Monday, June 6, 2011

The Anatomy of Ryan Vogelsong's 2011 Season

This season could easily have devolved into a pity party with all of the injuries that have struck the Giants this season but there is one good news story that has helped to keep hope alive in Giantsland. That story is the remarkable comeback of Ryan Vogelsong.

Vogelsong took the long road for pitching with the Giants, he was drafted in the 5th round by the team in the 1998 draft but was dealt to the Pirates in the Jason Schmidt trade. That seemed destined to be how he would be remembered by Giants fans, he was a piece in a trade to bring the ace of the early 00's to the Giants. Now it is time to rethink his Giants legacy.

As a 33 year old he has reinvented himself. He has gone from non-roster invitee who started the season in AAA to second in the Major Leagues in ERA for pitchers with at least 50 innings pitched.

That is remarkable. For his previous 315 major league innings he had been a replacement level pitcher with a 5.86 ERA and couldn't do enough to fully stick in the big leagues. He was supposed to just come in and eat innings as the Giants 5th starter while Barry Zito was on the DL but instead he became one of the more dependable pitchers on an excellent pitching staff.

There are reasons to believe that this isn't just a mirage and that he is getting by on luck and will soon turn back into that previous pitcher. His traditional line of 4-1 with a 1.68 ERA is shiny but the best part is that he has the peripheral numbers to make it stand up.

I say that he has the numbers to make it stand up, I don't necessarily mean that he will continue to be a sub 2 ERA pitcher for the rest of the season but he should continue to be league average or better.

In the 3 things that pitchers have the greatest control over (strikeouts, walks, home runs) he has excelled this season. He has a very solid strikeout rate at 7.0 per 9 innings combined with an above average walk rate of 2.3 per 9 innings which combined put him in the upper portion of pitchers in his strikeout to walk ratio.

The real feather in his cap this season so far has been home run prevention, he comes in having given up just 3 homers or 0.5 per 9 and 4.9 per 100 fly balls. This portion maybe the hardest for him to repeat because for most pitchers the tend to regress toward league average which tends to be around 10% but Dave Righetti seems to have some sort of magic that he teaches his pitchers to keep the ball in the park, so he might have a lower than league average home run rate going forward too.

If we look at the advanced stats based off this data he has done really well. His fielding independent pitching is 2.88 which is 23 percent better than league average and with his home run rate normalized to league average he still rates as an above average pitcher with a mark 7 percent better than league average.

Taking this to the next level if you look at his pitch f/x data for this season you can see that he has had excellent "stuff." His pitches have had good movement and good separation of speeds to keep batters off balance. He has also done a great job in inducing ground balls with a ground ball/fly ball ration of 1.11 this season. His his tRA which is based on batted ball data and scaled to ERA is 2.71 this season which suggests he hasn't been too fluky.

After looking deeper we see that Vogelsong has excelled this season and that if keeps his current rates going should be a well above average pitcher. He is unlikely to keep his Cy Young caliber numbers going because of his elevated strand rate of nearly 90% and his .252 BABIP given up but he should be the envy of most teams in major league baseball.

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