Ryan Vogelsong enters this afternoon’s start against the Cardinals with a 9-9 record, a 4.05 ERA (91 ERA+), 96 strikeouts, 53 walks, and 16 homers given up in 120 innings. Those innings have come spread across 20 starts and eight relief appearances. His FIP, if you’re into that kind of thing, is 4.65. Those aren’t numbers that will win anybody a Cy Young Award but, make no mistake, Vogelsong has been a life saver for the Giants this season.
Coming into today, Vogelsong ranks third on the pitching staff in innings pitched, behind Madison Bumgarner and Chris Heston. That right there tells you all you need to know about how thoroughly savaged the Giants’ rotation has been by injuries. Four…count ’em, four… of the team’s five members of the projected Opening Day rotation have spent significant time on the disabled list this year. Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, and Tim Hudson are still on there (though Hudson and Lincecum may be magically healed by expansion to 40-man rosters next week), and Jake Peavy missed most of the first half. For many teams with an eye toward contending, that kind of thing would spell disaster.
Enter Vogey. Vogey isn’t a star. He does nothing pretty. His stuff is underwhelming and some nights it looks like he gets outs on sheer willpower and scowling. He has been perfectly league-averagish in his starts this season, maybe a tad below. He’s had (somewhat inexplicable) control problems and he’s given up too many home runs. Again, not an All-Star.
What he has been is healthy and reliable, and you can’t say that for except Bumgarner. That’s a big deal, as his ability to ably fill in a rotation spot has meant its one less hole the Giants have to scramble to fill (as they did in acquiring Mike Leake) amid all the things that have gone wrong with the pitching staff.
Of course, Vogelsong was purely an afterthought going into this season. He was almost a Houston Astro before those talks fell apart for reasons that still aren’t totally clear. Whether out of loyalty or familiarity or whathaveyou, Vogelsong re-signed with the Giants.
It wasn’t immediately clear what his role would be, and some fans grumbled that it was simply a good will gesture on the Giants’ part. The five-man rotation was set in stone and the team already had themselves a Yusmeiro Petit for long relief/spot start work. He seemed slated exclusively for garbage innings, and was basically signed as insurance in case injuries hit.
Well, the injuries hit. And hit. Immediately. Even when Vogelsong was passed over for a rotation spot for Chris Heston when Cain got hurt in spring, Vogelsong got the starting nod when Peavy got hurt and hasn’t given the job back. Once the starting pitching became decimated it was all too clear what Vogelsong’s value was to this team. As a stop gap option to weather the injury storm, he’s played his part to perfection.
Again, he hasn’t been great, but he’s taken his turn every five days and he’s been league average, and that don’t grow on trees, folks. For example, just look at what the Dodgers are dealing with behind Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. It’s Brett Anderson, who is solid, and then a bunch of not too much. I’d have to imagine they’d kill for a league average in-house option right about now. Consider also any playoff team now and what would happen to them if four of their top five starters had missed more than a month to injury.* The standings would probably look quite a bit different. That the Giants are ten games over .500 despite all this once again demonstrates how much of a savior Vogelsong has been to the team.
(*Consider, too, that Vogelsong is better than any starting pitcher the Phillies are currently trotting out not named Aaron Nola)
Vogelsong will go out on the mound today against the Cardinals and it’s probably not going to be pretty. He’ll probably walk some guys, throw a lot of pitches, and grit himself in and out of trouble. In the end, though, he’ll probably go six effective innings and be good enough for the team’s powerful offense to do what it does and get the team a win. That’s what he’s been doing all season and that’s a major reason why the Giants are still sniffing October in spite of it all. I feel that he doesn’t get recognized enough for this fact.