There’s no doubt that Randy Wolf hasn’t been the player that Doug Melvin and the Milwaukee Brewers thought they were getting this season. Wolf earned his 3 year, $30 million contract with above average strikeout ability, average walk prevention, and a roughly average ground ball rate. Those skills combined to make ERAs and FIPs around 4.00, and even in some shortened seasons, Wolf had averaged 2.2 WAR per season from 2007-2009.
Instead, the Brewers have gotten all of 0.1 WAR out of Wolf. His strikeout rate has dipped below six per nine innings and the walk rate has climbed near four per nine. The home run rate is up as well, but that’s not terribly surprising given his move from Dodger Stadium to Miller Park, a much more homer-friendly ballpark. Bad things happen when walks go up and when strikeouts go down, and this confluence of both has effectively raised Wolf’s ERA, FIP and xFIP by a run or more.
Wolf has been more of his pre-2010 self in the last two months. His K/9 is up to 6.9 since July and, probably more importantly for a guy with Wolf’s stuff, his BB/9 is down to 3.0. As a result, Wolf has a 4.51 xFIP and a 4.02 FIP over these two months. The xFIP suggests that Wolf may not be back to the level that earned him his big contract, but both numbers indicate that Wolf should be able to contribute for the Brewers for the rest of 2010 and into 2011.
Of course, you can’t make too much from only two months of data. However, there are indicators that Wolf should be able to maintain this performance. First of all, Wolf’s fastball velocity is starting to approach the 89 MPH average it was at in Los Angeles last season.
The data at FanGraphs has Wolf as throwing a two-seam fastball nearly 30% of the time, but I suspect that may simply be a misclassification of his fastball. You can see the rise in velocity a bit better on this pitch.
Secondly, the sheer fact that Wolf has had past success is a good indicator of future success. ZiPS projects a 4.58 FIP going forward, which isn’t good but would certainly provide some value over a full season, and CHONE projects a similar 4.65 ERA. If the early dip in Wolf’s velocity was the cause of even some of his early season struggles, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect Wolf to beat these projections, if only slightly.
The Wolf contract is very likely to end up as a net loss for the Brewers, but that doesn’t mean that it is a lost cause like the Jeff Suppan contract the last two years. Instead, Wolf should be able to contribute for the remainder of the contract, particularly if he can sustain his performance over the past two months.