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Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Clearing the bases: Underrated Vogelsong


First base: Vogelsong victorious. Giants right-hander Ryan Vogelsong had another quality start in a 7-1 victory over the Padres -- seven innings, four hits, one run -- improving to 8-4 with a 2.26 ERA. Vogelsong now has 17 quality starts in 18 starts -- and in his one non-quality start he allowed he allowed four runs in six innings. Basically, he hasn't had a bad start all season. The Nationals' Jordan Zimmermann is in a similar position: He has 18 quality starts in 20 starts but has allowed four runs in six innings in his two "bad" starts.

Now it's not necessarily unusual to pitch at least six innings in every start; Justin Verlander, for example, hasn't pitched fewer than six innings since July 9, 2010. But how rare is it pitch at least six innings and allow four runs or fewer in every start? Even Verlander had two games with one run and one with six runs a year ago.

Using the Play Index at Baseball-Reference.com, we can conduct such a search. Here are the pitchers since 1994 with at least 30 such starts:

Justin Verlander, 2011: 31 (34 starts)
Jered Weaver, 2011: 31 (33 starts)
Brett Myers, 2010: 30 (33 starts)
Jake Peavy, 2007: 30 (34 stars)
Roy Oswalt, 2005: 30 (35 starts)
Curt Schilling, 2002: 31 (35 starts)
Randy Johnson, 2002: 31 (35 starts)
Kevin Brown, 1998: 31 (35 starts)

Going back a couple more years, we get Greg Maddux in 1992 (33 in 35 starts) and Jose Rijo in 1993 (32 in 36 starts). Pedro Martinez came close during his 23-4 season in 1999 but he had one start of five innings (one run) and one game where he allowed nine runs. When he posted a 1.74 ERA in 2000 in 29 starts, he had one start of five runs and one with six runs (plus two other starts he pitched fewer than six innings). Maddux, during the 1994 strike season, made 25 starts and had a 1.56 ERA ... but still allowed five runs in four games.

Anyway, Vogelsong's 2011 season, when the Giants signed him off the scrap heap and he went 13-7 with a 2.71 ERA, may have been viewed as a fluke. But now that he's doing it again it's time to give him credit for becoming perhaps the game's most underrated starter.

Second base: Ludwick lashing. On May 23, Reds outfielder Ryan Ludwick was hitting .191 with a .638 OPS. Since then he's hit .277/.337/.595 with 11 home runs and 12 doubles in 148 at-bats, a key reason the Reds lead the NL Central. On Monday, he hit cleanup for the second time since April and went 3-for-6 with two doubles in the Reds' 8-3 win over the Astros, Cincinnati's fifth straight win. The Reds are in the midst of a very friendly stretch of schedule: Only three of their next 30 games are against a team currently above .500 (the Pirates). With a 1.5-game lead over the Pirates and 6 games over the Cardinals, the Reds have to been seen as the clear favorite in the Central right now.

Third base: Smoak demoted. Justin Smoak, once the centerpiece of a Cliff Lee trade, was sent down to Triple-A. Hitting .189/.253/.320, Smoak had the third-lowest OPS of any regular player, better only than Cliff Pennington and Dee Gordon. Smoak had 13 home runs but just six doubles. While he was partially a victim of the Safeco Curse (10 of his 13 home runs were on the road), he was also hitting just .213 on the road. Mike Carp was called up. He's hit .157 with the Mariners and .182 in Triple-A. While it was time consider alternatives to Smoak, Carp probably isn't the long-term answer. Seattle will be seeking a first baseman in the offseason.

Home plate: Tweet of the day. Ichiro is a Yankee! While Ichiro didn't take Bernie Williams' No. 51, he did take the number of a Hall of Famer:

Great Yanks didn't give BigUnit or Ichiro non-HOF Bernie's # 51, but gave Ichiro HOF Winfield's # 31.

— Batting Stance Guy (@BattingStanceG) July 24, 2012