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Why the Mariners sent down Dan Vogelbach

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Optioning our large adult son to AAA came as a surprise to him and to us, but is the right move for his career

MLB: Spring Training-Seattle Mariners at Chicago White Sox
swing on, mighty oak, you’ll be back soon enough
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve started a Dan Vogelbach article three different times. Once, it was to complain. I hated that trade when it went down, because I thought Jerry was undervaluing MiMo in order to acquire a player who didn’t fit the athletic, dynamic version of the ideal player he himself was preaching to us. Flash forward several months and, despite Jerry’s flurry of off-season moves, I know I would feel better about the pitching situation if Montgomery, with his ability to provide long relief, spot starts, or the occasional high-leverage inning, was here. [/shaking fist at cloud]

The second time I started a Dan Vogelbach article was a couple weeks into spring training. At that point, Vogey had played in ten spring training games, and gotten hits in half of them. He was controlling the zone, getting ahead in counts, taking what the pitchers was willing to give him—all the things he’d been advertised as being able to do. He’d also collected 7 Ks in that time, however, and some of them were ugly: multiple times he went down on three straight called strikes. After going to full counts in all three of the ABs in his first Cactus League game and collecting two singles, Vogey’s vaunted plate discipline seemingly disappeared. In a game on the 28th, Vogelbach swung at the first pitch in each of his three ABs, resulting in a lineout, a groundout, and a well-struck double off Chris Beck, who sports an FIP north of 5. In the next game, to open March, Vogelbach saw a total of five (5) pitches in his three ABs, three (3) of which were on a three-pitch strikeout. However, in a three-game stretch from March 5th to the 8th, our large adult son began to work longer counts and was rewarded with good hits off legit MLB pitchers like John Axford, Daniel Coulombe, and A.J. Griffin (he also worked a walk off Cody Allen, which I count as a victory). Excited, I started a page in my notebook to track Vogelbach ABs. (I also deleted the Mike Montgomery swelmet picture from my phone. Healing takes time.)

But spring training will spring train, and Vogdor’s next dozen games didn’t sustain my early optimism. By my count, in his last ten games with the big club, Vogey swung at the first pitch for outs six times; he struck out on three pitches twice and struck out 11 times in 29 ABs. He either swung at the first pitch for outs or watched a first pitch strike go by, consistently falling behind pitchers in counts. When he did hit, it wasn’t with particular authority: even his hit off Griffin was a bloop single. This was one of his later hits, off Iowa Cub Seth Frankoff (apologies if you can’t see it, Google AMP continues to be the bane of my existence):

If you read the scouting series you will notice this approach is, ahh, not great. Vogey is reaching way out over the plate, which is causing him to put all his weight on the plant leg and basically using half his body, leading to that inelegant off-balance follow-through. It works out for him here for two reasons: 1) Vogdor is hella strong and half of him is still equal to one Mike Freeman; 2) Seth Frankoff is a minor league pitcher who leaves that nice 82 mph changeup right in the bottom corner of the zone for Vogey to reach for. A few of Vogelbach’s hits this spring—including the home run—were in a similar vein, excuse-me swings that took a ride on the desert air. Compare that with Vogelbach last year, with a similar opposite field shot in Tacoma (I’m sorry for all the crappy embedding, like I said, Google AMP is ruining my life):

There Vogelbach is reaching, but doing so with authority. He remains mostly upright as opposed to having to sell out to gravity as in the earlier video. The power tool is for real, but in the second half of March Vogelbach wasn’t able to access that tool because he was consistently behind in counts. Maybe the free-swinging mini-Mariners, prospects looking to impress while the stars were away at the WBC, also had a negative influence on our man Dan. I’d imagine it’s difficult to go to the plate and do the baseball equivalent of eating your vegetables while Rayder Ascanio and Joe DeCarlo are running around like kids on sugar highs collecting big base knocks.

Spring training is the land of false narratives and small sample sizes, but if you watched Vogelbach closely over the last month, the decision to send him back to AAA makes a little more sense. Defensively, we know Vogelbach has some issues with first base; even though he looked more than capable manning the bag, a couple of times Blowers pointed out that he was mis-positioned, leading to a bad process/good results scenario (side note: Blowers’s commentary has been ON POINT throughout spring training. He seems to have really gone full-blown analyst somewhere between last season and now. If you missed Jesse Smith, director of analytics, on the broadcast the other day, try to find a way to listen to it—he and Blowers had a great conversation). Defensive miscues and Vogelbach’s struggles at the plate as he pressed for hits makes the decision to send the slugger back to Tacoma a defensible one, and the strong play of Taylor Motter makes it a more palatable one. Jerry Dipoto has shown, through the way the club has dealt with Paxton and Zunino, that he will not willingly put players in a position where they will fail. Vogelbach is surely unhappy with the decision to send him down, which seems to have taken him by surprise. One of the hardest things to do in managing people is to give someone who has been trying hard negative feedback, but without it, they have no blueprint for success. Vogelbach is too talented a player and valued too highly by the club to allow him to flail against MLB pitching if he’s not ready for it. Sending him down is an acknowledgement that the club doesn’t feel he’s ready now, but also a promise that they believe he will be. This is the third time I’ve started an article about Dan Vogelbach, but it won’t be the last.