A fine rookie: Randy Wellsby Harry Pavlidis
August 04, 2009
In December 2007, the Toronto Blue Jays selected Randy Wells in the Rule 5 draft. Wells was transferred to the Blue Jays for a nominal fee ($50,000) with the stipulation he remain on the 25-man roster or be offered back to the Chicago Cubs, who originally held his rights.
Wells made the Blue Jays team out of spring training, but got to throw only a single inning. Toronto didn't have room for the rookie reliever and had to offer him back to the Cubs. The Cubs sent back half the fee paid by Toronto and assigned Wells to Iowa in the Pacific Coast League.
Not a big deal, all of this. Rule 5 picks usually end up back from where they came (unless their name is Josh Hamilton). Wells joined the I-Cubs rotation and spent the 2008 season in Triple-A until a September call-up. Added to the 40-man roster and having made a decent impression during his second cup of coffee, Wells looked to be a good candidate for the 2009 Cubs bullpen.
He didn't make the Cubs out of spring training. Sent back to Iowa, Wells remained in Triple-A and was stretched out by working in the I-Cubs rotation. On May 8, Wells got the call for his first action of 2009—his first major league start. It also may have been the start of a Rookie of the Year campaign.
If it weren't for bad luck...
Wells got off to a fast start, pitching at least through the fifth inning without giving up more than three runs in each of his first six starts. I found his plight quite interesting. After those six starts, Wells was among an elite group of pitchers—Bill Laskey, Cal Eldred and Chuck Smith—who suffered from a severe lack of run and/or bullpen support upon joining a major league rotation for the first time.
Start number seven broke his five inning/three run streak, thanks to the Minnesota Twins, but Wells has lost only one decision since. As a matter of fact, that loss to the Twins started a run of 10 straight starts in which Wells figured into the decision. Despite an 0-3 start, Wells now finds himself at 8-4.
But enough of pitching wins. Let's talk about the pitcher's stuff., which has helped give Wells the best ERA of any rookie (including J.A. Happ).
Wells has been a subject of my inquiries a few times in the past, including a brief look before his first start and an update before a trip to the South Side of Chicago.
Wells throws four pitches: change-up, fastball, sinker and slider. (click image to enlarge)
While not a hard thrower, Wells has enough velocity. The four-seam fastball averages under 91 mph and the two-seam sinker just above 90. His change-up, as you can see above, has good tail and sink, and runs in under 84 mph. With a gap of just under seven mph, Wells' change has good separation from his fastball. Wells' best pitch has been his slider. Averaging around 85 mph, the pitch is more of a sweeper than a sinker, but consistently thrown for strikes.
- Wells throws three pitches that work well against both batter sides, but the sinker gets hit hard by lefties
- His slider doesn't miss many bats, but it is consistently in the zone against both sides. He has to watch the fly ball rate of the slider against lefties; it's a place where his luck can turn against him
- He may throw the change differently against lefties (6.5 degree difference, more than a half inch spin movement up and down compared to vs RHH, over 263 pitches)
- He'll get a lot of pop-ups against righties with the change, but none against lefties
- Wells actually gets more grounders on the four-seam fastball than the sinker against lefties. He has the opposite/normal split against righties
Here are the numbers behind those thoughts:
pfx_x and pfx_z represent the movement caused by the spin of the ball, in inches. The spin angle is the direction of the axis around which the ball was spinning (relative, approximately, to the pitcher's arm angle).
|Pitch||vs.||#||Swing||Whiff||B:CS||In Wide Zone||Chase||Watch||SLGCON|
Swing rate is swings per pitch, whiffs are per swing, the wide zone is two feet wide, Chase is swing rate outside that zone, Watch is take rate within (opposite of swings). SLGCON (AKA nkSLG) is total bases per fair ball in play, including home runs.
Grounders, flies, pops and liners are defined by the MLB stringers. rv100 is similar to the stat you see at Fangraphs, and is the "value" of a pitch, per 100 times thrown, relative to the league average. A number below zero indicates a better outcome for the pitcher. Please note, Fangraphs does not follow this convention for pitchers and uses a different methodology. Your mileage may vary, as may our numbers.
What to expect
In short, I don't know.
Wells is having success beyond even the most optimistic expectations. His ERA is more than a run better than his FIP, so regression is coming. Run values as presented above, and every other stat in here for that matter, are more descriptive than predictive. Still, I get the feeling his slider will become vulnerable against lefties. Eventually, the GB/FB inversion against lefties (sinker vs. fastball) could reverse itself, since it is hard to imagine hitters consistently finding the top half of a "rising" fastball.
All things considered, the Cubs have not only found a pitcher who has been steady and reliable, but they may have found a Rookie of the Year candidate to follow '08 winner Geovany Soto. Among rookie starters, only Happ has had similar success in 2009. I imagine a strong finish by the Cubs will help promote the rookie nationwide. So, come on Cubs, do it for Randy.
References and Resources
PITCHf/x data from MLBAM, pitch classifications by the author.
Wikipedia has more on Rule 5
Harry Pavlidis admits he has a baseball problem. He is the founder of Pitch Info LLC, His pitch classifications power the player cards at Brooksbaseball.net. Feedback, questions and comments are appreciated - Email firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @harrypav