When it comes to transforming drifting pitchers into gold, Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan is considered to possess the Midas Touch. Tony La Russa’s right-hand man since the 80’s, Duncan is often credited with getting the most out of the talent at hand. One of the latest Duncan disciples is right-hander Todd Wellemeyer.
A powerfully built 6-3, 195 pounder, Wellemeyer was originally selected by the Cubs in the 4th round of the 2000 amateur draft. He fooled more than his share of batters in the minors, punching out 9.6 per nine innings, but superfluous free passes often left observers frustrated (4 BB/9).
That lack of fine touch was only exacerbated during three trial-runs with Chicago between 2003 and 2005. Mostly a starter during his minor league tenure, Wellemeyer was placed in the ‘pen upon arriving in the big leagues. His low-90’s heat and occasionally-plus breaking ball induced swings and misses (9.8 K/9 in 84.1 IP), but Wellemeyer was not-so-happily a Three True Outcomes pitcher. He issued 6.5 BB/9 and put many a souvenir onto Waveland Avenue (1.4 HR/9).
And so began Wellemeyer’s nomadic existence. He was flipped to the Marlins prior to opening day in 2006, but he floundered as a fish. After 21.1 innings of getting filleted (5.5 BB/9, 5.48 ERA), Florida disposed of Wellemeyer, but the pitching-starved Royals reeled him in off waivers in June. He was superficially more impressive with KC (3.63 ERA in 57 frames), but an ugly 1-to-1 K/BB ratio (5.8 K’s and BB’s per nine) suggested that was more the product of happenstance than progress. Overall, Wellemeyer’s FIP for the year was 4.83, and that came with a lower-than-expected HR/FB rate of 7.1%.
Evidently the Royals concurred that little progress had been made, as Wellemeyer was let go after sordid beginning to the 2007 season (15.2 IP, 10.34 ERA, 9/11 K/BB). Still seeing some modicum of promise in the then-28 year-old’s 92 MPH heat and hard slider, the Cardinals claimed Wellemeyer of waivers in May. As a Red Bird, he split his time between relief and the rotation, compiling a 3.11 ERA, 7.2 K/9 and a still-elevated 4.1 BB/9 in 63.2 IP. Waiver-wire Wellemeyer wasn’t half-bad in his first action as a major league rotation member, holding opponents to a .702 OPS that far eclipsed his ‘pen work (.830 OPS against).
In ’08, the Cards slotted Wellemeyer into the starting five from the beginning. He made 32 starts for the club, posting a 3.71 ERA in 191.2 innings of work. Does that overstate his case? Yeah, to some extent. Wellemeyer’s FIP was a less-shiny 4.51, as he whiffed 6.29 per nine while benefitting from a .273 BABIP. Still, he exhibited improved control (2.91 BB/9) and was essentially a league-average starter, compiling 1.7 Value Wins. Not bad for a guy whom the Royals dubbed too Proletariat to grace their roster a few springs ago (apparently, it’s okay to suck and start for the Royals so long as you’re a former Brave or have been knighted).
Going forward, it would be prudent to expect some regression in Wellemeyer’s line- he’s not bad by any means, but a sub-four ERA is probably pushing it. CHONE and ZiPS call for identical projections of a 4.57 FIP. That’s not flashy, but you could do far worse in deeper or NL-only leagues. It might have taken five years and four organizations, but Wellemeyer has seemingly found a home.