A year ago, we watched Colby Lewis return from Japan to serve as an effective, reliable starter for the Rangers. Despite some severe home run problems, he's still pitching moderately well, and is a critical component of the team's rotation.
This year, we've seen Ryan Vogelsong re-appear, as he's posted a 1.84 ERA over eight starts since taking over for the injured Barry Zito in San Francisco. Vogelsong also recently played in Japan, and so the natural response is to link him and Lewis together.
Sure enough, the similarities between Lewis and Vogelsong are striking. Both were considered good pitching prospects at a younger age. Both struggled really bad once they made it to the majors, and both underwent significant operations. After spending some time floating around, both made their way to Japan, and then both made their way back to the States, suddenly able to get hitters out.
It all seems so very parallel. Except for this:
Stats in Japan
And that's including a 2009 season for Vogelsong he spent almost entirely in relief. If you just look at his 2007-2008 seasons, he had a BB/9 of 3.1, and a K/9 of 7.4.
Colby Lewis went to Japan, figured something out, and pitched like one of the best starters in the country. Upon returning to the States, he kept doing what he was doing. Ryan Vogelsong, meanwhile, went to Japan and posted league-average numbers. Upon returning to the States, he has upped his game.
And he didn't even up it immediately. Lewis went straight from Japan to the Majors. Vogelsong went from Japan to the Phillies' triple-A team, and then to the Angels' triple-A team after getting released. Vogelsong threw 95-1/3 innings at the triple-A level last season, posting a 4.81 ERA and a K/BB of 1.8. It was only after signing with the Giants this past offseason that Vogelsong apparently straightened things out.
So, to review:
Ryan Vogelsong and Colby Lewis have taken similar paths to Major League success. However, Ryan Vogelsong is not the new Colby Lewis, because Ryan Vogelsong's path is his own, as it split from Lewis' toward the end. Ryan Vogelsong didn't go to Japan and come back a new, successful pitcher. Ryan Vogelsong went to Japan, came back, took some time, and then became a new, successful pitcher.
It's weird, and it's almost inexplicable. Even the authorities on Vogelsong's turnaround offer such unconvincing explanations as "he just figured out how to pitch." I don't know how Ryan Vogelsong has a 1.68 ERA and 3.0 K/BB with the Giants. But I know that he does, and I know that that's awesome, because baseball is so much better with surprises.