Ryan Vogelsong: 10 Reasons His Coach May Turn Back into a Pumpkin in 2012
There weren't many feel-good stories in sports last year that topped the rise of Ryan Vogelsong.
The 33-year-old journeyman had a tumultuous career before his breakout 2011 season. He endured Tommy John surgery, being cut repeatedly and a stint in Japan. When the team that originally drafted him over a decade earlier signed him, it was far from a sure bet.
One Barry Zito injury later, a star was born.
Vogelsong pitched brilliantly, stepping in as a starter when Zito went down early in the season. His 2011 totals include a 13-7 record and a 2.71 ERA. He added 139 strikeouts and took the Bay Area and MLB by storm.
To make an impact at his age, at such a late stage in his career, was a remarkable accomplishment and one the helped to keep the Giants' dreams of a return ticket to the postseason alive.
Is this Cinderella story about to reach its end?
Here are 10 reasons why Ryan Vogelsong may not write the next chapter of his fairy tale in 2012.
The Offense (or Lack Thereof)
Let's get this one out of the way, shall we?
There is not much more that can be said about the anemic offense in AT&T Park. Incredible pitchers like Matt Cain and the emerging Madison Bumgarner have suffered blemished pitching records, due largely to horrible run support.
Ryan Vogelsong, even pitching at the height of his 2011 dominance, will needs runs in order to win games. Questions aplenty surround the readiness of players like Buster Posey and Freddy Sanchez to contribute, coming off season-ending injuries.
Likewise, a motley crew of rookies, veterans and band-aid players will be expected to supply runs to a top-notch rotation featuring the aforementioned Cain, Bumgarner and Vogelsong and headed by ace Tim Lincecum.
Vogelsong has no hope to repeat his 2011 success without a supporting cast ready to supplement his pitching with bats.
BABIP & Other Alarming Statistics
Olsen focused on two specific statistics: Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP) and opposing batters' numbers with two outs and runner(s) in scoring position (RISP). Vogelsong posted a BABIP of .285 in 2011, which falls below the average .290 to .300.
Olsen states in his second observation:
Opponents hit only .153 [against Vogelsong] with a .216 BABIP with two outs and RISP. The batting average against in this situation is 91 points lower than the overall average of .244.
This represents a remarkable combination of clutch pitching with some added luck from the BABIP.
In effect, Olsen makes a solid argument for Ryan Vogelsong benefiting, or getting lucky, in several statistical areas that are not likely to be reproduced in his 2012 campaign.
San Francisco Giants fans love Ryan Vogelsong. They are quick to adore anyone who helps the Giants not lose. Vogelsong's talent, coupled with the charming story of his rise to prominence, made him an instant fan favorite.
Vogelsong compared the fan reaction to the ongoing phenomenon of "Linsanity."
For as loyal and supportive as the Giants fanbase is, they won't hesitate to turn on a player in the midst of a sour performance or season. For example, take one Aubrey Huff. Huff was treated as a hero after his power offense helped take the Giants to a World Series victory.
One season later, and Huff is a dirty word synonymous with disappointment and unmet expectations.
Even beloved figures like Brian Wilson can stoke the ire of the crowd.
Vogelsong pretty much got nothing but love from the AT&T faithful in 2011. When everyone isn't infatuated with you, it can sometimes be much more difficult to face the next batter. Will he wilt under the pressure of fan disdain in the wake of poor outings?
Ryan Vogelsong ended his first half of last season on top. He was going to the All-Star Game, but more importantly, he'd come into the middle of July with a 6-1 record to go with his 2.71 ERA.
The rest of the way didn't go quite as smoothly. He fell back to Earth in a sense, finishing up the year by going 7-6 and raising his ERA to 3.26.
It is worth pointing out that Vogelsong was pitching in his first full MLB season in four-plus years. No doubt the extra .055 his ERA gained could in some part be due to exhaustion. However, his record is harder to justify with that train of thought.
The offense actually improved after the All-Star break, acquiring the (temporary) skills of outfielder Carlos Beltran. No one will fault Vogelsong for finishing with a winning record and a highly-respectable ERA, but his inferior second half is worth noting.
With the departure of Jonathan Sanchez this offseason, Brian Sabean was left with a hole in his starting rotation. He stated earlier this year that Barry Zito would begin the 2012 season as the team's fifth starter. Ryan Vogelsong thus seems to be pretty well set as the third or fourth in the order.
Unless someone else comes along.
The scenarios aren't plentiful, but certainly plausible. The first supposes that Barry Zito comes into camp looking a lot more a Cy Young winner and lot less like the guy who was cut from the playoff rosters. Zito sits at the five spot, but with stellar play he could possibly get bumped higher in the rotation. Vogelsong is the only pitcher who realistically could be demoted in the rotation.
Enter Eric Surkamp.
Surkamp had a hot and cold (mostly cold) 2011 introduction to the bigs. However, with his first taste of the show and a bit more refinement down in the minors, he will be a threat to dethrone Vogelsong or Zito if either struggles.
There are a few angles to how a trade could negatively affect Ryan Vogelsong.
In the first, Vogelsong pitches reasonably well, and his name becomes linked to trade talks. His stuff suffers as a result of being preoccupied with the latest post from MLB trade rumors. Los Angeles Lakers forward Pau Gasol is currently suffering from this ailment.
In another scenario, Lincecum/Cain/Bumgarner is traded and Vogelsong inherits a more important role in the rotation. The added pressure and loss of support the traded arm provided could easily throw him out of sync and potentially derail him.
Not Getting Younger
Baseball pitchers are not fine wine, and most don't get better with age.
History looks more favorably on left-handers in their twilight years than their right-handed equivalents. As a righty, Vogelsong can expect to see his power diminish with each successive season. For a guy that throws fastballs for 70 percent of his pitches, losing his heat may have big ramifications.
Injuries and duress can also have a more substantial impact on a older player. This may seem like stating the obvious, but many fans forget that Vogelsong isn't a rookie; his emergence on the team somewhat resembled a young buck being called-up.
Even more minor health concerns will need to be carefully monitored. Vogelsong has already had his first ahead of opening day.
An Ominous Start to 2012
As pitchers and catchers gathered in Scottsdale, Ariz. for the start of 2012 spring training, the first word to the press was injury.
An injury to Ryan Vogelsong's back, to be specific.
He was lifting weights when he strained his back on Feb. 19. He diagnosed the setback as "not too bad" (via Sports Illustrated), but estimated he'd be out for seven to 10 days. The injury isn't likely to hamper Vogelsong when he starts the season, but backs are tricky.
Not to be a doomsayer, but hearing that Vogelsong hurt his back doing a routine workout activity is a bit alarming. Back problems have a nasty habit of showing up unexpectedly and lingering long past their arrival.
A Pattern of Inconsistent Play
Some say that a great season is only as good as the one that follows.
Trying to find two consecutive good seasons in Ryan Vogelsong's career is harder than an expert-level Sudoku. He spent two partial seasons with Giants after being drafted. In 2003 he was traded to Pittsburgh in a deal that netted San Francisco future ace Jason Schmidt. Vogelsong pitched in two games for the Bucs before he was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery.
He returned at the of the 2003 season and had his first full season as a starter in 2004. He went 6-13 with a 6.50 ERA. Vogelsong spent the next two seasons as a reliever before he left for a three-year tenure with the Hanshin Tigers of Japan.
Without a crystal ball, there is no predicting how Vogelsong will back up his 2011 season, but there is no evidence in his past to to back optimistic expectations.
The Dreaded Sophmore Slump
There's one trump card that all rookie pitchers have: No one has seen them pitch before.
Ryan Vogelsong was not technically a rookie in 2011, but he found himself in a similar situation. The batters he faced across the league had never seen his stuff, at least the not the stuff he was dishing from the mound last year. As he enters a new season pitching against all the familiar faces, Vogelsong will start to see hitters adjust.
Scouting reports, recorded performances and word of mouth will all find their way to coaches and players eager to solve San Francisco's latest pitching powerhouse. Batters love to conquer the big names, and few hurlers found their faces splashed across more headlines last year than Ryan Vogelsong.
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