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Salute Your Colonel

I must have been sending lboros some telepathic waves yesterday because he set up the conversation nicely for me.  I was at the game on Wednesday night watching Todd Wellemeyer toss a gem.  It's a good thing he was pitching well because he can't bunt to save his life.  It's obvious he's not a good hitter so why he doesn't do bunting drills every day until he can consistently get the ball down, I don't know but his at bats were painful on Wednesday night.  But I digress. 

I'm not really sure when it happened but at some point in time, Wellemeyer learned to get his pitches across the plate. 

Time Frame Strike % Pitches
Pre-Cardinal 2007 58.8 3295
Cardinal 2007 63.2 1046
2008 64.3 891

Those are some pretty astonishing numbers.  He's throwing 5.5% more of his pitches for strikes now.  Just for comparison, Wainwright throws 62.2% of his pitches for strikes, Lohse 63.2%, Looper 62.4% and and Pineiro 63.4%.  Wellemeyer has made a significant change to his pitching skillset that I didn't think he was capable of.  If he throws 200-ish innings, it's probably around 3000 pitches for the season.  That's 165 pitches that were balls that are now strikes.

While his career walk rate is still over 5 per 9IP, it's easy to see the effect of all these extra strikes.  During his 2007 time with the Cardinals, he walked 4.10 per 9 -- something that I routinely scoffed at as a blip -- and now he's walking just 3.10 per 9.  His strikeouts haven't really gone up (sitting around 7 per 9) but the massive drop in walk rate has made him a much more efficient and efficacious pitcher.

The other thing that sticks out at me when looking at Wellemeyer this year is that he's essentially a two-pitch pitcher.  He's got a fastball and a slider that he throws 90% of the time.  He's got a changeup that fills in the last 10% but that's a remarkably low number for a third pitch.  Brandon Webb is often thought of as a two pitch pitcher but his fastball and second offering (a changeup) are still only 85%.  Wainwright's 1st and 2nd most common offerings (fastball & slider respectively) are only 75%.  So think about that: hitters know that they are getting one of two pitches -- and they still haven't been able to hit Wellemeyer (as lboros noted he has a .216 BAA).  Remarkable.

How this all came about, I'm not really sure.  I certainly didn't believe that Wellemeyer was capable of finding the command necessary to throw this many more strikes and reduce his walk rate as significantly as he has.  Many people will probably want to say that it's the influence of Dave Duncan; after all, one of his cardinal tenets is to throw strikes.  I'm reluctant to make that connection though.  Despite Wellemeyer's success, he isn't Duncan's typical reclamation type of success.  He isn't a groundball, two seam fastball pitcher.  Wellemeyer is more in the mold of Anthony Reyes -- a high riding fastball that generates predominantly flyballs.  Wellemeyer has become even more of a flyball pitcher than in the past this year too.  He's only generating 37% of his outs on BIP on the ground.  League average is probably around 42-44% but more importantly, Wellemeyer only has a .85 GB/FB ratio -- easily the lowest of his last 3 years.  That's not really the Dave Duncan path to success.

Maybe the Cardinals corrected a mechanical flaw.  Maybe Wellemeyer has started trusting his stuff more.  Whatever the reason, he's made a very real, measurable change to his skillset.  It even looks sustainable.

There's one small cautionary note that I want to sound here at the end.  The Cardinals have derived a great deal of value from Wellemeyer especially since he cost them absolutely nothing as a cost-controlled player acquired on waivers.  But he's not much more than a innings-eater on a contending team.   We've seen as many trash-heap pitchers fail under Duncan and LaRussa as we've seen succeed.  The Cardinals still need to find some pitchers that profile as front of the rotation if they want to be serious about having a good starting staff. While I laud the team for this specific pickup, I don't think it's a good long-term plan to use with their pitching staff.