Know Your North Side Pitchers - Randy Wells

Harry Pavlidis agreed against his better judgment to provide SSSers with a breakdown of Cub starters for the series at the Cell.  He's among the very few writers around doing his own pitch classification.  A number of the guys who had been got hired by major league clubs, so read his stuff before you lose the chance.



Go Cubs.

Just had to get that out of the way, sorry. The crazy people that run this joint asked me to stop on by and share some info on the Cubs starters for this weekend's series. First up is Randy Wells, a rookie who has been one of the more reliable (and unlikely) members of the Cubs' staff. I'll be using PITCHf/x quite a bit, but, first, a little background on Mr. Wells.

Reaching the Major Leagues

Wells is a local, sort of. He's from Belleville, which probably makes him a Cardinals fan. First drafted in 2001, Wells turned down the Mets offer and waited a year for the Cubs to take him. He moved up six rounds, all the way to the 38th.

Fast foward to December 2007.  Wells was five years into his minor league career, mostly in relief, and had just spent all of 2007 in the Pacific Coast League. Left unprotected, Wells was selected by the Toronto Blue Jays in the Rule 5 Draft. And he made their team out of camp.

Wells pitched a single inning for the Blue Jays before he was returned to Chicago. As a Rule 5 pick, the Jays had to waive him, and, if he cleared, offer him back to the Cubs for half the draft fee (it cost $50,000, IIRC, to acquire Wells).

The Cubs reacquired Wells and reassigned him to Iowa. He'd make a few relief appearances after the rosters expanded in September, but found himself back in Iowa to start 2009. This time, Wells was in the rotation, not the bullpen. After five succesful starts with the I-Cubs, his services were required in the big leagues.

Back Luck Randy

Making his first start on May 8, no one knew that Wells was about to embark on a nearly unprecedented run of good starts without a win.  It's hard to find many pitchers who had such bad run and bullpen support to start their career.

Not being blamed for his luck, Wells forced Sean Marshall to the bullpen when various other guys got un-hurt or un-suspended.  Although a lack of lefty options has something to do with Marshall's role, but you all know Neal Cotts already.

What He Throws

You'll hear a lot about Wells' sinker. It's supposedly his bread-and-butter, and it may very well be. It's just a two-seam fastball, and it's more of a tailer than a sinker - he's no Derek Lowe. Wells throws plenty of four-seam fastballs, too. As a matter of fact, he throws more four-seam fastballs than two-seam sinkers. Not by a lot (244-208).

Both of his fastballs are used against both lefties and righties, although he'll use more four-seamers against right-handed hitters. It won't work it's way inside as much as the sinker. Wells' sinker actually just drops about 2 inches more than the four-seam fastball, but tails (away from lefties) and extra 3 or 4 inches. At 90 mph, that's pretty good action.

One of the things I like about Wells is how balanced he is with his pitch mix. I already pointed that out about his fastball/sinker. But here are the totals, also split by batter hand, for each of his pitches. These pitch classifications are my own, using the same data as Gameday but not the same methodology.

pitch # vs LHH vs RHH
Two-seam Fastball/Sinker 208 94 114
Four-seam Fastball 244 95 149
Slider 203 57 146
Change-up 125 75 50
Cutter 7 6 1


Wells' slider is usually around 84/85 and comes with more sweep than sink. So, it's a little on the sluttery side. The change is too close to 84mph for my taste, given the just-touching-90 fastballs. That's barely enough separation.

The few cutters I think I've found come in a couple mph slower than the fastballs, with about two inches of cut off the four-seamer. That's a very tentative assessment, based on the limited data. Heck, it could just be noise.

Anyway, the point was the pitch mix. 454 fastballs, 333 off-speed. The slider is thrown nearly as much as the sinker, so maybe we should call him a slutter-baller. Or not.

Quick, you're Jim Thome. It's an 0-0 count, what will Wells throw you?

On 0-0 counts against lefties, Wells throws sinkers (35%), fastballs (32%), sliders (20%) and change-ups (13%).

What if you're right-handed? Turns out the guessing is easier, but the stuff may be nastier. Sliders are the favorite (38%) followed by the four-seam fastballs (34%), two-seam sinkers (18%) and the change (10%).

Run Values

Wells has most of his success with his off-speed pitches. All of his pitches are actually above average (not including the cutter), yielding fewer runs per 100 pitches than an average pitch. "rv100" measures the impact of each pitch thrown, based on the count and the outcome, compared to the average pitch and outcome in that count. Put it all together, and you have run value above average (rvaa), a counting stat, which is easily converted to rv100, run value per 100 pitches. Negative numbers are good for pitchers, you want them to give up less runs, not more.

Well's slider posts an rv100 of -2.6, his change beats it at -2.9. Fastballs, sinkers and four-seamers alike, usually post higher run values, but Wells keeps both of his in good shape. -1.7 for the sinker, and -0.3 for the fastball.

Balls in Play

Wells has ground ball rates above 48% for each pitch except the fastball, which still checks in at a very reasonable 40%. When you consider the four-seamer tends to "rise" (not literally) and Wells likes to locate it up in the zone, relative to his other pitches, 40% sounds pretty good.

Problem: Randy Wells' HR per Flyball is very low. I separate line drives and pop-ups from flies (using Gameday's stringer entered classifications), so I get an overall HR/FB of ~11% (HR/LD ~ 2.5%). Wells has had just 3.4% of his outfield flies leave the yard. He's due for some regression to the mean.

Last Thing(s) on Wells

Wells is a good pitcher, maybe not as good as we've seen to to date. He pitches to contact, yielding sub-par whiff rates on all of his pitches (relative to pitches of the same type), and gets a good amount of ground balls. Yet, he gives up plenty of fly balls and seems very lucky with the home runs. He can throw three pitches for strikes (the change is the exception, and is probably not meant to find the zone) and will use just about any pitch in any count against any hitter.

Bottom line, he'll keep hitters off balance, attack the zone, and let his defense do the work. He'll get knocked around from time-to-time as a result, and he's probably due for a few beat-downs. Hopefully just not this time around.

You can read more about Wells and the Cubs at Cubs f/x. I also write at Beyond the Boxscore, The Hardball Times and Out of the Ivy. And just about any place desperate enough for content to invite me over.

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