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Ryan Vogelsong's gone from leading the National League in ERA to middle of the pack in slightly more than a month, leading one to wonder if last year's biggest surprise has finally hit a wall. What do the numbers say, though?
You thought Ryan Vogelsong was a feel-good story in 2011? Or, more to the point, you thought he was merely a fluke in 2011? With his 2.71 ERA, after entering the season with a 5.86 ERA in 315 career major-league innings?
Just a bit more than a month ago, Vogelsong tossed seven shutout innings against the powerful St. Louis Cardinals. That gave him a 2.27 ERA, the lowest in the National League.
Except now it's all gone away. Or most of it, anyway. In his seven starts since those seven shutout innings, Vogelsong's got a 10.31 ERA; he's fallen from No. 1 in the ERA tables to No. 18. The latest disaster came Sunday afternoon against the Diamondbacks, when Vogelsong gave up seven runs and didn't survive the fourth inning.
Fortunately, the Giants haven't needed Vogelsong to pitch well. Everyone else has done well enough that the Giants have a safe lead in the National League West, and can already start tuning up for a Division Series in October. But speaking of October, will there be a place for Vogelsong in the Giants' postseason pitching plans?
After the sixth start in Vogelsong's current seven-start slump, baycityball took a look at Vogelsong's underlying performance and noted:
During Vogelsong’s slump, he’s actually striking out batters at higher rate and walking them at a lower rate compared to his previous work this year. His homerun rate is up slightly but it’s still in the area of very good. The main difference is his BABIP, which has ballooned to .411 during his hard times. His strikeout and walk rates are the main reason why I’m not in panic mode about Vogelsong’s past six starts. He’s still doing the things we want to see from a pitcher — limit contact, not walk hitters — but batters that have but the ball in play against them have usually found holes.
We do have to guard against attributing every anomalous performance to fluky BABiP. But there are good reasons to think that Vogelsong remains one of the Giants' three best starting pitchers. Even in this stretch, he's struck out roughly three-and-a-half times more hitters than he's walked. He's given up six home runs in 30 innings, but that can happen to anyone. He's probably made a few bad pitches, sure, but he's probably been terribly unlucky, too.
Still, with Barry Zito pitching decently in recent weeks and the manager highly unlikely to bench Tim Lincecum next month, Vogelsong might need at least one solid outing before season's end to ensure his place in the Giants' postseason rotation.