Stephen Vogt Picking Up Where He Left Off

Last season, Derek Norris and John Jaso took the bulk of the catching starts for Oakland, starting 140 of Oakland’s games at behind the plate. The duo performed well for the A’s and the 126 wRC+ by Oakland catchers ranked third in Major League Baseball behind only the Pittsburgh Pirates and Milwaukee Brewers. As the A’s tend to do, they remade their roster in the offseason sending Norris in a deal to the San Diego Padres that netted Jesse Hahn, and sent Jaso to the Tampa Bay Rays in the deal that landed Ben Zobrist. The deals cleared the way to playing time for Stephen Vogt, a 30-year old catcher with under 500 plate appearances in his career, with a decent amount of those appearances coming from first base and the outfield with the A’s in 2014.

The projections did not expect much from the Oakland catcher. The FanGraphs Depth Charts expecting a .255/.303/.398 season and producing roughly two wins. Vogt has gotten off to a great start in 2015 with a .360/.441/.700 line in 59 plate appearances including seven walks, four home runs, three doubles and one triple. The projection systems have begun to take notice. ZiPS now projects Vogt for a .259/.310/.415 line for the rest of the season while Steamer has Vogt with .265/.316/.420, already an improvement over the projections from a couple weeks ago and with his early season exploits, a two-win season has turned into one that could top three wins with the potential for more if he hits like he has over the past year. Since being called up at the beginning of June 2014, Vogt has hit .292/.341/.473 with a 130 wRC+ in 346 plate appearances.

It took Vogt a decent amount of time to reach the major leagues, and it has taken some time in the majors to carve out plate appearances. He will not even hit arbitration until the 2017 season which he will enter at 32 years of age. He is unlikely to ever enter free agency as a hot commodity due to his age and the years of control ahead of him. To try and find similar players, I looked at catchers over the past 50 years who through their Age-29 season who had between 350 and 600 plate appearances in their career and at least .5 wins and less than three wins. I then eliminated those without at least 150 plate appearances in their Age-29 season. The search returned 14 names.

Only two of the 14 players found in the search had mini-breakouts on the offensive side close to comparable to what Stephen Vogt accomplished last season. In just 166 plate in the strike-shortened 1994 season, Lenny Webster hit .273/.370/.448 for a 115 wRC+ for the Expos. He had carved out a role as a backup catcher and remained in that role throughout his career, getting around 600 plate appearances over two seasons with the Orioles as his high point in 1997-1998. At Age-29, Bill Fahey had a solid 1979 for the Padres, hitting .287/.348/.378 with a wRC+ of 103 in 236 plate appearances. Fahey hit just .257/.314/.286 the following season and held on for a minor role for three more years.

Of the 14 players in the search, only two finished their careers with more than six wins: Bob Brenly and Damian Miller. Damian Miller had a solid career, spending time with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago Cubs, Oakland Athletics, and Milwaukee Brewers on his way to an 11-year career and 13 total WAR. He had his career-best season at Age-30 with a wRC+ of 95 and 2.3 WAR. Brenly had his best season at Age-30 for the 1984 San Francisco Giants, hitting .291/.352/.464 with a 133 wRC+ and a roughly four-win season. Vogt’s promising start this season after a solid 2014 should have A’s fans hoping for a big breakout like Brenly’s across the bay three decades ago.

Vogt does have an inherent advantage over the 14 players on the above list as a left-handed pitcher. Left-handed catchers are rare, but Vogt throws right-handed from behind the plate and hits from the left side. The right-throwing, lefty-hitting catcher is not uncommon. In recent years, A.J. Pierzynski, Brian McCann, and Joe Mauer have all spent significant time at catcher, throwing the ball with the right hand and hitting from the left side.

As the heavy side of a platoon, Vogt can capitalize on the platoon advantage and he has done so throughout his career. As a professional, including minor league numbers, here are his statistics against right-handers since 2010.

2010 338 0.338 0.393 0.485
2011 299 0.310 0.348 0.525
2012 287 0.276 0.346 0.405
2013 394 0.310 0.375 0.511
2014 316 0.316 0.358 0.497

The A’s took advantage of Vogt’s versatility and hitting prowess in 2014 using Vogt at catcher, first base, and in the outfield, but with Derek Norris and John Jaso on the team, Vogt’s opportunities were limited at catcher and he received just eight starts there and had only 287 plate appearances on the season. Of those 287 plate appearances, roughly 85% (245 PA) came against right-handed pitching. The Oakland offense was deeper last season, but even with injuries and departures, the A’s look to maximize Vogt’s value by playing him with the platoon advantage.

With Norris and Jaso gone, Vogt can spend all or close to all of his time at catcher. In 2015, he already has more starts at catcher than all of 2014 with 13 so far, and only 10 of his 59 plate appearances this season have come against left-handed pitching. Oakland is known for maximizing platoons making Vogt a very A’s-like player. Vogt was drafted at 22 years old, and did not make the majors until he was 27 years old. He was known mostly after his call-up for going hitless in his first 32 plate appearances, but he has continued to succeed in the roles that he has been given, and this year for the A’s, he looks to be on his way to a career year.

Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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9 years ago

So, I’ve noticed FanGraphs loves doing these “comparable stats and pedigree” type analyses. And it seems like many times you only get 10 to 20 names.

There seems like an implicit argument then that Vogt will wind up on that spectrum – maybe flameout, unlikely but possibly go on to a steady career.

My question with all these “comparable player history” analyses – what is the EXPECTED result. I’d hazard a guess that almost every player has comparable examples with similar demographic stats or similar minor league numbers. The reality is there’s a ton of baseball players out there and quite a few don’t go on to anything more than replacement level, that is if they make it to the Show at all.

So, all the above to just people pondering – just how useful ARE comparable analysis type posts? It is SSS noise? Is there some level of commonality that makes a discernible pattern? I’ve not made up my mind one way or another, just think itd be interesting to delve into.

Umpire Weekend
9 years ago
Reply to  Mac

I’d say an expected result would be about a .255/.303/.398, two-win season.

9 years ago
Reply to  Mac

That would be a very interesting study: How predictive are player comps?

The data is certainly there to answer the question.

bob otto bob
9 years ago
Reply to  Mac

Comps have some value. Even after controlling for all of that stuff, ZiPS still finds some additional value in using comps in the projections (essentially a form of locally-weighted regression). For more informal analysis like this, the selection of comps is already controlling for the major factors like position, BA/OBP/SLG, age, maybe WAR, etc. They’re not definitive but they’re a reasonable and interesting snapshot.

I like them particularly because they give you a rough guide to the range of outcomes. As to “expected”, just go with the median/middle guy (by WAR, by wRC+, whatever). The point about selection bias is generally true (i.e. there are potential Vogts who never made the majors) but comps are usually only used in this informal way for guys who have made the majors comped to guys who made the majors … Vogt has already been selected.

We don’t see all 14 names but if the 4 listed are the best of the bunch then we can guesstimate that Vogt has about a 2/14 chance of having a solid career (Brenly/Miller), 2/14 of establishing himself as a backup (Webster/Fahey) and about 10/14 of fading fast. But given the state of Oakland’s C/1B/DH, barring a trade, it seems he’ll get plenty of playing time this year which makes it likely he’ll get at least a couple more seasons as a backup somewhere.

Nitpick: Vogt doesn’t have the LHB advantage over all 14 comps — Fahey was also a LHB.

9 years ago
Reply to  bob otto bob

“we can guesstimate that Vogt has about a 2/14 chance of having a solid career (Brenly/Miller), 2/14 of establishing himself as a backup (Webster/Fahey) and about 10/14 of fading fast.”

I just still have hesitation that using the prior 14 cases as odds for the 15th case is right. Don’t most players have pretty bad odds of a solid career? Are Vogt-like players more prone to failure than anyone else? There’s no context at all for the odds you’re putting up.

And 14 players is a pretty darn small sample size. What if three of them suffered career-ending injuries? That’s throw a huge bias in the numbers.

I didn’t know ZiPS used comps, that’s cool. And really, I’m not trying to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I’d just really like to see some meta-analysis of comparable players to get a general sense of how comps shake out.

N8*K’s idea of looking a predictive value is intriguing. Even before that, I’d just like to see the spectrum of comparisons in general. Does every type of player have some kind of Bob Brenly type success story? Do some player types just never, ever amount to 3+ WAR players? Just getting a sense of the general landscape of what types of development histories lead to what types of outcomes, just some exploratory analysis there would be fantastic.