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Stephen Vogt is controlling the zone

Stephen Vogt went from part-time catcher to a top offensive force. How controlling the inner portion of the plate has helped his game.

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Coming into the season, Stephen Vogt was a fairly forgettable, unassuming, 30-year-old part-time catcher. Vogt played in 105 games last season, 21 of which were spent with the AAA Sacramento River Cats. In 2014, at the age of 29, he played the most games at the Major League level of his professional career. During this time, he spent only 15 of his 84 games in Oakland behind the dish as a majority of the time he spent vacillating between first base, designated hitter, and the corner outfield spots. Vogt has undergone an unexpected renaissance to start 2015 and it is worth diving deeper to see how much, if any, is sustainable. Eno Sarris at Fangraphs wrote a nice piece touching on Vogt's improvement from a defensive and offensive standpoint this week; I'd like to dive deeper into the offense, specifically a bit deeper into his seeming change in approach at the plate (plus I'll give you GIFs!). Vogt's showing far more discipline than in the past and his zone profile has changed quite a bit ---- particularly as it relates to fly balls and home runs. Let's have at it.

So far in 2015, Vogt has doubled his career walk rate from just over 7 percent to 14 percent. Despite only hitting 13 home runs in 462 plate appearances (2.8 percent home run rate), he has six dingers in 88 this season (6.8 percent rate). The approach at the plate seems quite different than it was previously, but when looking at new data, especially small sample data, it is important to remember who Vogt has been in the past. Per Fangraphs sample size and stabilization rates, isolated power and home run rate stabilize around 160-170 plate appearances, and while it is certainly possible his plate discipline and power have improved, those number should be viewed in the context of past performance. What we do know, is he is getting on base more often and lifting the ball and driving difficult pitches to hit in on the hands.

The plate discipline is an intriguing improvement, but the power is the most surprising development, especially considering  Vogt has started 23 of his 24 games behind the plate (after all, it is not often a 30-year-old backup catcher shows a power surge). He has a .356/.455/.670 slash line and is third in the majors in both wOBA and wRC+,  only trailing Nelson Cruz and Adrian Gonzalez. His .321 (!!) isolated power is about double his career average, and twice as much as the various projection systems estimate for the rest of the season (ZiPS / Steamer / Depth Charts all project a regression to ~.160).

Vogt demonstrated his power earlier this week, and at one point Sunday and Monday, he went on a power tear ripping off three home runs in consecutive plate appearances. Breaking down the pitches in this limited sampling, Vogt is showing excellent power in on his hands along with an ability to drive pitches that are not in the heart of the zone.

The first home run came against Yovani Gallardo, who threw a breaking ball which Vogt just went down and pulled out of the yard. This actually wasn't a terrible pitch, but Vogt's quick hands and wrists were no match and it ended up in the seats.

The second of the day came against southpaw Alex Claudio, who tried to sling a flat fastball by Vogt. This pitch is well inside, but again, Vogt shows pure hand strength to pull it over the fence. Although the launch angle was not as high as the first, it landed in nearly the same spot as the one previous.

On Monday, Vogt powered a grand slam in the first inning against Phil Hughes. This camerawork is lousy, but best I can tell, Hughes tried to throw a fastball on the lower half of the plate and in on the hands, which Vogt crushed into right center field. There is some significant pull power on balls that are on the inside of the plate as well as those that aren't strikes.

With the caveat that 2015 does not provide us with a ton of data, it is worth comparing the fly ball zone profile from 2014 to the current year. In 2014, Vogt showed moderate success on the inner part of the plate and even in the upper portion outside the strike zone but little production in on the hands (though he did not see many pitches there).

So far in 2015, he continues to control the inner portion of the zone and garner hits via fly balls (including extra base hits shown bove). Additionally, he's demonstrating his pull power by turning on pitches outside of the zone that are in on the hands. It will be interesting to view these charts again in another four to five months.

Obviously it is unreasonable to expect that Stephen Vogt will finish the year as a top ten hitter in baseball he still has to keep this up for a while in order for it to become meaningful. It is necessary to note that though his soft / medium / hard hit batted ball profile has not changed that much, he is pulling the ball more than he has previously (this data is new info for the public).

Soft Pecentage Medium Percentage Hard Percentage Pull Percentage Center Percentage Opposite Field Percentage
2013 12.6% 57.7% 29.7% 44.1% 28.8% 27.0%
2014 13.4% 53.7% 32.9% 39.4% 32.0% 28.6%
2015 11.6% 53.6% 34.8% 52.2% 31.9% 15.9%

If the patience is real, which at least to some extent it should be (though perhaps not twice as much as his career average suggests), a .320-.340 on base percentage is not out of the question. From a power perspective, Vogt is showing an ability to turn on inside pitches and drive them for extra base hits. Even if a this breakout is only partially sustainable, for an everyday catcher, Vogt would be an incredibly valuable player. It will be interesting to see how he continues throughout the year because few people expected such a major step forward for the 30 year old part-time catcher.


All statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Reference. Zone profiles compliments of Brooks Baseball.

Steven Martano is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score and a Contributing Prospect Writer for the Colorado Rockies at Purple Row. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano.