Ryan Vogelsong loses his way (USAT)
For all the jagged numbers tied to Ryan Vogelsong this season, the number that surprises me most is 45 – his percent ownership in the Yahoo! game. I'm all for patience to a point, but eventually we hit a spot where it's time to accept a crummy start is probably a crummy season. I'm at that conclusion with Vogelsong now.
The batting practice tour landed in the YYZ for Wednesday's play and it was a mess from the start. Vogelsong went just two innings, allowing six hits and eight runs over 80 pitches. Two balls left the park. The Giants defense sabotaged Vogelsong, mind you, committing a couple of first-inning errors, but there was no positive spin from this outing. Vogelsong's ERA is 8.06 for the year, his WHIP 1.84.
Before we look at the secondary numbers, remember one inescapable fact: outlier stats always come with outlier peripherals. Any pitcher with a glittering ERA is going to look like the lottery winner in the under-the-hood areas, and the opposite applies when someone is struggling. Of course Vogelsong's BABIP is inflated (.369), and of course his HR/FB rate is crazy high (21.6 percent). That said, the hit rate isn't all flares and bloops - batters have a zesty 25 percent line drive rate against Vogelsong. And his swinging strike rate has fallen to 6.4 percent.
If you want to view home runs as a random fly-ball lottery, you might take heart in Vogelsong's xFIP being a less-penal 4.41. For my money, this is a good reason to pick another ERA estimator. The straight version of FIP spits out a 6.09 number, while tERA suggests 6.59. I'm not looking for a reason to excuse meatball artists getting crushed for mistakes and hittable pitches.
Vogelsong's fastball is also lagging in 2013, checking in at 89.6 mph (a notable drop from his 90.8 last year and 91.4 in 2011). For a finesse pitcher who needs to be precise with location, any velocity dip has to be taken seriously. And keep in mind Vogelsong turns 36 in July.
The Giants are talking about skipping Vogelsong in the rotation next week, but it sounds like the veteran righty will get another chance to right the ship as a starter. I'm rooting for the story, but it's from the sidelines. Vogelsong and I had plenty of good times in 2011 and 2012, but I can't see any reason for optimism now. Go work your waiver wire, gamers, there's something better waiting for you.
• Break up the Dodgers, they're on a two-game winning streak. Wednesday's 3-1 victory wasn't as tidy as the final score suggests; the Nationals collected 11 base runners and had a number of scoring threats that fell by the boards. Don Mattingly liberally employed his bullpen in this win, summoning five relievers after Zack Greinke's credible comeback (5.1 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 4 K, 83 pitches).
Mattingly kept everyone guessing with his closer spin: Kenley Jansen worked in the seventh and eighth one day removed from his ninth-inning finish. Jansen got into trouble with two eighth-inning singles but bailed himself out. Brandon League inherited the ninth and did his usual thing: throw strikes, hope they hit it at people. The Nationals came through with three ground-ball outs (and one single up the middle), giving League his ninth save in ten chances.
Looks like we're back to square one with this bullpen. The best numbers are coming from Jansen and should continue to, but Mattingly isn't going to bury League in the pecking order just yet. How badly do you need the handshakes?
Not Jose Veras (USAT)
Jose Veras, come on down.
Veras was a mess over the first two weeks, struggling to locate his fastball and command his curveball, but things have rounded into shape nicely over the last month. Veras has a nifty 1.59 ERA and 11 strikeouts over his last 11.1 innings of work, picking up five saves along the way. When the Astros have a lead in the final frame, this is the automatic option they call for.
It's not all sunshine and lollipops, of course: Veras has a 4.01 ERA for his career, and while he strikes out better than a batter per inning, he also walks 4.9/9 for his career (it's at 3.94/9 this year). This is the classic example of a closer who's worth owning but not worth watching; don't put yourself through the frustration. But if you're in a tricky spot for saves and can accept an ugly-duckling play, Veras is probably headed for 25 handshakes. He's out there in almost 60 percent of Yahoo! pools; your move, save chaser.
• The Phil Hughes Story isn't much different than the Vogelsong Diaries. New York's righty still boasts a solid K/BB clip, but he's getting crippled by home runs and a .354 hit rate. The Mariners threw a seven-spot at Hughes on Wednesday, knocking him out in the first inning. Vogelsong eventually will try to fix things in the roomy backdrop of AT&T Park; Yankee Stadium isn't a friend to a right-handed pitcher. If you were a Hughes streamer on hump day, show your scars and share your frustration in the comments. Really, it's therapeutic. We're here for you.
But stop using this guy aggressively, especially in home starts. The downside simply isn't worth it.
Old friend Raul Ibanez clubbed two homers Wednesday, giving him three in the series. I'd consider a short-term rental for Ibanez if left-hander Andy Pettitte weren't pitching Thursday. The runs were more than enough for Hisashi Iwakuma (7 IP, 8 H, 2 R, 0 BB, 4 K), who does something useful every start. If I were shuffling pitchers right this second, Iwakuma would be in the Top 20. He's a blast to watch, too; consistent strikes and sharp command, and more than enough stuff to make batters miss, even when he's working the middle of the plate.
• One minute they're talking about David Price allergies and the next minute he's walking off the diamond, dealing with left triceps tightness. It's been a tricky season under the catwalk, and things boiled to a head in Wednesday's 9-2 loss to Boston. The Rays ran an MRI on Price Thursday and "nothing serious" came back (per the Tampa Tribune) but he's going to miss at least one start. The loaded Rays organization has options to consider, with Jake Odorizzi and Chris Archer looming at Triple-A Durham.
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