derailed the seasons of starters Aaron Cook and Jason Hirsh; Hirsh was supposed to help replace Jason Jennings' innings after coming over in an exchange with the Astros. Fogg has delivered 28 starts and 161 2/3 innings pitched before tonight's contest:


Year Team               IP    K/9  BB/9   K/BB   HR/9  BABIP  QERA
2007 Colorado(MLB)    161.2   5.0   3.2    1.6    1.2  .309   5.35

Despite the shinier ERA of 4.79, in terms of his production, Fogg is basically the same pitcher this year as he's been since he was a rookie in the Pirates rotation. He's managed to strand more of the guys he let on base than at any time in his career besides 2002, which obviously helped out his ERA. Lefties managed to hit a still-solid .274/.341/.489 against him this year-which might tempt the Padres to load up on lefties heading into today's elimination contest-but that's in Coors Field, and right-handers have done their damage as well, delivering a .304/.371/.491 line.

Fogg has been fairly neutral with his batted-balls distribution throughout his career. It's surprising that Coors hasn't caused him more trouble on that front than pitching in Pittsburgh did overall, but that might be because balls can only be hit so far before they're homers, regardless of the air conditions:

PA    FB%    LD%    GB%   IF/F%  HR/F%  BABIP eBABIP   Diff.
2002  3.5   34.0%  19.4%  46.6%   7.5%  13.2%  .282   .314   +.032
2003  3.4   32.7%  25.4%  41.9%  11.2%  13.7%  .304   .374   +.070
2004  3.6   33.2%  20.6%  46.2%   8.6%   8.6%  .295   .326   +.021
2005  3.7   38.5%  21.8%  39.7%  13.3%  11.9%  .301   .338   +.037
2006  3.6   37.2%  20.3%  42.5%   9.9%  10.8%  .317   .323   +.006
2007  3.6   40.0%  19.7%  40.2%  10.9%  10.0%  .309   .317   +.008

Looking at Fogg's difference between his BABIP and eBABIP, it's perhaps a bit of a surprise that he should have taken even more abuse than he did over the years in his hit rates. Happily, Colorado's defense has been a solid fit for Fogg this year, with rangy outfielders and a solid infield anchored by rookie shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. This year, they rank seventh in the majors in Defensive Efficiency, an all-time single-season high ranking for a franchise that more typically winds up close to the bottom in that measure of converting balls in play into outs. That Fogg has been able to pitch as well as he has this year is in no small part thanks to the other eight men on the field:

His strikeout rates are as low as ever, and he still gives up a lot of homers on a lot of flyballs; more than half of his balls in play go to the outfield, and almost half of the time that the ball goes to the outfield, it's a hit. This could be a problem for him against some of the sluggers the Padres have in their lineup, especially at Coors.

As far as tonight's game goes, the Rockies may have been better off if they did not have home-field advantage in this game since Fogg is pitching. Opponents have hit .314/.364/.537 against him at Coors, and, although it's a small sample, the Padres hit .450/.532/.600 against him this year at Coors, and overall .381/.441/.631 against him there from 2006-2007. Fogg has handled them much better at Petco during his time as a Rockie, which is to be expected. Guys like Khalil Greene and Brian Giles see their bats come alive when they play in hitters parks, but this doesn't necessarily mean that the Padres are locks to win tonight. Anything can happen in one game, and Fogg could even throw a beauty and keep the game close for the Rockies bullpen to finish the job. Tonight will obviously be the most important game he's thrown in his career, and a quality performance could guarantee him some more innings in the playoffs and give us a fine memory of someone who has struggled as staff filler for poor teams his entire career.

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