VogelsongOn the scale of worry, Ryan Vogelsong is nowhere near Tim Lincecum levels, in fact he is not even on the level of where Matt Cain is/was. Still, things are not going well.

His numbers right now are not pretty, he currently has an ERA over 7 with a WHIP of 1.66. So far this season he has just one quality start. After being one of the most dependable pitchers for San Francisco last season and the Giants’ best pitcher in the playoffs, this is very surprising.

What is done is done and what is important is what can we expect from Vogelsong going forward.

When you look at the peripheral numbers things really haven’t changed all that much; in 2011 he struck out 18.5% of the batters he faced while walking 8.1%, last year he struck out 20.1% while walking 7.9%, and so far this season he has struck out 18.8% while walking 7.5%.

For the most part he is striking out and walking about the same number of people. That’s good news for Vogelsong as we go forward.

If we switch and take a look at his batted ball data, courtesy of Fangraphs:

Season
Team
GB/FB
LD%
GB%
FB%
IFFB%
HR/FB
IFH%
BUH%
2011
Giants
1.34
20.40%
45.60%
34.00%
9.30%
8.20%
7.00%
16.70%
2012
Giants
1.14
18.50%
43.50%
38.00%
11.10%
8.20%
6.70%
7.70%
2013
Giants
1.14
20.00%
42.60%
37.40%
7.00%
18.60%
6.10%
0.00%
Total
- – -
1.11
20.90%
41.60%
37.60%
11.30%
8.90%
6.90%
11.50%

Things look mostly the same over the last three seasons.

  • A few less ground balls this year than the previous two, but nothing drastic.
  • A slightly higher line drive rate, but still lower than his excellent 2011 season.
  • The flyball rate is right in between the last two years.
  • His infield fly ball rate is lower, but not significantly so.

The big difference is that the number of balls that have gone over the fence per flyball is much higher than the last two seasons and well above his career rate.

If we look further into the balls that have been put into play against Vogelsong, we see that currently 35% are falling in for hits. The number of balls in play that turn into hits is not something that is fully in the control of the pitcher and tends to hover around 30%. If we again take a look at the mix of balls that Vogelsong has given up you would expect that only 29.8% of the balls in play would have fallen in for hits with an average defense behind him.

Going forward I wouldn’t expect him to continue to give up home runs and fly balls like every hitter he faced was David Ortiz. Nor would I expect him to continue to allow 35% of balls in play to fall into hits, especially not with the Giants posting the highest ultimate zone rating in baseball right now.

The last little bit is that he has seemed to have bad luck in the sequencing of the hits that he has given up this season. He is standing just 60.1% of baserunners who reach base against him (his career rate is 70.8%), and with the Giants the last two seasons he has posted strand rates of 80.4% and 76%.

That is the good news, these things all point to bad luck and that Vogelsong isn’t much different than we he has been in the past.

However, things are not all rosy — there are some things that are not trending positively.

The first red flag is his fastball velocity. In 2011 his average fastball according to pitch f/x was 91.6 mph, in 2012 that dropped to 90.7 mph and this year to 89.8 mph. A two mph drop in velocity is cause for concern, especially from a 35-year-old pitcher. What makes things a little less worrisome is that he started off similar to this last season and built back up as the season progressed.

Here is the velocity chart for his Giants career:

1011_P_FA_20130504

The other concern — and this goes hand in hand with the declining fastball velocity — is the lack of swings and misses. This year his whiff rate is 15.4%, down from 17.1% last season and 16.6% in 2011. The decline comes primarily from getting far fewer swings and misses on pitches outside of the strike zone.

This could be a bad sign. It could also be small sample sizes playing tricks on us. Or, it could be something that will get better if Vogelsong follows the same trend as last season and builds up his velocity as the season progresses.

The majority of the signs suggest that he has run into a rough patch of bad luck or that this is something that has happened in the past. There was a similar stretch last season where for seven starts from the middle of August to the end of the season he was lost, yet he proceeded to snap out of it and excel in the playoffs.

Vogelsong has said that he has found a mechanical fix that he thinks will get him back on track. Maybe that’s the case, and perhaps he just needs to go out there and allow his luck to get a bit better.