Everyone needs something to believe in, and for Oakland Athletics fans that something is No. 21, Stephen Vogt. The strong hitter, versatile defender, clubhouse joker and fan favorite is next on our season review list.
Name: Stephen Vogt, aka I Believe In Stephen Vogt
Position: 1B, RF, C, LF
Stats: .279/.321/.431, 112 OPS+, 287 PAs, 9 HR, 35 RBI
WAR: 1.1 bWAR, 1.3 fWAR
How he got here: Procured from Tampa Bay Rays at start of 2013
2014 Salary: $502,500
2015 Status: Pre-arb, under team control
2015 Salary: Estimated $502,500
Vogt put himself on the map at the end of 2013 with his walk-off single in Game 2 of the ALDS against the Detroit Tigers. That hit had already earned him immortality in A's lore, and it had a lot of people rooting for him in spring training this year. He built on that goodwill by going absolutely bonkers in the Cactus League, hitting .364/.429/.659 with three homers. Buuuuut he still had a minor league option remaining, Daric Barton was out of options, and the team wanted an extra first baseman on the roster rather than a third catcher. Vogt lost the game of musical roster chairs and started the year in Triple-A. He promptly strained an oblique after five games and missed a month at the beginning of Sacramento's season.
After returning from his injury, Vogt showed that his spring success hadn't been a mirage and that he meant business. He continued his hot hitting from the Cactus League and smoked the Pacific Coast League to the tune of .364/.412/.602, with a walk for every strikeout and three homers in 97 PAs. There was no longer any way to hold him back. He had to be unleashed on the Majors, and soon.
That chance came at the beginning of June. Barton was already long gone and was now Vogt's teammate in Sacramento. On May 31, Josh Reddick hyperextended his knee and needed some time off to rest it -- he ultimately went on the DL a few days later. Needing another left-handed bat to replace him, the A's brought up Vogt on June 1.
He didn't take long to make the most of his opportunity. In his first game, he started at catcher and went 0-for-4. But in the next game, he entered as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning and notched a game-tying RBI double off of All-Star set-up man Dellin Betances of the Yankees. Betances finished the season with a 1.40 ERA and more than 13 strikeouts per nine innings, so hitting him is no joke, and this was the first blown save of his entire MLB career. Not a bad way to establish oneself at the plate.
But Vogt didn't stop there. In his next game, he started in right field and went 2-for-4. The next day, he once again pinch-hit and this time he drove in the go-ahead run in the 11th inning with a single off of Baltimore's Evan Meek. He kept on hitting, day after day, while splitting time between catcher and right field. On June 22, with the team in a bind during an extra-inning game, he debuted at first base on a day in which he played three different positions. By the end of June, he was hitting .343 with a pair of homers, an .844 OPS, and the ability to play three positions. He was even better in July, hitting .357 with three homers and a .965 OPS. He had gone from being "a third-string catcher with a bit of pop" to "a versatile utility man with an explosive everyday bat."
Vogt was on fire and the fans loved him. Everyone had started to believe.
Unfortunately, the magic didn't last forever. Vogt developed a foot problem that ultimately required offseason surgery to fix (plantar plates, right foot), and it prevented him from playing catcher after July 7. It also bothered his mobility enough that he only played right field one more time after that point. After July 11, he was strictly a first baseman and a DH. That wasn't such a bad thing, considering that Brandon Moss was able to shift to the corner outfield positions (where he's a better defender anyway) and the A's didn't really have any other good options at first -- every time that Vogt played there, it meant that Alberto Callaspo didn't. He also didn't do a bad job there, based on the too-small-to-be-meaningful defensive metrics. However, a lot of his value had been tied into his ability to fill in at multiple spots, to spell any one of a long list of everyday players when needed. The injury didn't turn his defense into a weakness, but it robbed the strength from it.
To make matters worse, Vogt stopped hitting, too. Beginning on July 28, he went on an 0-for-23 skid (with one walk!). He bounced back and kept kicking for a couple more weeks and even hit four homers in August, but after that he faded. His monthly BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) tells the story; after his magical months of June and July, his enchanted BABIP turned into a pumpkin in August and September.
June BABIP: .362
July BABIP: .370
Aug BABIP: .219
Sept BABIP: .148
He was clearly in over his head in those first two months, as everything he hit seemed to find a hole. Whether because the wheel of fortune turned on him in those last two months, or because his foot injury hampered his swing, he hit only .186/.244/.305 from Aug. 1 through the end of the season (39 games). He missed a couple weeks in September due to an ankle sprain, and he didn't hit a homer after Aug. 22. He came in like a lion, and went out like a lamb.
Vogt started at first base in the Wild Card game, but he was unable to match his postseason heroics from 2013. He walked his first time up, but then he went 0-for-3, including a popout during Oakland's big sixth-inning rally. He was lifted for pinch-hitter Nate Freiman to lead off the 10th.
Even with the anticlimactic finish to his season, Vogt still had a hell of a 2014. After spending his career as a minor league journeyman, he finally established himself at age 29 as a productive, everyday player at the MLB level. His fun personality went over great with the fans (see the final entry in the Video Highlights), and they immediately adopted him during his out-of-nowhere hot start.
His final stats are probably more indicative of his true talent level than his June/July hot streak was, though it remains to be seen whether he can maintain a .750 OPS while also dealing with the rigors of catching. Norris and Jaso both finished in the .760 range last year, so that level of offense from behind the plate is nothing to sneeze at. And considering that he hit nine homers in just over half a season with a bum foot, a total of 15 over a full year isn't out of the question in 2015. We got him as minor league depth, but this year he made the jump to being a viable everyday starter with an above-average bat. Sound familiar?
2014 season grade, relative to expectations: A+ ... I expected a backup catcher who might hit a few homers. I got better offense than I expected and positional versatility that I hadn't expected at all, and Vogt played a bigger and more regular role than I could have dreamed. That doesn't mean he was the best player on the team, but I don't think anyone else on the roster more significantly exceeded his preseason expectations, not even Sam Fuld or Fernando Abad.
2014 season grade, overall: B ... He was a solid role player, an above-average hitter and adequate catcher who could fill in elsewhere. That's a valuable commodity. However, injuries took their toll and his season was somewhat incomplete. He could have earned a higher grade simply by playing more.
Let's start at the very beginning, with his first hit of the year: the pinch-hit RBI double off of Betances.
And next, the extra-inning game-winner off of Meek. This one was nearly a carbon copy of his walk-off in the 2013 ALDS.
... And a couple weeks later, he homered in the ninth off of super-closer Koji Uehara. This one didn't tie the game, but John Jaso did two batters later with his own pinch-hit bomb.
This was his first dinger of the year, against the Angels.
He hit one out of AT&T Park that nearly splashed down in McCovey Cove.
As for his defensive versatility, we'll start with his throwing arm behind the plate. Here he is gunning down elite speedster Rajai Davis on a steal attempt.
One thing that doesn't show up in his defensive metrics at first base is his ability to dig low throws out of the dirt. Here's one example of many. Beane has a new pickin' machine!
And while he'll never have the range of Coco or Gentry in the outfield, he's quicker than you'd think for a catcher and at least he'll give it 100%.
Vogt also might be the funniest guy on the team, though there is a lot of competition for that title. Here is his famous impression of an NBA referee on MLB Network, voted by AN as the funniest A's moment of 2014.
Stephen Vogt was the quintessential Oakland Athletic in 2014. He came from absolutely nowhere, he got his shot in Oakland, he made the most of it, and he blossomed into something more than anyone could have expected. His story is so good that you can't help but believe in it. I certainly do, and I can't wait to see how he builds on this breakout season in 2015.