Running with the Wolf (Pack)?

By Eno Sarris

Because of the volatility of the position
and the sheer number of available starters, it’s usually a good idea to
wait to draft your pitching in the middle rounds. Finding a 13th-round starter that cam match Randy Wolf‘s 2009 performance is the goal. Let’s look at one starter who could match Wolf’s ’09 numbers this season: Wolf, again.

The
33-year-old left-handler owns a B-Rank (Bloomberg’s proprietary ranking
of all players) of 160. That’s slightly ahead of his 174.70 average
draft position as supplied by the Bloomberg Fantasy Sports Engine.
That means Wolf he figures to come reasonably cheap despite posting
strong numbers in 2009: a 3.23 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 11 wins and 160
strikeouts. Compare those numbers to Gavin Floyd, who owns a 136
B-Rank on the heels of his 4.06 ERA and 1.23 WHIP last season, and you would be
forgiven for thinking that Wolf is a value pick.

You’d be forgiven, but you’d probably be wrong.

There
are plenty of warning signs emanating from this Wolf in wolf’s
clothing. The first should be obvious from his injury history. Take a
look at Corey Dawkin’s Pitch f/x Injury Tool,
and
you’ll see an extensive list of elbow problems (seven separate
trips to the DL over his 11-year career, 453 days lost to the DL,
and three arm and shoulder surgeries, including Tommy John surgery in
2005). Per his Bloomberg player card, you can also see that Wolf threw
the second-most pitches of his career last year (3,286); the last time
he threw that many pitches in a season, he lost 40 innings to injury
the next
year.

The warning signs are not only injury-related. There are plenty of
worrisome numbers too. Check out this chart from the Bloomberg’s Fantasy
engine, which shows Wolf’s strikeouts and ERA versus the top ten NL
pitchers.

WolfGrab.jpg
As
you can see, Wolf sports a decent, but not great strikeout rate: 6.72
strikeouts per 9 IP, vs. the major-league average of 6.99 in 2009.

MLB’s average batting average on balls
in play (BABIP) usually comes in around .300 – it  was .303 in 2009. Wolf’s career number in that category is
.294. Last year? Wolf posted a career-best .257 BABIP, tied for the lowest in baseball among qualified starting pitchers with Jarrod Washburn. That’s likely an unsustainable figure.

And
it gets worse – Wolf is moving
from a park with a .876 park factor for home runs (meaning Dodger
Stadium suppressed home runs by 12.4%) to a park with a 1.069 park
factor for home runs (hitters gain a 6.9% edge with the long ball).
That means that just based on park factor alone,
Wolf is likely to yield several more home runs in 2010. When you
consider that Wolf’s home run rate last year (1.01 HR/9) was better
than his career mark (1.13 HR/9), you’ll see how he benefited from
pitching in Dodger
Stadium. Lastly, Wolf stranded 77.5% of base runners
last year, which was much better than the league average (71.9%).
Wolf’s strand rate was 16th-highest in the majors, and much higher than
his career
number (73.5% LOB).

So, once you take a harder look at Randy
Wolf, you realize that much of his success last year was
context-specific. He had a great defense behind him in a great
pitcher’s park last year, and had
some good luck on balls in play. Look somewhere else for your mid-round
value starting
pitcher in 2010.

For more information on pitchers that are better values than Randy Wolf, and hundreds of other players, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy application.

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