One of the surprising Rookie of the Year candidates this season has been the Cubs’ 26 year-old righty Randy Wells. His 1.6 wins above replacement are 2nd among National League rookies behind Colby Rasmus’ 3.0, and he’s been one of the North-Siders most pleasant surprises of the season after taking a long and winding path to the big leagues.
Wells originally was drafted in 2002, and after three seasons of stalling as a no-hit catcher in the lower minors, the Cubs put his strong arm on the mound. There his career gained traction, at least for for a while. His head bumped up against a glass ceiling once he hit Triple-A. After two solid but unspectacular season in Iowa, he looked to have been freed when Toronto selected him in the Rule 5 draft in 2007. After pitching just a single inning of mop-up duty against the Red Sox, the Jays returned him back to the Cubs, where he went on to post another Randy Wells, 4.00 FIP type of season back in Des Moines.
On the strength of an improved slider this season, Wells was dominating Triple-A this season. When Carlos Zambrano hit the DL back in May, he was recalled and struck out 5 Brewers over 5 scoreless innings, and has since been a staple in the rotation, forcing Sean Marshall to the bullpen.
Wells has a four pitch mix with a fastball, sinker, change-up and slider, and as I noted, it’s the slider that’s been the major key to his success. In fact, it’s been a “one-win” pitch, with a pitch type value of 11.0 runs. Only Zack Greinke’s and teammate Ryan Dempster’s sliders have been more valuable. Looking at each pitcher’s PitchFx overviews here at FanGraphs, each pitcher throws different variations of the pitch. Maybe my colleague Dave Allen will treat us to some in-depth study on One-Win Sliders some day, but for now I’ll approach this quick-and-dirty like in order to give you a better idea about Wells’ slider. Here’s their average pitch FX Horizontal and Vertical Movement for his slider compared to Dempster’s and Greinke’s.
Wells appears like he’s throwing almost more of a slider/cutter hybrid compared to Dempster and Greinke, with more sweep and less sink. Someone who knows a lot more about PitchFx than I, Harry Pavlidis, notes the same thing, and gave the pitch a delightful name – the slutter.
ZiPS expects Wells to come back to earth a bit, projecting a 4.23 FIP the rest of the season. Assuming he hits 150 innings, he looks to be in line for a 3 WAR season. For a returned Rule 5 pick, you can’t really ask for a lot more than that. Wells has shed his Quad-A label, and it’s always fun to see a pitcher put a new trick into his bag and succeed.