In last night’s 8-6 loss to the Arizona Diamonbacks, fans were once again treated to a weird Vogelsong start. The good news is this: Vogelsong faced 20 batters and he struck out seven of them — that’s a K/9 of 18.90. The bad news: it took 81 pitches to get through 3.1 innings of work and he gave up nine hits in the process. The word ‘weird’ is often thrown around when I write about baseball, but it was a weird start. Vogelsong’s fastball looked pretty crisp, often running 92-93 mph, and despite a few bad pitches, he seemed to have a good command of things. However, the D-Backs seemed to rack up hits and Vogelsong’s night ended by the fourth.
The telecast made mention that before last night’s game, Vogelsong had been in something of a slump, posting the following line over his past six starts: 31.1 IP, 36 H, 22 R, 22 ER, 10 BB, 34 SO, 6.32 ERA.
Let’s take a look at Vogelsong’s location frequency for ‘hard stuff’ (fastballs, cutters, probably a few sliders mixed in) pre-slump (4/15/12 to 7/29/12) and then during the slump (8/2/12 onward).
4/15/12 to 7/29/12
8/3/12 to 9/4/12
And a quick data table:
Slump K% BB% HR% BABIP 26.5 7.7 4.3 0.411 Pre-slump K% BB% HR% BABIP 17.9 8.1 1.9 0.254
Comparatively, Vogelsong’s location with his ‘hard stuff’ during pre-slump times looks more consistent. When succeeding, he did a pretty good job of keeping the ball out of the middle of the plate, though, he’s not afraid to pitch in the zone if need be. By my eye, he looks like he’s struggling the most, location-wise, against right-handed batters during his mini-slump. When Vogelsong is going right, he’s burning off the outside of the strike zone with two-seam and four-seam fastballs; and, as you can see, during his slump he’s not locating as well. That, of course, makes sense: when pitchers can’t locate their pitches, they are likely to struggle.
To use the word ‘weird’ again, the data table highlights some other interesting information. 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.
While the surface results on Vogelsong’s last half-dozen starts look bad, the underlying numbers paint a picture of a pitcher that’s getting extremely unlucky. His innings total for the year currently sits at 164.1 and while I’m not sure he’s fatigued, he could be dealing with the rigors of pitching a full season of baseball for the second year in a row after not throwing more than a 100 innings in a season since 2007 with the Hanshin Tigers. I think it’s bad analysis to simply point at BABIP and say, “he’s just getting unlucky.” But Vogelsong’s current skid, while the timing is poor, has a lot to do with balls falling for hits. If he can get back to his hit suppression ways, and continue to post similar rate stats that we’ve seen for the past two years, he’ll be fine.