Limiting Ryan Vogelsong

With Ryan Vogelsong continuing to excel as a starting pitcher for the Giants, questions about his continuation on the starting rotation are beginning to arise.  Most revolve around the return of Barry Zito, but another factor that is often being overlooked is that of workload.

Vogelsong has never been a workhorse, the likes of Roy Halladay or even Matt Cain for that matter.  In fact he spent his last few years pitching in Japan as a reliever.  Just for a reference, he pitched 65.1 innings in ’08, 41.2 innings in ’09, and 95.1 innings in ’10 back in the states with the Triple-A teams of both the Angels and the Phillies.  Even as a full-time starter with the Pirates in ’04, he only managed 133.0 IP, his career high.

With this in mind, Vogelsong has already made 12 starts this year (2 with Fresno and 10 with the Giants) and has pitched a total of 77 innings.  With an average of 33 starts per pitcher per year, and with 14 of those already in the books, that leaves 19 starts still to be accounted for.  With Vogelsong averaging a solid 6.5 IP per start, that’s 123.5 IP for the rest of the season, with a season total of just over 200 innings.

Even when his inevitable regression leads to Vogelsong not pitching as deep into games, were he to continue to start for the rest of the season he would still be around the 190 innings mark.  While this seems like a reasonable amount for a starting pitcher, keep in mind that he has never eclipsed 140 IP in a single year, and that is just less than his three years in Japan combined.  (106.2 in ’07, 65.1 IP in ’08, and 41.2 IP in ’09).  This may be asking a lot from a pitcher who has never attempted that level of work in his 10+ years of professional ball and is on the wrong side of thirty.

Though innings pitched is often the measurement for the workload of a pitcher, it is actually the pitches thrown that take a toll on the player, and in this case, Ryan Vogelsong.  It takes the average pitcher around 100 pitches to get through six innings.  Ryan Vogelsong has been right around that number with an average of 96 pitches per six innings so far this season.  Vogelsong had been staying right under 100 pitches for the first 8 starts of the season and just recently in his last two starts has he been allowed to stretch his pitch count, eclipsing 110 pitches in his last two starts (presumably a sign of the confidence Bochy has gained in his ability).  Unfortunately it is very unlikely that Vogelsong would be able to continue pitching late in to games and be able to finish out the season as a starter.  One option to prolong Vogelsong’s tenure as a Giant’s starter in 2011 would be to limit his pitch count to something around 100 or lower.  This would not always allow him to eclipse the 6 inning plateau every game, but luckily the Giants have a solid bullpen that could shut the door (if Bochy ever figures out how to use it).

Though not the only deciding factor, workload is likely something the Giants will look in to when deciding what to do with the 5th starting position when Zito returns, and unfortunately it is not something that benefits Ryan Vogelsong. It would be a shame to not be able to utilize Vogelsong’s success this year, and so a system of limiting his pitch count would allow the Giants to utilize Vogelsong’s new-found success while not overusing him too early in the season.

In an effort to remain optimistic, I will leave you with this.  Throughout the history baseball many things have happened, including relievers with low workloads making a seamless transition into a starting role.  Pitchers as recent as Adam Wainwright with the Cardinals have accomplished this feat, who was their closer during their 2007 World Series Championship, and then began starting the next year and look how well that turned out for him (try to ignore the Tommy John surgery this year).  Other notable pitchers include David Wells and Derek Lowe, and with any luck, we can add Ryan Vogelsong to that list in the near future.

2 thoughts on “Limiting Ryan Vogelsong

  1. ron

    Are you counting minor league games in the US and in Japan during those years and/or winter ball innings?

  2. James

    As far as I know I took into account all the minor league innings he pitched during the ’10 season in AAA as well as the beginning of this season. As for Japan, I did include all the statistics I could find on his pitching tenure in Japan in ’07 through ’09. I’m not quite sure what you mean by “winter ball innings”, but if he did pitch somewhere other than the in Japan and with AAA during those years (’07-’11), I would love to know about it and where I could find that information.

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