Could Travis Blackley Be This Year’s Ryan Vogelsong?

Yesterday, A’s starter Travis Blackley beat Yu Darvish and the Rangers 3-1 in Texas.  It was Blackley’s fourth consecutive quality start, allowing six earned runs in 28 IP during the four starts.  He is now 2-2 for the A’s with an ERA of 2.79 and a pitching line of 48.1 IP, 40 hits and nine walks allowed and 29 Ks.

Blackley is a 29 year old left-hander who has essentially come out of nowhere to establish himself as a major league starter this last month.  Naturally enough, this has me thinking of Ryan Vogelsong.

I still don’t fully understand how Vogelsong went from a 33 year old journeyman to one of the Senior Circuit’s top starters since early in the 2011 season. Since the beginning of 2011, Vogelsong is 20-10 with a 2.54 ERA and a line of 283.1 IP, 225 hits, 22 HRs and 95 walks allowed and 211 Ks.  The fact that Vogelsong is pitching even better this year than last pretty much eliminates the possibility that last year was just a fluke.

The only things I can figure for the turn around is that Vogey finally found his command, his arm has been healthy the last year and half, and he’s just finally learned how to pitch.  Certainly, he is not walking anywhere near as many batters as he did in the first part of his major league career through 2006.  However, his numbers have improved pretty much across the board, so it’s hard to link the improvement to any one thing.

I also think the three years Vogelsong spent pitching in Japan’s NPB helped his development as a pitcher.  However, he was not particularly good there (11-14 with a 4.17 ERA in 213.2 IP over three seasons), and in his return to AAA in 2010, Vogelsong looked like the same pitcher he had always been (3-8, 4.81 ERA and a line of 95.1 IP, 107 hits and 62 walks allowed and 110 Ks) — good stuff, but no command.

While it’s still too early to know if Blackley is for real, or at least as “for real” as Vogelsong now appears to be, the two pitchers do have a few things in common.  Like Vogelsong, Blackley always had good stuff but insufficient command to be a major league pitcher.  Of course, an awful lot of AAA pitchers can say the same.

Also, Blackley pitched in Asia last year, and it seems to have helped his development.  Blackley went 7-5 with a 3.48 ERA and a pitching line of 126.2 IP, 120 hits and 62 walks allowed and 115 Ks for the Kia Tigers of the Korean Baseball Organization (“KBO”).

While the KBO is a good league which has improved substantially in recent years, its level of play is still probably closer to AAA than Japan’s NPB.

Blackley came back to the U.S. this year and signed with the Giants’ organization.  He started the season at AAA Fresno, and like Vogelsong in 2011, completely overwhelmed Pacific Coast League hitters through four appearances and 23.1 IP, allowing only a single earned run while limiting batters to 13 hits and three walks and striking out 19.

That got Blackley a shot as reliever out of the Giants’ bullpen, but he got hit hard by the Dodgers on May 7th, allowing four runs, three of them earned, in one inning and was quickly designated for assignment.  The A’s claimed him on waivers, and he’s been terrific in all but two of his ten appearances as an Athletic.

Again, no way to know if Blackley can continue to be an effective starter as the American League gets to know him.  Still, everybody loves these kind of stories of the journeyman who finally puts it together and becomes a star.

 

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