When Ryan Vogelsong replaced an injured Barry Zito in the Giants' starting rotation, it seemed to indicate that San Francisco's staff, while exceptionally talented, was paper thin behind the likes of Lincecum, Cain and Bumgarner. After all, Vogelsong was a prospect who didn't make good upon being traded to the Pirates in the July 2001 Jason Schmidt deal. He toiled in Japan for three years, pitching mostly out of the bullpen, and drifted by the Triple-A affiliates of the Phillies and Angels last year before signing a minor league deal over the winter with the club that originally drafted him.
But, instead of continuing to disappoint, Vogelsong has dominated in 2011. The soon-to-be 34-year-old righty has struck out three batters for every one that he has walked, and his fielding independent ERA is south of three. Vogelsong has revived his career by showing a deeper repertoire and getting hitters to chase pitches off the plate.
When Vogelsong was a Pirate, he threw his low-90s fastball more than 70 percent of the time while flipping in occasional curveballs, sliders and changeups. In 2011, he has thrown each of those secondary pitches more than 10 percent of the time. His fastball and mid-70s curveball have been particularly dominant. Check out his chase and miss rates with the heater and the hammer, compared to the league averages:
Vogelsong is pounding the outside corner with his fastball against lefties:
Frequency of Vogelsong's fastball location vs. left-handers (top), compared to the league average (bottom)
Against right-handers, his fastball is basically two pitches. He tails the ball in on righties' hands at times, then peppers the outside part of the plate at other points:
Frequency of Vogelsong's fastball location vs. right-handers (top), compared to the league average (bottom)
Vogelsong is getting lefties to chase those fastballs on the outside corner...
Left-handed hitters' chase rate on Vogelsong's fastballs located on the outside corner (top), compared to the league average (bottom)
And righty batters just can't resist inside fastballs:
Right-handed hitters' chase rate on Vogelsong's fastballs located on the inside corner (top), compared to the league average (bottom)
Overall, Vogelsong's fastball has been one of the most effective pitches in the game. He's holding hitters to a .294 slugging percentage with the fastball, which ranks fourth among starting pitchers.
Vogelsong's curve has been sharp, too, limiting batters to a .200 slugging percentage that ranks in the top 20 among starters. He's throwing his curveball a bit less than 20 percent of the time to batters of both hands, spotting the pitch on the outside corner against both lefties and righties and getting outside swings:
Left-handed hitters' chase rate on Vogelsong's curveball (top), compared to the league average (bottom)
Right-handed hitters' chase rate on Vogelsong's curveball (top), compared to the league average (bottom)
Vogelsong's fastball and curveball have been the biggest reasons for his success. But keep in mind that lefty hitters thinking about moving over in the box and covering that outside corner of the plate also have to contend with a slider in on the hands. And if they gear up for the fastball on the outside half, Vogelsong can call on his changeup. Righties tempted to stand near the outer bounds of the batter's box to deal with inside fastballs have to battle breaking stuff on the outside corner. In other words, Vogelsong's four-pitch mix makes hitters of both hands squirm.