Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers: #43 Randy Wolf

Courtesy of Hammerin’ Hank and Jackie Robinson, today is the only day out of three that sees a new entry in the “Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers” season preview series.

I do hope that you’ve been enjoying reading about the men who likely have the most say in the fortunes of the 2012 Brewers, along with some who will contribute down the road a bit.

Today we are six weeks plus one day shy of Opening Day 2012 at beautiful Miller Park. Since there are seven days in a week that means, math majors, that Opening Day is a mere 43 days away.

Think back to last season a bit and envision who wears #43 when he takes the field…or I suppose just dart your eyes an inch or so up your viewing device and read the title again.

Either way, today belongs to:

Randy Wolf.
With the distinction of being the final name on the Brewers 40-man roster when listed alphabetically by surname, Randall Christopher Wolf also owns the offering du jour in Brewers camp this spring so far with his fellow starters. His cut fastball is being tinkered with by both Chris Narveson and Zack Greinke.

But more on Wolf’s repertoire in a minute.

First, let’s remind ourselves about Wolf’s physical characteristics. He’s a left-handed throwing starting pitcher who also bats left-handed. Wolf stands 6’0” tall and weighs in, at last update, 205 pounds. He was born on August 22, 1976 in West Hills, California which makes him 35 years old.

Coming to Milwaukee as a free agent in the winter of 2009/10, Wolf signed a three-year deal with a team option for a fourth season as a Brewer. 2012 is the third and final guaranteed year of his contract so his performance this season will obviously go a long way in determining where and for how much his 2013 season will play out.

Naturally, if Wolf is fantastic the Brewers will exercise their option and keep Wolf in town. If he struggles, the team may choose to decline bringing back a 36-year-old pitcher who might be nearing the end of his career. Wolf, though has three things working in his favor meaning he’ll likely find a job in 2013 if he wants one.

After all, Jeff Suppan keeps getting work.

Those three things are his command, his durability, and his handedness. When Wolf’s body no longer will endure the rigors of starting, he’ll absolutely have the option of a “second career” in the bullpen. If you throw left-handed and can get left-handed hitters out, there is a job for you. I could definitely see Wolf finishing out a solid career with bullpen work like former Brewer LOOGy Brian Shouse. It would only be a matter of whether Wolf would want to pitch in the bullpen.

Those things are a little ways off though, so instead of dwelling, let’s take a look back at Wolf’s career highlights, his 2011 season in Brewer blue, and then glance at what his 2012 might hold.

A 13-year MLB veteran at this point, Wolf has seen a lot in his time but there are a couple of things he’s yet to experience, for example, playing in the American League. More than that, Wolf hasn’t tasted the World Series. He came to Milwaukee, in part, because of the window of opportunity he saw here.

Some of that opportunity was realized last year with a division crown, 96 wins, and a decent showing in the NLCS. More lies ahead though.

How much more for Wolf can be tied back to a trade to Houston, of all places, during the 2009 season. Following an All-Star appearance in 2003 as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies, Wolf had been a middling starter at best for parts of five seasons through his time with San Diego in 2008.

Given Wolf’s fly ball pitching tendencies, one would think that a job at notoriously pitcher-friendly Petco Park would lend itself well to Wolf. The opposite was true, and Wolf compiled a 4.74 ERA in 21 starts for the Padres, allowing 6 home runs in 11 home starts, before being sent to the Astros.

His first start with Houston was against the Brewers at Miller Park, an outing which saw Wolf last only 4.1 IP after giving up four runs on seven hits and three walks, including one homer.

But it was in Houston where Wolf made a mechanical adjustment in his pitching that made all the difference and extended his career to the point where, after the Los Angeles Dodgers took a chance on a one-year contract for 2009, the Brewers were willing to offer a multi-year deal which Wolf accepted.

In the second year of that multi-year contract, Wolf went 13-10 with a 3.69 ERA, 1.32 WHIP and 134 strikeouts in 212 1/3 innings in 2011. Those numbers were the result of some good luck as Wolf’s xFIP was 4.47 and his strand rate 75.9%. His BABIP against was .286 in 2011 which is better-than-average for a pitcher.

People have enjoyed pointing to regression for Wolf each of the past couple of seasons since his numbers improved after his adjustment, usually citing some combination of xFIP, BABIP, and/or strand rate. While it might be luck that repeats itself, Wolf has been keeping a lot of those numbers relatively consistent.

To paraphrase an exchange between and the Abigail and Ben Gates characters in National Treasure 2, she is like the sabermetric community in saying that when results are good despite the peripherals, it’s luck. To which Randy Wolf would snarkily reply, “I get lucky a lot.”

For the Brewers sake, hopefully Wolf has at least one more season of “luck” left in him. Nothing he’s done over the past two years should make us think otherwise, but for the record both Bill James’ projections and ZiPS have Wolf finishing 2012 with an ERA near 4.00. (James says 3.94 while ZiPS checks in at 4.04.)

As far as Wolf’s immediate outlook for the new season, expect more of what you saw to finish 2011 insofar that he’ll pitch fourth in the rotation, have a personal catcher who isn’t his personal catcher, and finish with a low double-digits win total.

He’ll continue to work off of his four-seam fastball/change up combination, the cutter which Fangraphs seems to have labeled as a slider, and his slow eephus curve.

Wolf will continue to often match up against other team’s fourth starter, giving the Brewers a decided edge against most teams in the league when it comes to pitching ability from that slot.

Also working in Wolf’s favor for a strong 2012 campaign is that he doesn’t have to go into Spring Training games worrying about the rotation’s order or composition. He can focus on getting himself ready. Getting ready to go in the spring is what it’s there for, in the end.

Hopefully by the end of the regular season, though, Wolf and the rest of his teammates will be getting ready for another trip to the playoffs.

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