This season, Ryan Vogelsong has a 7.78 ERA, which is the highest ERA among all qualified starting pitchers in the National League. Vogelsong’s 7.78 ERA is shocking enough, but it’s even more shocking coming from a pitcher who has been so solid the past couple seasons.
In his breakout season in 2011, Vogelsong pitched 179.2 innings in 30 games (28 starts), struck out 139, walked 61, gave up 15 home runs, gave up 54 earned runs, and had a 2.71 ERA. In 2012, Vogelsong pitched 189.2 innings in 31 games, struck out 158, walked 62, gave up 17 home runs and 71 earned runs, and posted a solid 3.37 ERA. In comparison, Vogelsong this season has pitched 39.1 innings in seven games, struck out 37, walked 15, given up nine home runs, and given up 34 earned runs.
Vogelsong’s troublesome season can be attributed to the high number of home runs he’s given up, as he has allowed batters to hit .323 off of him. Opponents are hitting .417 against him with runners in scoring position (RISP), and Vogelsong has allowed 36 runs to score off of him (34 earned runs). 14 of those runs have come in the fifth inning. This most likely suggests that after seeing Vogelsong once or twice, batters have made the correct adjustments the next time they come up in the lineup. In addition, opponents hit just .227 off of him last season with RISP, so the .417 average this season suggests that he’s giving up the majority of his hits at the worst possible times. Again, this suggests that up and down the lineup, batters are successfully making adjustments to Vogelsong’s approach.
“It just seems lately when it starts going bad, they hit the bad ones and the good ones too,” Vogelsong explained after failing to finished the fifth inning in his last start against the Atlanta Braves Thursday night. “I feel really close.”
In his last outing against the Braves, Vogelsong appeared much sharper than his stat line suggests. He finished with a line of: 4.1 IP, seven hits, six earned runs, three walks, seven strikeouts, and one home run allowed. Although Vogelsong was hit with six earned runs, he left the game giving up four, and then Jose Mijares relieved him and let two other runs score, which were credited to Vogelsong. Bruce Bochy claims that his start wasn’t actually that bad, though.
“The more I look at it, he was pretty good,” Bochy said. “He had a walk in there, and a sinker (to Brian McCann) he didn’t get where he wanted. But aside from that he threw well.”
Vogelsong claims to have no fatigue or hidden injuries either. So what should the Giants do about this situation then?
They could skip his turn in the rotation. However, there’s no easy or convenient way to do that without tweaking the entire rotation and potentially eliminating rest days for the other starting pitchers. In addition, the Giants don’t want to use Chad Gaudin or a minor-leaguer for a spot start unless they absolutely have to.
Another similar option would be delaying his next start. The Giants could’ve used yesterday, their off day, to shuffle the rotation, skip Vogelsong’s start tomorrow, and have him start Saturday in Colorado. The extra few days would allow Vogelsong to conduct an extra bullpen session to work out any potential mechanical issues. This wouldn’t have been ideal, though, because according to Bochy, Vogelsong might help himself more by not working so hard between his starts.
“He’s grinding too hard with every pitch,” Bochy said. “It’s just like a hitter. When you don’t have success, you work to get out of the slump. And you may overwork. You may try to get out of a slump by taking a thousand swings and now you’re compounding it.”
Another possible solution is that the Giants could tell Vogelsong to rest more between his starts, since he appeared to be tired when he couldn’t finish the fifth inning in his last start against the Braves. However, given Vogelsong’s determination and work ethic, this isn’t an ideal option either. This plan also could end up backfiring, though, because if Vogelsong doesn’t go about his normal routine between starts, he could potentially end up struggling more or injuring himself.
It seems as if the Giants best option is to just stick to the normal rotation and hope that Vogelsong will find a way out of his recent slump. He’s a veteran starting pitcher that has come a long way, worked hard, and found his way out of slumps before. The Giants have to just trust Vogelsong’s approach and hope that he will come out of this sooner rather than later.
“It’s a tough game sometimes and it beats you down,” Vogelsong said. ” I came through it after 13 years. I came through it in August of 2011. I came through it after August and September of 2012 and I’ll come through it again this year.”