I haven’t added to the Redemption Song series in a few months. During spring training and the early season, I wrote three of these posts, predicting the possibility that Bartolo Colón, Freddy García and Russell Branyan might have bounce back seasons in 2011. As they say, two out of three ain’t bad. I pretty much nailed Garcia and Colón right on the head, as they are still pitching well overall and still in the New York Yankees rotation 93 games into the season. I missed completely with Branyan, who was released by the Diamondbacks on May 21, signed with the Angels and is hitting .193 overall. Now that we’re more than half way through the season, the structure of these posts changes a bit, but I will still profile some players that have come out of nowhere to have bounce back seasons. Today’s guest on Redemption Song is Ryan Vogelsong.
Before this season, Vogelsong hadn’t pitched in the major leagues since 2006. That’s five long years that took him from Indianapolis (AAA affiliate of the Pirates), all the way to Japan and back. What he has done this season has surpassed even his own wildest dreams I’m sure. Ryan has not only cemented his spot as the San Francisco Giants fifth starter, he’s pitching better than their other four guys! In fact, he’s pitching better than almost every other pitcher in the league. Are you kidding me? At thirty-two years of age, Ryan Vogelsong has returned from the dead to go 7-1 in 15 starts with a league leading 2.02 ERA.
The Ryan Vogelsong story (sounds like some kind of after school special, doesn’t it?) began back in 1998 when the Giants drafted him in the fifth round of the amateur draft out of Klutztown University. Despite coming from a college that sounds like its dean was Krusty the Klown, Vogelsong rose pretty quickly through the Giants’ system, making his major league debut in 2000, just two years after being drafted. His time on the giants would not last long, as he was traded to the Pirates in 2001 as part of the package that netted the Giants Jason Schmidt.
Ryan wandered in and out of the Pirates clubhouse and back to AAA from 2001 until 2006, when he, his 10-22 record and 5.86 ERA were “granted free agency”, which is a nice way of saying he was given the boot. That led to a three year journey to the Far East, where he played for the Hanshin Tigers, and not particularly overwhelmingly well. In those three seasons, he went 11-14 with an ERA over 4. In 2010, he came back to the US, but only managed a 4.81 ERA and allowed 175 base runners in 95 AAA innings in the Phillies and Angels system. I’m sure most scouts and “experts” thought to themselves… this guy couldn’t hack in in the majors his first time around, he couldn’t really hack it in Japan, and he was terrible in his return to AAA baseball. He must be finished, and we should all pass on him.
This spring, however, his old team decided to give him one more chance to put it all together. Maybe it was because they thought it might do Ryan some good to come home, or maybe because they wanted insurance for terrible $126MM Barry Zito (still laughable). Either way, since his recall, Vogelsong’s done nothing but win, almost literally. At 33 years of age, he was named to his first All-Star team (although he did not play in the game), and has out-pitched Sanchez, Lincecum and Matt Cain. In the post-steroids era, this type of stuff shouldn’t happen. If you thought Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colón came out of nowhere this season, you should start looking for whatever space ship Ryan Vogelsong came back to Earth in. Also, if Vogelsong is somehow still available in your fantasy league, jump all over him and call your league members idiots for allowing him to remain free.
image courtesy of: (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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