Ryan Vogelsong had the lowest ERA of any starter on the San Francisco Giants this season. Lower than Tim Lincecum. Lower than Matt Cain. Lower than Madison Bumgarner. Much lower than Jonathan Sanchez. More than half than that of Barry Zito. Ryan Vogelsong.
It would have been weird if his name were something else. Ryan Jackson, 33-year-old minor-league gadfly and overseas veteran, coming back to lead the vaunted Giants' staff in ERA. That would have been weird, alright. Totally unexpected in that sort-of expected baseball kind of way. Some guy who had a 6.00 ERA as a member of the Pirates in the early part of last decade, and who walked almost six hitters for every nine AAA innings he pitched last year. Gee, that would have been an unexpected story.
But it was Ryan Vogelsong, former Giants prospect. It might as well have been Jason Grilli or Joe Fontenot. Jim Stoops or Robbie Crabtree. Jamie Brewington, William VanLandingham, or Jake Esteves. Jesse Foppert, Kurt Ainsworth, or Joe Rosselli. Nope, it was Ryan Vogelsong, for whatever reason. This feels like something that was presented to us while we were sitting in a sweat lodge, preparing for a vision quest. We pass out, wake up, look up, and see that Vogelsong led the team in ERA in 2011. What does it mean? How can we unpack this vision of an alternate universe?
After Vogelsong's 2010 -- terrible stats split between two teams -- it's amazing that he was invited to a big-league camp this year. He was going to be 33, and it had been ten years since his last good full season anywhere, at any level. He was lucky to get a spot in a AAA rotation, and I don't think that's hyperbole. Based on his performance in 2011 -- and 2010, 2009, 2008, etc... -- it wasn't crazy to think that there could have been 150 professional pitchers in the world who were better equipped for a starting gig in AAA.
He got his chance in the rotation when Barry Zito went on the DL for the first time of his career. Think about what would have happened if Zito didn't field a ball awkwardly in San Diego. Zito would have continued to stink. Vogelsong would have dominated the PCL. Well-meaning tweaks would have clamored for Vogelsong, and us enlightened, cynical folks would have scoffed. Dude has been pretty bad for a decade, and people would want to move Zito to the bullpen because Ryan Freaking Vogelsong had a nice little start in Fresno? Like the GM in the $3000 suit is going to make that move. Come on!
So the season was a dud, but there was a little magic this year after all. Without this guy, the season would have been completely insufferable. And he was fantastic tonight.
Also of note: against the Rockies in 2011, he was 4-0 with a 0.96 ERA. Ryan Vogelsong, suckers. Here's hoping he beats out Zito for a rotation spot next year.