Originally written on Baseball Professor  |  Last updated 11/14/14

If you saw Ryan Vogelsong winning 13 games in his first MLB season since 2006, then you should have my job…except I don’t really get paid, so I don’t think I can really call it a job. You can have my hobby.

Regardless, I’m guessing you’re as surprised as I am that Vogelsong had as productive a season as he did. He was so much better than he’d ever been that we can’t even call it a throwback season, and like I say here somewhat frequently, I’m pretty sure the only person who thought Vogelsong was capable of being among the league leaders in ERA was his mom.

But I’m also guessing the Vogel-momma doesn’t play fantasy baseball, which means her son’s success doesn’t really impact her in any tangible way (unless Vogelsong plans on putting her in a retirement home in her waning years — then she actually does have a vested interest). But if you’re like me and you’ve got money riding on your fantasy season, then you really want to know if Vogelsong is someone you can count on in 2012. Thankfully, that’s what question 28 in our Top 100 Offseason Questions series asks.

First, let’s get the basic stats, peripherals and advanced metrics out of the way:

The first thing we need to look at is Vogelsong’s ERA/FIP/xFIP relationship, and his 2.71 ERA is almost a full run lower than his FIP. This is the most concerning stat above. FIP accurately shows how much we should adjust his ERA due to an unusually low BABIP (.280) and an unusually high strand rate (80.4%). Because Vogelsong plays his home games (and a lot of his road games by virtue of his division) in some of the league’s more pitcher-friendly parks, it’s not surprising that his FIP is lower than his xFIP (because, as you know, xFIP normalizes for a league-average HR/FB rate).

The easy thing to do is to project Vogelsong’s 2011 FIP (3.67) as his 2012 ERA. Before we do that, maybe we can decipher something from looking at his month-by-month stats!

Vogelsong posted his best strikeout and walk rates of any month in April, but it should be noted that these April rates came in just 10 1/3 innings. What is of particular note is how his FIP rose each month until August as did his walk rate. Was that because hitters were finally seeing him a second or third time (remember, it was his first season in the majors since 2006) or was he just wearing down as the season wore on? I’ll rule out the latter because Vogelsong had his best full month in September, posting a 3.30 FIP with 1.93 BB/9.

Looking at his PitchFX numbers, including start-by-start velocity, pitch selection and pitch movement data, there’s only one noticeable change I can see: Vogelsong dramatically upped his slider usage in his last 11 starts. What’s interesting, though, is that Vogelsong’s slider was his worst pitch last season, valuing at 2.04 runs below average per 100 sliders thrown.

Please know that at this point I’m starting to get very frustrated. Vogelsong’s 2011 season is just one giant corn maze. Every time I think I’ve found the key to understanding his monthly trends, it turns out to be a dead end. Maybe Vogelsong’s slider was actually really good in the last month of the season and his -2.04 pitch value doesn’t accurately show how effective the pitch was, but I can’t find the data to actually find out if this is true. The closest I could get is looking at his start-by-start slider movement, which actually does reveal something useful.

Source: Fangraphs.com (click to enlarge)

The black line I drew on the chart separates Vogelsong’s last 11 starts from the rest of his season, and his horizontal slider movement is illustrated with the red line. It’s subtle, but it looks to me that his slider had a great deal more consistency in his last 11 starts than it did during the rest of the season. Perhaps this is why he began using it more, and perhaps it actually was an effective pitch during that 11-start span. Considering those 11 starts make up about a third of his season and they occurred at the end of the year, I’m optimistic that Vogelsong can carry that success into 2012.

But I’m not optimistic enough to project a drastic improvement in his FIP. It’s boring, but I’m going to project Vogelsong for a 3.60 ERA this season but with a slightly higher strikeout rate of 7.25 (given his strikeout rates in three of the last four months). He’ll start the season in the San Francisco rotation as opposed to triple-A, which he did last season, so he’ll come closer to 200 innings pitched.

For 2012 I’m projecting Vogelsong for 12 wins, a 3.60 ERA, 1.33 WHIP and 153 strikeouts in 190 innings. Those numbers would yield a PSR of 1.36, lower than last season’s 2.70. That PSR would have ranked him 183rd overall last season, lower than his 116 rank last year, and make him a borderline top-50 starting pitcher.

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