Squeezing a Little More Out of Ryan Vogelsong

The Pirates brought in Ryan Vogelsong this winter, and most Pirates fans believed it was a depth move, and that another move would follow and net them a better option. Recent comments by GM Neal Huntington hint that perhaps they are done, and that Pirate fans should resign themselves to seeing Vogelsong as the #5 starter, at least to start the season.

Vogelsong has not been good for a while. In 2011-12 he threw 369 innings for the Giants with a 3.68 FIP, adding 4.6 WAR.  Since then, 423.1 very mediocre IP with 4.33 FIP generating 0.8 WAR.  Steamer projects 109 IP at 4.38 FIP & 0.6 WAR.

With that in mind, I decided to do a little keyboard coaching to find a path to improvement.

The first unusual thing I noticed on Vogelsong’s Brooks Baseball card is that he throws five pitches in fairly equal proportion:

Let’s look at RHB first. In 2015, he was average, his wOBA against sitting right at .300. Here is the SLG against by pitch for the last five seasons:

His 4-seam, sinker, cutter, and curve all yielded good-to-excellent SLG, yet in 2015 the changeup got hammered, to the tune of .563 SLG (up from the .370 range), and he got less than 5% whiffs (down from 7% previously, and far below the league average of 11.9%). Yet he still uses it 5% of the time. The curve on the other hand, has been good, producing a SLG under .300 in four of five years, and GB% and SwStr% right around average. I’d suggest it’s time to ditch the change against RHB, and rely more on the curve.

Against LHB, he gets torched. Batters mashed a .383 wOBA against him in 2015 and a .346 wOBA in 2014. Here are the numbers by pitch:

His only pitches with decent SLG against in 2015 were the 4-seam (.390) and the cutter (.265), while the other three pitches all have SLG over .630. (The curve at least has a 16% whiff rate). Those three “bad” pitches are used over 60% of the time. While I’m sure he needs to mix those pitches them in sometimes to keep lefty hitters honest, they are simply getting destroyed. So, I suggest he could have some more success if he stopped trying to throw his sinker and changeup — or at least cut way back — and occasionally mixed in the curve as the pitch to keep them honest.

While Vogelsong’s problems likely require a solution more sophisticated than “throw your bad pitches less” (and undoubtedly his coaches have a better view on this than some guy behind a monitor looking at numbers), his recent results suggest he won’t be much above replacement level unless he changes *something* vs. LHB. Obviously, resurrecting his once-good changeup would be the preferred option, but failing that: ditch the changeup and stop throwing the sinker to lefties. Boost 4-seam and cutter usage against lefties, and mix in the curve to keep them honest. Maybe a 4-seam/cutter/curve mix would be enough to get him through the order twice, and if not, his results with his “good” pitches may be good enough for the bullpen.

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Bay Area Bucco
Bay Area Bucco

This is some nice analysis, but I’m worried that Vogelsong is too far gone to help the Pirates much this year. He seems more like a Jonathan Sanchez than an Edinson Volquez.