San Francisco Giants teammates know not to disturb Ryan Vogelsong on days he is scheduled to start. Usually, the 35-year-old right-hander is affable and talkative, but he is known to have one of the fiercest game faces in baseball.
“I’m pretty laid back most days, I think guys would say. They give me a hard time about it all the time, though. But game day – just leave me alone. I’ve got a job to do tonight, and that’s the only thing on my mind,” Vogelsong told KNBR in San Francisco. “Don’t talk to me about what your kid did yesterday, or what you did this morning, or your drive to the field. I don’t care. As nice as I can put it, I don’t really care. My only concern that night is getting the nine guys out that I have to face that night.”
On a rotation that features recognizable names like Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner and Barry Zito, Vogelsong is an instrumental reason why the Giants are 63-52 and atop the National League West, one game ahead of the rival Los Angeles Dodgers.
Though he is the No. 5 starter on the team’s depth chart, statistics indicate that he is the staff ace. Cain is 11-5 with a 2.99 ERA, a 1.03 WHIP and a .226 batting average against. Yet it is Vogelsong who has the rotation’s lowest ERA and highest winning percentage since the opening of the 2011 season. With a 10-5 record, a National League-leading 2.27 ERA, a 1.11 WHIP and a .215 opponent’s batting average, he is a contender for the NL Cy Young Award.
Vogelsong has crafted a tale of perseverence and has encountered quite the odyssey since he was a fifth round draft pick by San Francisco out of Kutztown University in 1998.
He showed promise early in his professional career and was traded with Armando Rios to Pittsburgh in the 2001 trade deadline deal that brought Jason Schmidt to the Giants. Over parts of five seasons with the Pirates, Vogelsong was 10-19 with a 6.00 ERA and was cut loose after suffering an arm injury in 2006.
From there, the veteran rehabbed, had a stint in Japan’s major league and even time in the Japanese minor leagues before returning to affiliated baseball in 2010, pitching for the Phillies and Angels Triple-A affiliates. He was released by the Phillies and then allowed to enter free agency by the Angels after the 2010 season. That is when San Francisco signed him to a minor league deal and he returned to the organization where his professional career was launched 12 years earlier.
The second stint in San Francisco has been much smoother for Vogelsong. He appeared in the All-Star Game and posted a 13-7 record and 2.71 ERA in 30 games (28 starts) last year. This season, he has emerged with Cain as the team’s two most consistent starters.
Vogelsong has stiff competition for the NL Cy Young Award. Washington’s Jordan Zimmermann, Cincinnati’s Johnny Cueto, New York Mets’ knuckleballer R.A. Dickey and St. Louis’ Kyle Lohse are also having outstanding years.
Whether he claims the ultimate individual achievement for a starting pitcher remains to be seen, but there is no doubt that Vogelsong is one of the best bargains in baseball at $5 million this season, and he is one of the most resilient players in the game.