Coming into this season, I mistakenly predicted that Ryan Vogelsong would be due for major regression from his outstanding breakout season in 2011.
Just as Andres Torres had collapsed after his 2010 breakout year during his age-33 season, I thought Vogelsong would fall apart after breaking out at the same age as Torres one season later.
As is the case with most of my attempts to project future human performance on the baseball diamond, I was way off base on that prediction. However, there were reasons to doubt that his success last season was sustainable.
Vogelsong came into last season having last pitched in the big leagues in 2006. His major league career ERA was 5.86. In 2010 he put up a 4.81 ERA and walked nearly six batters per nine innings at Triple-A, which earned him his release from the Phillies organization.
Then, all of a sudden, Vogelsong was pitching like Roy Halladay after the Giants signed him to a minor league deal over the winter. In 28 starts last season, he delivered 19 quality starts, a 2.71 ERA and a 3.67 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) backed by a decent 2.28 K/BB ratio and a 45.6 percent ground ball rate that helped him prevent the long ball.
However, Vogelsong's outstanding season appeared to be a mirage given his shaky track record and high strand rate in 2011. Vogelsong allowed 230 combined hits, walks and hit batters in 179.2 innings last season, but only 62 of those base-runners made it home safely. His 80.4 percent strand rate was fourth-best in the league by virtue of holding opponents to a .200 batting average with runners in scoring position.
Expecting more of the runners Vogelsong put on base to score this season seemed like a logical bet. Yet he's continued to defy logic by holding opponents to a .189 batting average with runners in scoring position while preventing nearly 80 percent of the base-runners he's allowed from scoring again this season.
Before his last two outings, he appeared headed for Cy Young consideration after delivering 19 quality starts in his first 21 outings this season. Since then, he's lost two starts in a row while allowing 17 hits, three walks and 11 runs in 5.2 combined innings against the Nationals and Padres.
Has the magic started to run out on this fairy tale story?
Not likely. Vogelsong has not been hit particularly hard in his past two outings, allowing no home runs and only two doubles. He's also continued to miss bats by striking out 12 hitters in between all the seeing-eye singles that he's allowed.
Some sabermetric analysts would suggest that because Vogelsong doesn't miss a ton of bats or avoid walks at an exceptional rate, he's headed for regression. His ability to prevent hits with runners in scoring position is not a sustainable skill, they'll say.
Vogelsong may indeed start allowing more hits with runners in scoring position. Then again, he might also make some adjustments to prevent as many batters from getting on base in the first place.
In the end, pitching is about more than just strikeouts and walks. It's also about adjustments, and no one has proven to be as resilient and malleable as Vogelsong.
His career appeared to be over two years ago,and now he's one of the best pitchers in the league. After two bad starts, he's likely to go back to the drawing board and figure some things out. Betting that Vogelsong will collapse might be logical, but that logic has been proven wrong for the past two seasons by the Giants newest ace pitcher.