Thursday, April 21, 2011

Callup Profile: Ryan Vogelsong, Right-Handed Pitcher

Ryan Vogelsong's path to the Giants 25-man roster is a funny one. He was originally a fifth-round pick of the Giants in 1998 and bounced around in the Giants' minor league system, pitching in San Jose and Shrevport (the Giants' Double-A affiliate at the time). In 2001, a day before the trade deadline, the Giants included Vogelsong in a deal with Armando Rios for John Vander Wal and....gasp...Jason Schmidt.

While Vogelsong always posted strong strikeout numbers in the minors (he has a career K/9 average of 8.9 in the minors), he never really could put anything together with the Pirates. Bouncing between starting pitcher and reliever roles, Vogelsong spent five seasons in Pittsburgh, making 103 appearances, 33 starts, and finished with an ERA of 6.00 and a WHIP of 1.61. Safe to say, the Giants seemed to get the better end of the deal when you compare Vogelsong's Pirate career with Schmidt's tenure as a Giant.

His advanced numbers in the Big Leagues though aren't as bad as his traditional stats. Since 2001, his ERA has always been higher than his FIP at the Major League level, as his career Major League FIP is 4.90 (his career ERA is 5.83). However, despite decent K/9 numbers over his Major League career (6.17), he has had struggles with his control. His career K/BB ratio is 1.41, and the only time when it was over two was in 2000, his rookie year where he only pitched six innings (hence, not a good sample).

Since being granted free agency by the Pirates in 2006, Vogelsong wasn't able to find a Major League team and spent the 2007-2009 seasons in Japan. From 2007-2008, he pitched for the Hanshin Tigers and in 2009 he finished his Japanese career with the Orix Buffaloes. Vogelsong was given a shot to earn a spot with the Phillies last year, but it didn't exactly pan out, as he was released by the Phillies in mid-July. He did manage to find a spot on the Angels' Triple-A club, but he never got a serious shot at the Majors, as Vogelsong spent the entire season in Salt Lake.

On April 17th, after the Giants placed Barry Zito on the disabled list, the Giants purchased his contract, hoping to get some temporary production out of the journeyman pitcher. In his first major league game in five years, Vogelsong went 1.1 IP, against the Colorado Rockies on April 18th, giving up a hit and striking out one. Before being called up, he flashed some solid stuff in Fresno, as he went 2-0 in two starts and 11.1 IP. He allowed eight hits, three runs and five walks in his first couple of starts with the Grizzlies, finishing with a 1.59 ERA and 1.15 WHIP before being called up to the big-league roster.

  • Despite his age (33), Vogelsong still can strike guys out. He struck out 17 batters in 11.1 IP this year in the Pacific Coast League, and he had K/9 rates of 11.2 and 9.1 in Lehigh Valley (the Phillies' Triple-A Club) and Salt Lake, respectively. While Vogelsong may not be a long-term solution in the rotation, he certainly has the strikeout potential to make an impact in the bullpen. The Giants have had luck with high strikeout guys before who had down careers with other Major League teams, but were able to bounce back with the Giants (e.g. Santiago Casilla, Denny Bautista, etc.).
  • Vogelsong is a relatively low-risk, low-cost option for the Giants, and he gives some depth to a rather shallow area in their organization. Let's face it: pitching isn't exactly a strong point in the Giants system now, and even the pitching prospects who do have promise seem to be a couple of years away (at the soonest) from contributing at the Major League level. Vogelsong is a good stopgap, and he'll be relatively easy to part with should he not pan out with the Giants.

    • It's a good story (breaking into the majors after spending the past four seasons in Japan and Triple-A), but for the most part, there doesn't seem to be much potential for Vogelsong. Even though he posted strong strikeout numbers in Triple-A last year, he also walked a ton of batters as well (62 walks in 95.1 IP). Control has always seemed to be Vogelsong's achillies heel over his career, and despite a short stint in Japan, it seems has if his control hasn't really improved since coming back stateside. While Vogelsong neutralized his walks in Fresno this year, you have to remember that it was a very small sample, and it isn't necessarily a sure-fire indicator that his control problems are a thing of the past.
    • While his minor numbers are solid (career 2.57 K/BB ratio; 4.06 ERA), his history is very checkered. On a WAR basis, Vogelsong has a career WAR accumulation of 0.3. At the very best, he is a replacement-level player. Now, that might not be a bad thing considering he is only a temporary solution until Zito comes back off the disabled list. However, with the Giants defending their title, Giants fans and management probably want players who are going to help their chances to repeat. Judging by his past history, Vogelsong is probably not going to do that.

    Outlook for 2011

    As a Giants fan, the organization has gotten very lucky the past five years with relievers. Seriously. I don't know why, but relievers looking for second chances have fared well under Brian Sabean's tenure. Keiichi Yabu, Ramon Ramirez, Javier Lopez, Brandon Medders, Santiago Casilla, Denny Bautista (for a little bit anyways), all have bounced back from down years with other teams to give solid productions in the Orange and Black. Now, is Vogelsong going to have the same impact as a Casilla, Lopez or Ramirez? Odds probably say no, but at the same time, it's worth giving him a shot, just to see if the Giants brass can strike gold and get another career year from a reliever who has a history of underachieving.

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