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Losing His Howl

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I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked

Randy Wolf has been really bad this year. Randy Wolf was really bad yesterday. There's your premise for this article.

So, should the Brewers take Randy Wolf out of the rotation?

If they were to do this, the team would almost certainly end up designating him for assignment or releasing him. He's making a whole lot of money this year, in the last guaranteed year of his deal and his main value is as an innings eater. As a reliever, he wouldn't work. So it's rotation or bust for Wolf. So far in 2012, it's been bust either way.

Wolf is sitting at a 6.05 ERA, a 4.54 FIP, and a 4.98 xFIP this season after allowing six earned runs in six innings last night against the Pirates. His current 5.16 K/9 is the lowest of his career and his 3.84 BB/9 is the third highest of his career. The only two seasons where he has had a worse walk rate were his rookie year in 1999 and an injury shortened 2006, when he only made 12 starts. The good news is 2012 is, so far, his third best season at keeping the ball in the park, with a 0.89 HR/9.

This isn't the Randy Wolf that pitched in 2011. Last year was his best as a Brewer, and one of the best of his career. He had a 3.69 ERA and a 4.29 FIP. Until this year, his strikeout rate was the lowest of his career, but he got away with it by having a very low 2.80 BB/9. His opponent batting average of .286 was dead on with his career numbers, so he wasn't getting lucky or unlucky with hits falling. In 2012, however, he has been rather unlucky, with a .338 opponent BABIP.

But is that really just Wolf getting unlucky? In part, sure. But he's also been getting hit harder. Thanks to Texas Leaguers pitch/fx, here are some pertinent numbers on Wolf. The first number in each category is for 2011, the second for 2012:

Pitch Selection Velocity Strike %

Two Seamer 30.7%/35.3% 88.3/88.1 71.9%/61.8% 45.8%/37.9% 6.3%/3.3%
Four Seamer 19.6%/15.8% 88.4/88.3 64.3%/65.2% 50.5%/51.1% 10.3%/7.9%
Curveball 18.9%/19.4% 67.7/68.0 52.8%/57.5% 38.7%/42.0% 5.5%/7.3%
Slider 16.6%/8.3% 83.5/81.1 61.2%/57.0% 49.6%/46.2% 6.8%/11.8%
Changeup 11.9%/10.1% 78.6/78.6 62.1%/57.9% 45.9%/43.9% 4.5%/1.8%
Cutter 2.2%/11.1% 82.1/84.5 74.3%/68.0% 58.1%/60.8% 12.2%/8.0%

Wolf's velocity is no different from last year, at least not significantly. He's using his two seamer slightly more and his four seamer slightly less. The biggest difference in his pitch selection is him using his slider much less and his cutter much more. Fangraphs doesn't have a pitch value for his cutter, and Wolf's slider, like every other pitch of his, has a negative value. So it's hard to say how much of an effect that might have on his ERA ballooning, or if it has any effect at all.

A big difference, to me, is that he is throwing a lot fewer strikes than he did last season. His strike percentage is down 10 points on his most used pitch, and only his curveball has seen a significant rise in strike percentage. His slider, changeup, and cutter have all seen drops in strike percentage as well. As best I can tell, he's still getting the same strike calls as he did last season. Really, none of Texas Leaguers' pitch visualizations show much difference between 2012 and 2011. What that means, then, is that he isn't just getting bad calls, he's throwing more actual balls. If you want to see his strike/ball calls for yourself, here they are for 2011:


And 2012:


Overall, hitters are swinging less at Wolf's pitches. That makes some sense, considering he is throwing more balls. The bad news is that they are also missing less when they do swing at Wolf's pitches. His curveball has been effective this season, and so has his slider, but he's also using his slider much less. His other pitches, especially his fastball, hitters are not missing in 2012. This leads me to believe that batters are seeing the ball very well against Wolf. That leads to getting hit hard, which, in turn, leads to his BABIP going up, and not just because of luck.

Removing Randy Wolf from the rotation makes some sense. It makes sense for the future because the odds are both Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum will be gone. So will Wolf, if the Brewers do not pick up his option for 2013. I'm assuming that one of the three will be back next year, which leaves two rotation spots up for grabs next spring. Giving Wily Peralta and/or Mike Fiers or another young pitcher experience this season is a good idea for the future. It helps prepare them and it helps the Brewers see what they have. And, let's be honest, at this point it seems like taking Wolf out of the rotation is a win-now type move as well.

There is little to no chance that Randy Wolf is removed from the rotation. He had a very nice year last season, and he's making a lot of money to start games. Hopefully he can turn it around and start eating up innings with solid play, as opposed to what he's giving the team right now. Wolf has been unequivocally bad this season, no doubt. Taking him out of the rotation is a different beast. That will only happen if the team truly believes Wolf is now completely ineffective and if the team is willing to cut it's losses. I doubt they are anywhere close to that point.