I rocketed past this point in this morning’s post because I thought it was so obvious. But the blowback on Twitter from some Giants fans was as if I had said Tim Lincecum didn’t belong on the NL All-Star team (he probably doesn’t, either, but there’s an argument to be made for previous performance counting).
“What about overcoming the odds?,” I was asked. “Wins are the poorest metric of a pitcher’s performance,” I was told. “Ever read Moneyball, idiot?,” I was hit with (yeah, and Moneyball has yet to produce a league champion, let alone a World Champion). When I argued that Vogelsong shouldn’t have even been considered because he had been tested so much less that he had not yet thrown enough innings to be considered for the ERA leadership, I was told that he would achieve that in his next start. The point was missed: in his “season” he is about where all the other starters were three weeks ago. If he were to give up five runs in five innings in his next start that sparkling ERA to which his supporters point, would balloon to 2.52. Remember that number.
But these guys love them some Ryan Vogelsong.
Trust me, I’ve got nothing against him. Great story, wonderful to see him make his way back (although I don’t recall many Giants fans saying the same thing about Colby Lewis during the World Series last year). He’s pitched well, although you could argue he’s been no better than the 14th or 15th top starter in the National League this season.
Actually, the explanation for the heading “Why Ryan Vogelsong Isn’t An All-Star” takes just two words: Tommy Hanson. Opponents are hitting .222 off Vogelsong. They are hitting .192 off Hanson. Vogelsong has averaged 7.26 strikeouts per nine innings. Hanson has averaged 9.62 of them. Vogelsong’s WHIP is 1.15. Hanson’s is 1.04. Vogelsong has won 6 of 13 starts. Hanson has won 10 of 16. In one category and one category alone does Vogelsong best the Braves’ righthander. His ERA is 2.13 and Hanson’s is 2.52 – exactly where Vogelsong could wind up with a five earnies in five innings performance next time out.
I think it’s open and shut right there. Individual metrics are all in Hanson’s favor, and the results – and some day we will shake off the Felix Hernandez foolishness of last year and recognize that, yes, a win or a loss is at least somewhat a starting pitcher’s responsibility – the results are decidedly in Hanson’s favor.
His interiors aren’t that impressive, but the idea that Kevin Correia has won 11 games with what is still a dicey Pirates’ line-up, is extraordinary. A 3.74 ERA and a .260 opponents’ BA give me the willies. But wins and losses do count for something.
But there are several other pitchers – and for our purposes here these are pitchers drawn only from the same Cinderella category to which Vogelsong belongs – whose statistics and results are slightly better or just slightly worse than Vogelsong’s. It’s easiest to look at them in column form:
PITCHER W-L ERA WHIP OBA SO/9
Ryan Vogelsong 6-1 2.13 1.15 .222 7.26
Dillon Gee 8-3 3.47 1.20 .222 6.29
Jeff Karstens 7-4 2.55 1.07 .240 5.29
Ian Kennedy 8-3 3.38 1.14 .236 7.58
Shawn Marcum 7-3 3.32 1.15 .221 8.26
Jordan Zimmermann 5-7 2.82 1.10 .240 6.29
The crazy thing here, of course, is that our hypothetical five innings, five earned start for Vogelsong not only gives Hanson a shutout on the stat board, but it also turns the Giant into only a slightly shinier version of Jeff Karstens.
But I have heretofore left out the favorite meme of the Vogelsongians: he pitches for the Giants therefore he must be better because the Giants never score runs and every game is torture and blah blah blah, blah blah.
Correia and Gee, you can dismiss on this point. The Buccos are scoring Correia 7.17 runs per game; the Mets 6.94 for Gee. But all the other pitchers mentioned here are getting, at most, half a run more per outing than is Vogelsong, who gets 5.44 (Marcum 5.96, Kennedy 5.81, Hanson 5.70, Karstens 5.56 – and poor Jordan Zimmermann is struggling along at 4.80). If you want a macro view of where a 5.44 run support should get you, Cole Hamels was getting a 5.37 and Jair Jurrjens a 4.88 before their starts tonight. And somehow in the American League, Michael Pineda is doing what he’s doing with an RS of 4.42, Jered Weaver’s getting 4.04, and poor Dan Haren, 3.87. That’s lack of support.
This is a good point to mention my all-time favorite season of any pitcher in professional history. It’s amazingly instructive about the true value of interior statistics. At first blush, this looks like a pretty good year, in AA ball, for a 22-year old pitcher in 1967: 2.81 ERA (that’s two earned runs in each of his 20 starts, 1.39 WHIP (he was a little wild), 5.3 K/9, only 7 homers allowed all year. His name was Dick Such, his team was the 1967 York White Roses, they were no-hit four times that year, and Such finished the season 0-16. That’s right: no wins, 16 losses. Rather remarkably, he not only didn’t quit the sport, but made it to the majors as a pitcher and, for 19 years as a pitching coach (16-1/2 with the Twins).
There’s one more deeply disturbing aspect to Vogelsong’s selection by his manager Bruce Bochy that was explained on MLB Tonight by Jerry Manuel. To paraphrase him, he said he’d love to be getting the criticism Bochy is getting for picking three of his own starting pitchers, because it meant – no duh – that he had won the pennant last year instead of getting fired.
But more importantly, Manuel observed, it would mean that he had done right by “his guys” – that given the choice between a completely neutral decision about the eight best starters in the league this season, and not offending his own starters, he’d take not offending his own starters, every time.
Jerry’s never been given credit either for his acumen or his honesty. But his point is honest, and damning, and explains why now the time has come to take the defending pennant-winning manager (and all the managers) out of a decisive role in selecting All-Stars. If it has devolved into a popularity contest – as in, I want to stay popular with my own players – then it must be discontinued immediately. And the selection of Vogelsong over Hanson (to say nothing of the other Cinderellas) suggests it has.
This thing in Atlanta. This is really happening? The Braves, 8-1/2 behind the Rockies 18 days ago, have won 15 of 17, are two behind the Rockies in the Wild Card, and four behind the Phillies for first in the division, with five to play? It is of course impossible, even for a team on as much of a roll as Bobby Coxs, to pull this off – except we so easily forget: this is almost exactly what the possible victims here, the Rockies, did to San Diego in 2007. Plus there are two very relevant facts here: since Jim Tracy took over, Colorado has been so hot that they necessarily had to cool down (as will the Braves), and if Atlanta pulls this off they can thank Jair Jurrjens. After he beat the Marlins tonight he rose to merely 9-1 against the NL East (yes, its 4-0 versus the Mets; that still leaves 5-1 versus everybody else). This is one of the more remarkable stats of the last few years. And lets not even start talking about how the Phlounderin Phillies have enabled all this.