There are some pretty major and memorable breakout seasons in Major League Baseball. Guys like Brady Anderson come out of nowhere and explode onto the scene, dominating over the course of the season. In 2011, there was one individual who came out of nowhere, seemingly with no background, and got some of the best end results in the majors. That player's name is Ryan Vogelsong. Before getting into what he did in 2011 or what he did in the future, it is important to understand where he came from. Vogelson was selected in the 5th round of the 1998 MLB draft. The top 10 in that draft consisted of Pat Burrell, Mark Mulder, Corey Patterson, Jeff Austin, J.D. Drew, Ryan Mills, Austin Kearns, Felipe Lopez, Sean Burroughs, and Carlos Pena. Vogelsong made his debut at 22 years old, making a few relief appearances for the Giants, but was quickly flipped over to Pittsburgh in a trade for then-dominant starter Jason Schmidt. Vogelsong then did not pitch a full season in the bigs until he was 26, where he pitched 133 innings and recorded a 6.50 ERA. After failing with the Pirates, Vogelsong headed over to the Nippon Professional Baseball league in Japan, where he played for the Hanshin Tigers.
Things did not go any better for Vogelsong over in Japan. He pitched as a starter the first few years, only pitching more than 15 starts once. His only season with 100 or more innings was in 2007, where he recorded a 4.13 ERA and a 2.22 K/BB ratio. Despite having no success in MLB, no success in the minors, and no success in Japan, the San Francisco Giants decided to give Ryan Vogelsong a shot prior to 2011.
Somehow....some way...it worked...or did it?
Ryan Vogelsong's 2011 sure worked well by end results, but that doesn't tell enough of a story. Because we here at the blog want to focus on the process rather than the end results, here are some simple numbers for Vogelsong juxtaposed to his career averages:
2011: 6.96 K/9/ 3.06 BB/9/ .280 BABIP/ 8.2 HR/FB%
Career: 6.46 K/9/ 3.91 BB/9/ .297 BABIP/ 8.4 HR/FB%
Vogelsong wasn't that great in 2011. For a starter, his K rate was not good, his BB rate was average at best, he saw a near 20 point benefit in BABIP compared to his normal years, and his HR/FB ratio was nearly what his career norm is, despite the fact that he was pitching in a larger ballpark where that ratio should be lower given the same overall skillset. However, we won't stop here. Let's look more into what he did last year versus his career. After all, not everything is attributed to luck:
2011: 20.4% LD/ 45.6% GB/ 34.0% FB/ 4.04 tERA/ 3.97 SIERA
Career: 21.8% LD/ 40.7% GB/ 37.4% FB/ 4.88 tERA/ 4.56 SIERA
So not everything Vogelsong did in 2011 was based in luck. He produced better statistics in what I would call a "second-tier process" level. These are statistics that aren't directly dependent on the pitcher, but they are darn close (the only ones being more dependent in my opinion being walks, strikeouts, and how hard a ball is hit off the bat). He was able to gather many more ground balls, didn't see a drastically low dip in his line drive percentage, and his decreased FB% numbers in a bigger ballpark would really suggest that his HR/FB ratio drop more, so maybe he got a bit unlucky in that regard. Here is a look at his individual pitches in 2011:
There are a couple of interesting things present when you look at Vogelsong's career win values for each of his pitches. Firstly, according to fangraphs' data which feeds from Baseball Info Solutions, Vogelsong ditched his slider and focused on the above 4 pitch arsenal. His fastball was very good in 2011, which suggests he was able to control it and use it as a base. However, he was not successful at all in throwing his cutter and changeup off of it. In fact, the curveball was the only thing saving Vogelsong from having one good pitch in his arsenal. In his previous years in MLB, Vogelsong's curveball was one of his worst pitches, and in 2011, it was solidly his 2nd best pitch. However, with only a fastball and a curveball (Inside Edge data suggests the same thing BIS does), Vogelsong's projected success isn't very high, especially with a weak strikeout rate and an average walk rate.
Ryan Vogelsong is likely to be a bust next year.
Real Life Value to the Giants
As was the case with analyzing Justin Verlander's MVP case, his ERA matters, but not a whole lot. Looking at the breakdown in the above 2011 statistics shows that Vogelsong's raw 2.71 ERA is nice, especially over a career high in innings (180). However, every time you break it down more, the number just looks less impressive. Firstly, he pitched a lot in San Francisco, which is a pitcher's friend. He posted an ERA+ of 132, along with a 2.28 K/BB ratio. As mentioned before, his K rate wasn't impressive, his walk rate was average for a starter, and he didn't do anything better, save for getting more ground balls and fewer fly balls. These numbers are scary for projecting what will happen in the future, and it doesn't get any better when you compare his 80.4% Left On Base percentage against his 69.9% career average. LOB% is a good metric to look at, because unless a pitcher somehow "learns" to more effectively record outs, this percentage should remain fairly constant. In theory, a pitcher is being an idiot if he "buckles down" as a pitcher in "clutch" situations. He should be attempting to pitch at that level all of the time, unless he does it in a way that would hurt his arm (such as an increased velocity in pressure situations). From fangraphs, Vogelsong provided roughly 2.4 wins in value, which is extremely lackluster when you compare it to his raw ERA that was just north of 2.70. Here's a look at what Vogelson produced overall to the Giants in 2011:
179.2 IP/ 2.71 ERA (132 ERA+)/ 6.96 K/9/ 3.06 BB/9/ 2.4 fWAR
Going forward, there isn't a lot going in Vogelsong's favor. He got better at limiting walks and producing ground balls, but that really was it. For the ballpark he pitched in, it would be hard to see him producing extremely well over the course of a full season again. He had a career high in innings pitched in 2011, which is another red flag, because none of his other seasons were even close. With that being said, here's what I predict for Ryan Vogelsong in 2012:
140 IP/ 3.58 ERA (106 ERA+)/ 6.40 BB/9/ 3.58 BB/9/ 1.3 fWAR
This is the segment of the program where we flip over to the more traditional mindset and look at what Vogelsong means for a fantasy team. Using a 5x5 system, this is what Vogelsong did for fantasy teams in 2011:
13 Wins/ 2.71 ERA/ 139 K/ 0 SV/ 1.252 WHIP
Now, those are decent numbers, but let's think this through a little bit. If not using a traditional 5x5 setup, you can include stats like K/BB (2.28), 1 complete game, 1 shutout, he pitched 180 innings and made 28 starts. If you have an innings cap or a starts cap, it gets to be a little bit iffy on the "how often should I pitch Vogelsong" chart. A few things to remember going forward: he pitches behind an atrocious offense, his ERA is likely to climb despite being in a large park, he doesn't strike out a lot of guys (only 100+ in one season in his career), and his WHIP is not good at all for a fantasy team. Ryan Vogelsong was a great boost in 2011 to a team trying to propel itself over the top, but he wasn't worth much of anything in a fantasy league last year. The ERA is nice, but the wins were highly unexpected, the strikeouts were above average but not elite, and the future does not look good at all, really. That being said, here's what I predict out of Vogelsong for 2011 (remember, I predict 140 innings pitched):
8 wins/ 3.58 ERA/ 100 K/ 0 SV/ 1.295 WHIP
Ew. Those numbers are not good at all in a fantasy setting. Not a lot of wins, completely average ERA, average strikeout total, and a WHIP that won't win you anything. Vogelsong simply isn't an attractive fantasy option. Quite frankly, the way he is viewed in 2012 should be somewhat similar to the way he was viewed going into 2011. He wasn't on anyone's fantasy radar until he had multiple starts and showed some kind of competency. A good strategy, if you are into risks, would be to draft Vogelsong in the later rounds and try to swap him for someone you feel has a lot more upside. Sell the fact that Vogelsong did what he did for end results in 2011, and maybe someone will bite on that ERA that is unlikely to be repeated. Otherwise, maybe take him in the last couple of rounds to see if dumb luck can repeat itself. I don't think he's bad enough to completely fall off the table, but it sure is an attractive option considering the fact that he had no track record prior to the 2011 season. He didn't see any kind of increased fastball velocity, and his alternate pitches were pretty mediocre and lackluster. The aforementioned mediocre K rate and average BB rate does not serve his projected ability well, and I will be inclined to avoid him in the draft altogether, especially given the reports available for a lot of other mid-tier starting pitchers.
Ryan Vogelson will probably bust in 2012.