Ethan asks: Would Ryan Vogelsong make any sense for the Yankees? Essentially Chris Capuano #2, but probably can be counted on for a few more innings. I wouldn’t be surprised if either of them crashed and burned out of the gate, so why not double up?
My first reaction was nah, Vogelsong’s probably not worth the trouble, likely because his stinky postseason performance was still fresh in my memory. His combined NLCS and World Series line was 6.2 IP, 14 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 4 BB, 4 K. Eek. The Giants’ non-Madison Bumgarner starters were really awful in October.
Anyway, upon further inspection, the 37-year-old Vogelsong appears to still be a perfectly cromulent back-end innings guy at this point of his career. He’s thrown at least 175 innings in three of the last four seasons, with a broken finger suffered on a hit-by-pitch (stupid no-DH-having NL) being the only reason he was limited to 103.2 innings in 2013. Innings are good. Teams need innings.
Here is what Vogelsong has done since resurfacing with the Giants back in 2011 after spending three seasons finding himself in Nippon Pro Baseball in Japan (via Baseball Reference)
Vogelsong was really awful in 2013 even before the finger injury, but he bounced back well this past season. That said, while his 4.00 ERA in 2014 looks nice on the surface, in this offense-starved era and in that huge ballpark, it’s only an 87 ERA+, so comfortably below-average.
It is worth noting Vogelsong’s underlying performance this past season was right in line with his very successful 2011-12 seasons. The strikeout, walk, and home run rates are nearly identical, ditto his small-ish platoon split, though his ground ball rate had steadily declined from 45.6% in 2011 to 38.4% in 2014. Vogelsong’s 72.3% strand rate in 2014 was well below his 78.1% mark from 2011-12, hence the inflated ERA.
Beyond the stats, Vogelsong’s stuff has held up well these last four seasons. His velocity rebounded after a small drop last season — between the velocity and performance dip, it sure seems like he was nursing some kind of unreported injury in 2013, no? — which you can see here (via Brooks Baseball):
The swing-and-miss rates on his pitches have also remained steady across the board with the exception of his changeup, which got a whiff more 12% of the time from 2011-12 but only 7.2% in 2014. Although Vogelsong has thrown his changeup a healthy ~14% of the time with San Francisco, it is only his fifth most used pitch behind his four-seamer (~30%), sinker (~20%), cutter (~20%), and curveball (~18%). Losing a few swings and misses on your fifth pitch isn’t the end of the world. At least I don’t think it is.
Because of his age, it’s more likely Vogelong will get worse next season rather than maintain his established level of performance another year. That’s why he won’t cost much to sign. He worked on a one-year deal worth only $5M last year, so Capuano money. As Ethan said in the question, that’s basically who Vogelsong is, Capuano v2.0, though probably a better bet to throw 150+ innings. One year and $5M is the going rate for a projected ~1 WAR starter these days.
Beyond the obvious (age, declining ground ball rate, etc.), my concern with Vogelsong is that the Giants aren’t pursuing him at all. They know him better than anyone and they need an innings guy as much as the Yankees, if not more, yet John Shea recently reported the two sides haven’t had any contract talks. What do the Giants know that we don’t? There has to be a reason they’re staying away given their need for pitching. That makes me a little nervous.
Now, that said, a one-year contract worth $5M is nothing. It’s a move the Yankees could easily back out of if Vogelsong stinks or a better option comes along. The team is going to need innings from somewhere, and Vogelsong is as likely to provide them as any non-Max Scherzer/James Shields free agent at this point. I don’t think he’s any kind of rotation savior or anything, but he could help at a low cost. I will define my interest as: tepid.