We Can Pod It Out 128: Happiness Is A Warm Gun
Daniel Vogelbach, on the other hand, is cold as ice, and everybody is upset
It would be nice to be able to really make the case for Daniel Vogelbach. He seems like a nice and fun guy who likes to hit dingers, which is rad, except now he’s not hitting dingers. He’s hitting ground balls and pop flies like never before in his life, and all the hard contact in the world doesn’t mean anything if you’re pounding the ball directly into the ground.
It’s baffling that someone could be in the 91st percentile of hard hit balls, according to Statcast, yet in the 11th percentile for expected slugging percentage. Yet here we are, and the parallel story isn’t exactly encouraging.
Similarity scores are generally not something to rely on, but they are good at finding players who might be, well, similar. Ji Man Choi is, like Vogelbach, a three true outcomes-oriented cult hero first baseman-DH, had a big 2019, and then kinda fell off a cliff. And unlike the other players on Baseball Reference’s similarity list for Vogelbach, from Kevin Maas to Bob Hamelin to Marv Throneberry, Choi is an active player with Statcast data of his own.
It tells a disturbingly similar story of more balls being hit hard, but the expected stats dropping along with the actual stats. A strained Achilles has kept Choi out since April in Pittsburgh, where he essentially was meant to replace Vogelbach this season. He got to Pittsburgh in a trade in which the Pirates gave up Jack Hartman, a former fourth-round pick currently flaming out in Single-A. To get Vogelbach, the Mets gave up Colin Holderman, who is exactly whom the Mets could really use right now.
The thing with Vogelbach is that he has a very specific use case scenario: a pinch-hit appearance in a playoff game where you can use a home run, but a walk will certainly do, and all the better if it’s in the sixth inning or so and you can bump the starter’s pitch count up into get-him-outta-there territory. Also the pitcher has to be a righty. But if you’re planning a long playoff run, you can absolutely see that use case scenario.
The problem for the Mets is that they look like they’re going to struggle to make the playoffs, partly because Vogelbach has started half their games as the designated hitter, and particularly as a streaky three true outcomes guy… look, the numbers are not lying that he’s been below replacement level. He’s a slugger who hasn’t slugged, that really shouldn’t be a surprise.
The question that the Mets have to answer for themselves, and which more and more observers are leaning “no” on, is whether the potential giant positive justifies living with a lot of guaranteed negative, because even in the best-case scenario where Vogelbach gets his swing back and hits his bunches of dingers, you’re still talking about a player whose only possible defensive position is the one the team’s MVP candidate plays, can’t hit lefties at all, can’t run, and strikes out a ton. It sucks, but the thing that happens with players below replacement level is, they get replaced.