Scouting Notes From Giants Win Over Nationals

GiantsHere are some scouting notes that I took during the Giants 8-0 route of the Washington Nationals on Monday night:

Ryan Vogelsong looked like the standout pitcher of old before fracturing his right hand in an at-bat in the fifth inning. Vogelsong threw five shutout innings before the injury.

He featured an 89-92 mile-per-hour fastball and sinker, an 87-90 mile-per-hour cutter, an 83-84 mile-per-hour changeup and a 76-78 mile-per-hour curve.

For the first time all season, Vogelsong consistently drove his fastball and sinker down in the zone to get groundballs. He induced seven groundball outs over five innings of work.

He had his best combination of velocity, command and control since last postseason when he went 3-0 with a 1.09 ERA over four starts. Vogelsong also showed the tremendous pitchability that helped him go 27-16 with a 3.05 ERA over the past two seasons. Vogelsong doesn’t have put-way stuff, but his arsenal played up in 2011 and 2012 because of how well he sequenced his pitches.

In a two-pitch sequence to Ian Desmond on Monday, Vogelsong threw an 88-mile-per-hour cutter with movement away followed by a 90-mile-per-hour sinker on the hands with movement into Desmond, who popped it up to shallow right field. The next time he faced Desmond, he started him off with another cutter for a called strike before dropping a slow curve that Desmond popped up to second base.

Another good example of sequencing came when Vogelsong threw Roger Bernadina three straight changeups below the zone before pumping a high four-seam fastball right by him for a strikeout.

Perhaps the most impressive sequence of the night was against Adam LaRoche in the fourth inning. Vogelsong induced an inning-ending double-play with the following sequence: 88-mph cutter away, 81-mph changeup away, 91-mph sinker inside, 88-mph cutter away, 81-mph changeup away, 88-mph cutter away, 90-mph fastball inside, 91-mph sinker away for the double-play.

Vogelsong mixed his pitches incredibly well last night. According to Brooks Baseball, he threw 24 fastballs, 21 sinkers, 15 cutters, 11 changeups and eight curves. His ability to mix his pitches, change speeds and move the ball in and out kept the Nationals off balance.

Through his first eight starts, he was consistently missing his spots. Instead of pounding the knees, the ball was getting up in the zone too often and his velocity was also down a few ticks. That combination of reduced velocity and declining command was why he entered play last night with an 8.06 ERA and 11 home runs allowed in 41.1 innings pitched. On Monday night, the velocity was good, the command was even better and the pitchability was exceptional. Unfortunately, the Giants will now have to scramble for a sixth starter for the first time since Vogelsong replaced an injured Barry Zito in the rotation two years ago.

Marco Scutaro is squaring up everything right now, just as he did throughout the second half of last season and the playoffs. His current 18-game hitting streak has boosted his average all the way up to .333. He’s the second hardest player in all of baseball to strikeout according to FanGraphs. Scutaro has only struck out in 6.5 percent of his plate appearances this season because his swing is very linear and short to the ball. His compact swing won’t allow him to hit for much power, but he’s a line drive-down hitter who is nearly impossible to strikeout during the height of the Strikeout Era. His bat is showing no signs of slowing down, but his defense at second base has been a problem this year, as he’s made eight errors already.

Brandon Belt had a 4-for-5 night including a mammoth home run to give him six on the year, nearly matching last season’s total of seven already. After an atrocious April (.235/.287/.353), Belt is hitting .302/.393/.604 thus far in May. Belt is probably always going to be inconsistent because of his complicated hitting mechanics. However, he’s an outstanding defensive first baseman with decent speed and very good plate discipline, so he can help the Giants even when he’s in one of his prolonged funks at the plate. Why Bruce Bochy continues to sit him against some lefties is beyond my poor powers of comprehension. Belt has a higher career OPS against lefties (.779 in 224 PA) than righties (.759 in 612 PA).

The Giants offense has been outstanding this season despite a poor start from the leadoff man, Angel Pagan. Pagan doesn’t strikeout much, but he’s also not as patient as the prototypical leadoff hitter ought to be. He’s only walking 7.1 percent of the time this season, which is below the typical league average of 8.0 percent and well below where a leadoff man should be. His .310 on-base percentage is unacceptable right now, especially for a guy who just earned a $40-million contract. He’s not exactly looking like Willie Mays out in center field, either. Perhaps Pagan would get more calls and walk more if he didn’t bitch at the umpires after seemingly every single pitch.

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