Everybody knew the Milwaukee Brewers pitching staff was going to be much improved this season. Few people knew Randy Wolf would be up front and pacing the rotation through May and June. Wolf’s ERA is a scant 3.15, and even if he may be outperforming his true talent by a bit, it’s hard to deny his effectiveness to date. He has been particularly dominant since May 17th, his first start after the brutal 23-hit game against the San Diego Padres. His numbers over that time frame: 45.1 innings pitched, 32 strikeouts, 14 walks, 3 home runs, a 2.18 ERA and a 3.26 FIP. Even though his record is a measly 2-1, the team has won five of these seven starts in question.
To deny the significance of this stretch would be foolish, but expecting it to predict the future would be equally so. We should not be fooled into thinking a relatively soft-tossing lefty who doesn’t pile up the strikeouts, doesn’t get ground balls, and doesn’t have elite control is all of a sudden an ace-quality pitcher. At the same time, Wolf’s performance to date essentially quashes any thoughts of his contract as “the next Suppan.” Wolf is clearly a pitcher of some quality, the question is just what kind of quality.
His quality appears to be average. Randy Wolf may not have elite control, but he has good control, and it deserted him in 2010, to the tune of 3.63 walks per nine innings. This year, he seems to have rediscovered it, walking only 2.66 batters per nine innings. He’s striking out an average number of batters again, and he’s not liable to give up a home run every single start. Basically, he’s the Randy Wolf of every year besides 2010.
And the Randy Wolf of recent years besides 2010 is basically an average pitcher. This year, that means an ERA around 3.95 (yes, offense is that far down), or maybe a touch higher. He’ll probably walk a few more batters and strike out a few less, but he’ll also get some more ground balls to compensate. Maybe an ERA around 4.00 isn’t the kind of flash Randy Wolf we’re getting used to, but the Brewers will be just fine getting that kind of production out of their fourth starter.