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Casting our lot with Team Vogelsong

March 14, 2011

When the news came out the Giants had signed Ryan Vogelsong to a minor league deal with a major league Spring Training invite, the general reaction was laughter, Jason Schmidt jokes, and “What is this? 2001?”. Now, a couple of weeks into camp, he’s looking like a legitimate contender for the last bullpen spot along with Jeff Suppan, Marc Kroon, Dan Runzler, and Guillermo Mota.

Britt and I started rooting for Vogelsong as soon as this article came out. To quote: “I’ve been trying to get back here since I got traded. I loved it here so much,” and “I was like, I just can’t wear Dodger blue.” If you somehow haven’t noticed, we fall hopelessly for this sort of thing.

We weren’t all to high on his chances at winning a spot at first. In fact, we were just hoping he would accept a minor league deal for Fresno and stick around “just in case”. Now, we’re starting to get our hopes up, despite the million times we’ve reminded each other “Its only a few Spring Training innings, its only a few Spring Training innings.”

The general consensus seems to be that 11 of the 12 pitching spots are just this side of carved in stone. They belong to the five starters, Brian Wilson, Sergio Romo, Javier Lopez, Jeremy Affeldt, Santiago Casilla and Ramon Ramirez. That leaves one, and the party line is that Sabean and co. are looking for a long reliever and/or swing-man.

Sadly, because many people seem to like him and he has a cool Twitter, I don’t think Marc Kroon has a legitimate shot at the team unless someone gets hurt or completely implodes. He’s a fun story with decent upside, but as a closer in Japan for three years, he doesn’t exactly fit the bill for long relief. I wouldn’t be surprised if he landed a ML job with another team though. Someone somewhere is always looking for bullpen help.

Mota, despite his inside track as a reigning World Series Champion (sorry, but I had to get that in somewhere) also seems likely to fall off the board early. He’s had quite a bit of major league success comparative to everyone else, but he hasn’t been much more than a one inning guy in the past several years, and he’s 37.

Runzler will probably be given a decent chance, especially as they seem to legitimately want to stretch him out, but he’s also the only player that can be easily sent down to the minors. There he could get starting experience and be insurance against injury. While I’m usually the one rooting shamelessly for the young, home-grown kids, I’m okay with this. Even if Runzler isn’t converted to a starter he’ll get his shot as a LOOGY next year at the latest when Affeldt’s and Lopez’s contracts expire.

Now who’s left after I’ve made my all-too-convenient self-serving eliminations? Jeff Suppan and uh…hey! Look at that! Ryan Vogelsong (whom we’ve dubbed Tweet Bird, by the way), who both slip into the mold of long reliever.

Vogelsong hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2006, and Suppan pitched a hundred innings for the Brewers and Cardinals last year. Under normal circumstances, I’d give up any hope of Sabean and co. choosing the “newbie” immediately and spend my time doing something productive instead. Like watching Buster Posey highlights. But once upon a time the Giants drafted Vogelsong and he made his way up the ranks as a pretty dang good prospect. He knows Dave Righetti, he knows Mark Gardner…connections have got to count for something, right? We hope so.

I’ve got some stats to throw at you too, as a side to the sentiment. Suppan might have a far better career ERA than Vogelsong ever did in the majors (minus 2005), but the difference in their FIPs is 0.06. File that under “not much”. Tweety (What do you think? Does it work?) has the higher K rate and lower home run rate but the higher walk rate. The same can be said for their minor league careers, though Vogelsong’s is actually pretty significantly better. Vogelsong’s 2008 line from Japan is here*, and it tells the same story as the rest of his career. Lots of strikeouts, too many walks.

Maybe its just Spring Training talking or maybe I’m just a sucker for “stuff”, but I think that Suppan and Vogelsong both have similar floors, but Ryan has the higher ceiling. After all, who has the 2.13 ERA? Maybe coming back and working with Rags again…maybe…just maybe…

Damn, I need to stop this train of thought; or send it hurtling off a cliff. Reality says there isn’t much of a difference between Soup and Tweety (I’m trying…) and that Sabean will go with the devil he knows and hire on the former.

But its Spring, and every Spring the baseball world tries to block the words “small sample size” out of their vocabulary and instead use phrases like “best shape of his life” and “something clicked for him”. So for better or for worse, largely because of “I just can’t wear Dodger blue”, we’re firmly aboard the Vogelsong wagon. He wants to be here, so we want him here. And what fun is baseball if you can’t root for the guy who makes the best story?

*If someone knows of a better place to find Japanese baseball stats could you do us a favor and drop a link? What I found, which I think is the official site, has a pretty awful system.

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