There’s no way Ryan Vogelsong should be pitching this well. Since leaving A-ball twelve years ago, Ryan’s best seasons (or parts thereof) were ten starts at AAA Indianapolis in 2006 (2.66 ERA) and twelve starts for the Hanshin Tigers of the Japanese NPB in 2008 (3.99 ERA). His only effective major league season was for the Pirates in 2005 when he posted a 4.43 ERA in 44 relief appearances covering 81.1 IP (he was obviously the long reliever on one of MLB’s worst teams, albeit a decent one).
Yet, after tonight’s stoppage of the Twins, Ryan has a 1.72 ERA, he’s allowed two or fewer runs in six or more innings in eight of his last nine starts, and in the ninth start he allowed one run in five IP. In today’s game, you cannot reasonably ask much more from a starter than that.
To boot, Ryan is 33 years old, well older than a player should suddenly develop that secret weapon. In fairness to Ryan, he always had good stuff, but untimely arm injuries (is there ever a timely one?) and a lack of command have always prevented him from being an effective major league pitcher. This year he’s found his command, and, according to Giants manager Bruce Boche, he has it with four different pitches.
I don’t expect Vogelsong to keep it up. How many great pitchers record a sub-2.00 ERA these days at all?
I guess the real question is can Vogelsong pitch out the year and keep his ERA within a run of 1.72? The law of averages has a way of catching up to pitchers with Vogelsong’s career record. If they don’t suddenly lose it as fast as they seemed to get it, they get hurt. Vogelsong has already had at least one major arm injury in his career.
That being said, one of the great things about baseball is that every so often a player like Vogelsong can have an entire season, just completely out of line with the rest of his career. Remember Davey Johnson in 1973? Steve Stone in 1980? Brady Anderson in 1996?
Actually Johnson, Stone and Anderson were all considerably better players than Vogelsong going into their career years, but the point is the same. Pitchers, in particular, can have one full season in which they catch lightning in a bottle. Gene Bearden and Jim Konstanty, to name two who popped into mind. They can even have significant post-30 careers if they have good stuff and suddenly find their command.
I fully expect that Ryan Vogelsong will regress towards his career norms in 2012, when he’ll be 34 years old and MLB’s hitters will be fully familiar with his stuff. Still, there is at least some precedent to suggest he can continue to be a dominating starter this year, which is just about all the Giants and their fans are hoping for right now.