Bartolo Colon has taken the early lead for American League Comeback Player of the Year. Over in the National League, Ryan Vogelsong is in the middle of a nice comeback story of his own along the San Francisco Bay. Once upon a time, Vogelsong was a prospect in the Giants system after he was selected in the 5th round of the 1998 draft. He jockeyed for position in the organization before he was shipped to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2001 as part of the Jason Schmidt deal. From 2001-2006, he appeared in 103 games for Pittsburgh with mostly replacement level results.
The right-hander spent a few seasons in Japan before returning to the United States in 2010. He pitched in the Philadelphia organization last season, but did not appear in a big league game. More than a decade after his selection in the draft, Vogelsong has returned to the Giants and is contributing on the major league level.
A longshot to make the club out of spring training, he reported to Triple-A before receiving a call up in early April. After missing four full seasons in the big leagues, he made his first two appearances since 2006 out of the San Francisco bullpen. He was given the chance to start once Barry Zito hit the disabled list and opened a spot in the rotation. Although it’s just four starts, Vogelsong has been quite the surprise for the Giants.
Vogelsong has logged 22 innings as a starter this season, earning an FIP of 3.30 and xFIP of 3.44. He has 21 strikeouts to just eight walks and surrendered just two home runs in 93 batters faced. At age 33, he still throws in the low-90s and works off a cut-fastball, curveball, and changeup as well. In limited sample size, his breaking ball has been effective against left-handed batters. On the other side, his cutter has been solid against his fellow right-handers.
Despite the solid strikeout rate of 8.10 per nine, Vogelsong is not collecting whiffs in bunches. Considering his 62% overall strike rate as well as his sub 2.75 BB/9, it appears as if the late model of Vogelsong has become a better-rounded pitcher.
This weekend, Vogelsong received credit for his first major league complete game and shutout. I say credited with because the game lasted just six innings before it was called because of rain. Had the game continued, Vogelsong would have probably been finished after the sixth inning because of pitch count (102).
Nonetheless, the right-hander was once again effective in his work on the mound. He allowed seven hits (all singles) while walking one batter and striking out seven. Of the 15 balls the Cubs put in play against him, 11 stayed on the ground – including an infield hit. On the season, he owns a groundball rate just above 45%.
With Barry Zito’s return uncertain, the Giants will continue to roll with Vogelsong. There is room for regression in his .240 BABIP and 83% strand rate, but the solid peripherals suggest that he is not just a byproduct of luck. Considering the cost to sign him was a non-roster invite to camp, the half win the team has already received makes the signing an early season success. The success stories of Vogelsong and Colon are more exceptions than the rule, but they do show that once in a while there is some life left in the many arms that lay on the major league scrap heap.