Will Ryan Vogelsong Be a San Francisco Giant in 2014?


Sep 21, 2013; Bronx, NY, USA; San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Ryan Vogelsong (32) pitches during the first inning against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Less than one week remains in the San Francisco Giants disappointing 2013 title defense. So, it’s safe to say that the Giants brass is already well into crafting its offseason goals and plans.

Lost in the Hunter Pence and Tim Lincecum hoopla is Ryan Vogelsong. More specifically, his $6.5 million team option for 2014. It was once a lock that the Giants would surely pick that reasonable option up. Now, well, they may end up kicking it to the curb.

To be clear, if the Giants opt to not pick up his team option, Vogelsong can be bought out for a whopping $300K. From there, he would be free to test a market slim on starting pitchers.

Barring some truly bizarre event, he wouldn’t have to pack his bags for Japan again. If he’s still looking for work in January, there will be plenty of suitors willing to take a flyer on a low-risk, high-reward-based contract, with hopes of him rediscovering his 2011-2012 form.

A lot of “ifs,” I know. There’s still a good deal of time before all the nuts and bolts are sorted out. Still, there’s reason to think that the Giants may cut Vogelsong loose.

The obvious reason: He hasn’t continued his well-documented rejuvenation. Instead, it’s been a whole lot of regression. He got hit by a pitch on May 20 against the Washington Nationals. Anywhere in the four-to-eight-week range was the initial prognosis, but he came just shy of the 12-week mark, not making his return until August 9.

May 9, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy (15, far left) receives the ball from starting pitcher Ryan Vogelsong (32, center) in a pitching change during the fifth inning against the Atlanta Braves at AT

That isn’t to say that things were rosy and all before he fractured his hand. Things were quite bleak, actually. He owned one of baseball’s worst starters’ ERAs, his fastball command wasn’t sharp (37.4 percent ball percentage from April 1 to May 21) and opponents were whacking around his changeup and curveball. Pretty much everything he threw up there got hit hard. No, not the ideal formula for success, obviously.

And the tide hasn’t turned since he got back on the mound on August 9 either.

Opposing batters are still making plenty of hard contact against Vogelsong, battering him around for a 32 percent line drive rate (league average is 21.1 percent) since August 9. His fastball command is still out of sorts at times (39.7 ball percentage). To top it off, opposing batters have continued to crush his curveball and sinker.

Let’s refer to the table (stats courtesy of Brooks Baseball):

   FB   CH   CB   CT   SI
Before Injury   0.246   0.419   0.391   0.212   0.373
After Injury   0.235   0.240   0.313   0.245   0.370

The numbers from before and after the injury have remained more or less similar, with the only exception being his changeup.

You’ll also notice that I included the numbers on Vogelsong’s sinker and cutter. And really, no one can define what Vogelsong exactly throws. Sure, we can separate a curveball from a changeup and an off-speed pitch from a heater. That’s easy stuff. But his sinker and cutter could very well be variations of his fastball with just a bit more spin.

If we were to go off the specifics, though, you’d assume that nothing is overwhelmingly wrong with Vogelsong’s four-seamer. At least that’s what a couple low-.240 averages would suggest. To a degree, you’d be right. Vogelsong’s heater isn’t getting killed in the hits department, as suggested by the two aforementioned opponents’ batting averages.

That’s not necessarily the point, however.

Generally speaking, the problem with Vogelsong’s heater is that he hasn’t been able to hit the corners consistently with it. If you go over to Brooks Baseball and compare (2011-2012 to 2013), you should see a pretty good visual of what I’m talking about.

April 22, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Ryan Vogelsong (32) delivers a pitch during the first inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at AT

Study the outside corner in particular. The red in his 2013 zone is about one box over in comparison to his combined 2011-2012 zone. That might not seem like such a substantial difference just from a casual standpoint. But in a game of inches, where setting up off-speed pitches is crucial, you bet it is, especially if said pitcher’s velocity is waning. And yes, you guessed it, Vogelsong’s velocity has dipped since returning. By a solid two-plus mph, too.

Now, we’ve been going over the negatives: Vogelsong can’t do this, he can’t do that, his velocity is plummeting, his fastball command is fluctuating. All of this has credence.

However, the one point being overlooked here is the fact that Vogelsong still has the potential to be a capable No. 4 or No. 5 starter. Give him a clean slate and an offseason to regain some lost arm strength and 2014 might not be that bad.

So, it’s time to conjure up a verdict: Will Ryan Vogelsong don a Giants uniform in 2014?

I’d count on it. He has had a brutal season, and worse, he hasn’t been able to hide his individual struggles behind his team’s success, or lack of.

The Giants’ options are slim, though.

It’s unlikely that San Francisco can count on its farm to produce anything, with Ty Blach and Edwin Escobar being long shots to earn one of the final rotation spots. The free-agent pool isn’t flush with options either. Some of the notables that come to mind include Ricky Nolasco, Hiroki Kuroda, the surging Ubaldo Jimenez (1.77 ERA over his last 11 starts), A.J. Burnett (retirement a possibility), Ervin Santana, Bartolo Colon, Tim Lincecum and Matt Garza.

There’s some talent, but nothing that pops out, making Vogelsong a viable option to secure San Francisco’s final, or No. 4, rotation spot. He doesn’t boast a ton of upside, but he’ll hardly have to be the 2011 version of himself to be an adequate fourth or fifth starter. Not to mention that his $6.5 option screams affordable.

I won’t call it a done deal. Heck, even Vogelsong himself isn’t quite sure what the offseason has in store. But it’s a relatively safe bet that he’ll be sporting a Giants uniform come 2014.