Last season, the Milwaukee Brewers’ starting rotation consisted of Yovani Gallardo and “staff.” The club boasted a potent offensive attack, ranking third in the NL in wOBA and second in Park-Adjusted Batting Runs, but Milwaukee’s starting staff placed just 13th in xFIP. While there were many Bernie Brewer slides, Milwaukee finished the year with a disappointing 80-82 record due largely to the ineffectiveness of the non-Gallardo starters.
Over the winter, the Brewers sought to end those rotation woes by snagging a pair of lefties, Doug Davis and Randy Wolf, in free agency. Yet, even after yesterday’s 3-0 victory over the Mariners, the narrative for 2010 is much the same as it was last year. Milwaukee’s offense is second in the Senior Circuit in wOBA and paces the league in Park-Adjusted Batting Runs. But the starters are the bane of Bernie Brewer’s existence yet again — 12th in the NL in xFIP. At 34-41, the team sits 7.5 games back of the division-leading Reds and nine games behind the Mets for the Wild Card.
Davis tossed just 33.1 innings with Milwaukee this season (7.56 ERA, 4.49 xFIP) before being placed on the DL with pericarditis. Wolf, inked to a three-year, $29.75 million deal, has just been howling bad.
Anyone expecting the 33-year-old to repeat his 2009 season with the Dodgers was bound to be disappointed. Wolf posted a 3.23 ERA in 214.1 frames with L.A. last year, but his peripherals suggested he was the same low-four’s ERA pitcher on display in 2007 and 2008 — with 6.72 K/9 and 2.44 BB/9, his xFIP was 4.17. Heading into 2010, both CHONE and ZiPS expected that Wolf’s .257 BABIP would climb toward the .300 range, and his FIP would settle in around 4.20. CHONE and ZiPS valued the former Phillie, Dodger, Astro and Padres as a 2.2-2.3 WAR pitcher. The FANS were more optimistic, expecting Wolf to match his 2009 output with 3.0 WAR.
Instead of stabilizing Milwaukee’s rotation, Wolf has been the unit’s biggest offender. In his first 97 innings, he has -0.8 WAR, which ranks dead last among NL starters. He is striking out 5.29 batters per nine innings, the lowest mark of his career, while issuing 4.64 BB/9 — his highest rate of free passes handed out since 2006, when he was fresh off Tommy John surgery. Wolf’s 5.39 xFIP is worst among qualified NL starters.
From 2007-2009, Wolf induced swinging strikes 8.1 percent of the time (8.6% MLB average those years). This season, batters are coming up empty just 5.6 percent (8.3% MLB average). His contact rate, 82.4% from ’07 to ’09, is 86.5% (the MLB average has remained around 81%). Wolf’s not getting hitters to chase off the plate as much, either. His outside swing percentage was 24.3 percent from 2007-2009, with the MLB average ranging from 25% to 25.4%. In 2010, his O-Swing is down to 21.1% (28.4% MLB average).
On a per-pitch basis, Wolf’s fastball has gotten hammered. The upper-80’s offering was worth +1.01 runs per 100 pitches from 2007-2009. This year, the heater has a -1.41 runs/100 mark. Looking at Wolf’s Pitch F/X data from 2009 and 2010, he’s getting fewer whiffs, strikes, and swings. Last year, Wolf deceived batters to swing through his fastball 6.4 percent. This year, it’s 5.8 percent (the MLB average is around six). His strike percentage was 69.1 in ’09 and 65.8 in 2010 (62-64% MLB average). Batters swung at the fastball 49.2 percent last season, and 43 percent this season (45-46% MLB average).
Wolf’s hasn’t been terrible versus same-handed hitters, but he’s losing the zone against righties, and fooling fewer of them:
Wolf likely won’t be this bad all season long, but the Brewers clearly haven’t received the return they were expecting. There’s also the question of whether he’ll come close to justifying a $9.5 million salary in both 2011 and 2012. Manny Parra is intriguing, Chris Narveson hasn’t embarrassed himself, and Davis could resume his average innings-munching, but Milwaukee needs Wolf to turn it around. In terms of clearly above-average starters, Gallardo remains the lone wolf.
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