Making a case for Ryan Vogelsong to be San Francisco Giants opening day starter

San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Ryan Vogelsong pitches to the San Diego Padres during the first inning of a baseball game Friday, Sept. 28, 2012 in San Diego. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Ryan Vogelsong pitches to the San Diego Padres during the first inning of a baseball game Friday, Sept. 28, 2012 in San Diego. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

Giants manager Bruce Bochy said Tuesday that he has a pretty good idea of who is opening day starter will be. He just needs to talk to pitcher Dave Righetti and the pitcher first before announcing his decision.

Andrew Baggarly of CSN Bay Area said “It has to be Matt Cain.” To watch Baggs talk about it, click here.

That shouldn’t come as a shock to many Giants fans, and I doubt many would argue with that choice. Heck, even Tim Lincecum was all on board for Cain getting that nod on April 1 against the Dodgers.

Lincecum has been the Giants’ opening day starter the past four years. Before that, it was Barry Zito (2007-08), Jason Schmidt (2005-06), Kirk Rueter (2003-04) and Livan Hernandez (2000-02).

Cain has earned the nod. He’s been with the Giants since 2005. He threw a perfect game last season. He started the All-Star Game. He started the first game of the postseason last season. And he started all three clinching games last postseason.

All good reasons for going with Cainer. But I’m going to offer another choice: Ryan Vogelsong.

OK, for the entire regular season in 2012, Cain was better than Vogelsong.

  • Cain: 16-5, 2.79 ERA, 219.1 IP, 193 K, 1.040 WHIP
  • Vogelsong: 14-9, 3.37 ERA, 189.2 IP, 158 K, 1.228 WHIP

But we’ll offer you several reasons for Vogey.

BEFORE THE FUNK: In seven starts from Aug. 13 to Sept. 16, Vogelsong went 2-4 with a 10.30 ERA. Yikes! But before the funk, Vogelsong was the Giants’ best pitcher. He was 10-5 with a league-best 2.27 ERA. At that same time, Cain was 10-5 with 3.01 ERA. Now while we shouldn’t punish Cain for finishing the season strong, we also shouldn’t downgrade Vogelsong for an isolated slump. After Vogelsong emerged from his funk, he finished the regular season 2-0 with 1.06 ERA in his final three starts.

POSTSEASON: Yes, Cain started the first postseason game for the Giants in 2012 and he was on the mound on all three series clinchers. But, as a whole, Cain finished the postseason 2-2 with a 3.60 ERA in five postseason starts. Not bad, but no comparison to Vogelsong. Vogey went 3-0 with 1.09 ERA in four postseason starts. Cain never would have had the chance to start three clinchers if Vogelsong hadn’t kept the Giants in the game in Game 3 vs. the Reds when the Giants were being held hitless.

LAST TWO YEARS: Compare Cain and Vogelsong over 2011 and 2012, the numbers are very comparable.

  • Vogelsong: 27-16 3.05 ERA
  • Cain: 28-16 2.84 ERA

If you take out one disastrous start for Vogelsong — the Aug. 13 start last season vs. the Nationals when Vogelsong got tagged for eight runs in 2.2 innings — and the numbers are almost identical. Vogelsong’s adjusted numbers would be 27-15 with a 2.87 ERA.

SENTIMENT: Yes, Cain has never received an opening day nod despite eight great seasons with the Giants. But Vogelsong hasn’t even been on the active 25-man roster on opening day with the Giants, and that goes back to the 2000-01 seasons. In 2011, despite a great spring, he didn’t break into the rotation to open the season. He went to Fresno, but then got the call two weeks later when Barry Zito went on the DL. Last season, he got a late start in the spring because of back problems. That put him on the DL to open the season.

MORE SENTIMENT: Vogelsong has a great story. Traded by the Giants in 2001 in the Jason Schmidt deal, Tommy John surgery in 2001 that kept him out of the majors until 2003, out of major league baseball by 2006, pitched in Japan three seasons, signed and released by both the Phillies and Angels in 2010, signed by Giants in 2011, called up from Fresno in April 2011, earned All-Star bid in 2011 (although he never got in the game), hosed out of All-Star bid in 2012.

FUTURE IS NOW: Cain is 28. He’s under contract with the Giants through 2018. There will be plenty of chances for Cain to get the opening day nod. Vogelsong is 36. How many more opening days does he have?

GAME READY: Vogelsong will be pitching the World Baseball Classic for the USA. That means he will have pitched in meaningful games before the season starts.

VOGELSONG, DODGER SLAYER: In 2012, Cain was 1-0 with 2.73 ERA in four starts against the Dodgers. Not bad, but it can’t compare to Vogelsong, who was 2-1 with a 0.71 ERA in 25.1 innings against the boys in blue. Not only that, but all four starts Vogelsong made against the Dodgers came against Clayton Kershaw, the presumed Dodgers opening day starter. The point is to win the game, right? So why not go with Vogelsong, given the matchup.

Cain may be the “no-brainer” pick for opening day. But sometimes the right answer isn’t the obvious one.

So this might be the chance for Bochy to think outside the box.

So what do you say, Boch? Doesn’t chicken enchiladas sound great on opening day?


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