The San Francisco Giants signed 2011 surprise performer, starting pitcher Ryan Vogelsong, to a two-year/$8.3 million contract with a club option for 2014. The Giants are trying to limit the number of arbitration hearings they will have to attend and inking Vogelsong reduces the number to seven players. Tops among them are Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Pablo Sandoval. There is a lot of money to be shelled out for those players alone, so getting Vogelsong under wraps for two to three years is key to keeping some of the core of their pitching staff in the Bay area through 2013/2014.
Vogelsong has a great story. He was drafted by the Giants in the fifth round in 1998. He was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2001. In 2004, he started 26 games for the Pirates, going 6-13 with a 6.50 ERA. Vogelsong played 3 seasons in Japan where was used mostly as a reliever. He came back to the states in 2010 and pitched at the AAA level in the Los Angeles Angels’ and then Philadelphia Phillies’ organizations. In 2011 he found himself back with the Giants, beginning the season in AAA Fresno. Barry Zito was hurt early on in 2011 and Vogelsong got the call. He never looked back, ending the season 13-7 with a 2.71 ERA in 30 appearances (28 starts).
Looking through his career statistics, including his time in Japan, there isn’t one season which suggested he would ever be mentioned among the best starters in the 2011 MLB season. He was used primarily as a starter early on in his professional career, then was switched to bullpen roles beginning in 2005 with the Pirates back to a starter.
Beyond all reason, Vogelsong went on an excellent run from the moment he took the mound in 2011. He went 9-1 in his first 18 starts and was named to the NL All-Star team by manager Bruce Bochy. He had a yo-yo type second half of the season, where he lost 5 successive starts and then won his final three starts. He pitched well in the five losses, never giving up more than 3 ER, so it wasn’t a matter of him imploding. The Giants did not score many runs all season and Vogelsong finally got caught up in the offensive mediocrity.
Where can Vogelsong’s success be attributed? Vogelsong is a pitch to contact thrower (83% contact rate). He uses a mix of four pitches; a fastball, slider, curve and change. His most productive pitch according to PitchFx data is the two seam fastball with the curveball next. His 6.96 K/9 was the highest and his BB/9 of 3.06 was the lowest of his major league career. Batters had a .280 BABIP against him, which is a little low. His xFIP was 3.85 and SIERA was 3.97, so we shouldn’t expect a duplicate performance in ERA for 2012. Expecting him to fall somewhere in the 3.80 – 4.20 range is plausible.
The Giants are taking a small risk here with Vogelsong. He will turn 35 this summer and last season he threw 179 2/3 innings; far more than any other season in his career. To expect much more than that in either of the next two seasons is asking for a lot. The Giants made this decision on one season of good pitching matched with some fortunate results. Vogelsong’s success pretty much came out of nowhere. It is feasible to think that the signing comes with the Giants’ realization that they may not have both Cain and Lincecum beyond 2013 and Vogelsong will provide them with some stability in the rotation at a reasonable price.
The contract, worth $8.3 million over two years is a good one. Vogelsong’s 2011 performance earned a 2.4 WAR. Below is the break even analysis for the contract terms.
Vogelsong has two seasons to reach 1.6 WAR for the Giants to receive their return on investment. He may be able to do this in 2012 alone. The Giants would most likely be happy with a pitcher who can win 10 to 12 games each of the next two seasons with an ERA in the low 4’s. So long as Vogelsong can remain healthy (there is no injury history here) he should provide those numbers. Based on his 2011 performance and assuming some downward trend because there is nothing in his pedigree to suggest otherwise. That said, I would suspect he ends the two years with a total WAR around 4, which would make him an average starter. For a 35 year-old, who just pitched his first full season in the big leagues since 2004, should we expect anything more?
Be sure to check out all of Call to the Pen’s transaction breakdowns for the 2011-12 offseason. You can follow Call to the Pen on Twitter at @FSCalltothePen or like us here on Facebook. You can also subscribe to our RSS feed. Christopher Carelli can be followed on Twitter at @BaseballStance.