Giving up that home run at the end lends a little realism to the outing—it's like killing off one of the secondary main characters in an action movie so that you can get the romantic leads through unscathed. So I applaud Todd Wellemeyer for his attention to plotting, particularly the way that he wrote in a happy ending.
The Colonel—always an interesting interview, inasmuch as he has probably never seen Bull Durham—is one of the few pitchers who I've seen regularly discuss his velocity in print. His most recent musings on the subject were in this Strauss article, in which he said he was down from "94-96" to the low-90s, but it's a recurring theme; in this MLB.com article from his Kansas City days he uses it as a proxy for his preparedness in Spring Training, noting that he's moved above "88-90" earlier than he usually does in an attempt to make the starting rotation (a preposterous notion.)
It's an interesting tic for a guy whose success last year was attributed to—well, Dan'n'Al 2008, can you take this?
Dan: You know, Al, in the past when we've seen Todd he's been more of a thrower. He just reared back and—but this year you can see him taking a little off so that it moves.
Al: He really is, Dan. He's become a pitcher, not a thrower.
Thanks, guys. For all that talk, then, Wellemeyer is, at the very least, a guy who self-identifies as a hard thrower.
After the most recent quote Dave Cameron wrote on Fangraphs that Wellemeyer's math was off but his concern well-placed—his velocity hadn't dropped five miles an hour on average, but it had lost that mid-90s top-end. So it was interesting to see Wellemeyer, in this comeback outing, go with a very obvious, very deliberate fastballs-first approach.
It was heartening to see him go Out There with a plan at all; lately Wellemeyer has pitched so poorly that it has been impossible to see what, if anything, he was trying to do out there, aside from dodging line drives. All the team's other starters are easily typecast; Carpenter has perfect command, Wainwright has the big curveball, Pineiro and Thompson pitch, with varying degrees of success, as though the strikeout is an ungentlemanly pursuit. But when Wellemeyer's not striking people out he has no identity—he's a power pitcher without the power, a Thrower without the velocity.
But last night's plan wasn't just visible, it was executed. Wellemeyer began by more or less abandoning the changeup he was heavily reliant on earlier in the year; Gameday only caught three in the first five innings, and two of those were used to record outs against noted free-swinger Pablo Sandoval. Instead, it was all fastballs and hard sliders—not just that, but all fastballs until he was ahead of a hitter. The at-bat against Rowand was the first one of the game in which he threw a breaking ball without having a strike on the batter.
When he brought out the slider, most notably in the fifth inning at-bat against Rowand in which he threw nothing but sliders and got three swinging strikes—more than he got in the entirety of his first outing of the year—it was like he had justified it to himself before he threw it. Everything was like that—I can't think of a better word than deliberate. It was a good thing to see for a pitcher who has struggled to understand his own successes and failures over the last year and a half.
Of course, this preparation probably wouldn't have gone so well if his fastball hadn't reappeared, and if that works for Wellemeyer as justification for last night's success it's just as well. The top-end wasn't quite as amped up as he remembers it, but it was there—early in the game he hit 93-94 with startling consistency, and he topped out at 92 as late as the eighth inning. More worrisome for opposing hitters might be the fact that his slider, which was almost cutter-like in its utility and velocity, topped out as high as 87.
As you might expect, all of this has already been ascribed to a Coaching Moment, preserved here for posterity:
That way meant the way Wellemeyer rediscovered during his bullpen session Monday. Wellemeyer had abandoned the between-start session because of ongoing frustration with his delivery. He spent more than 30 minutes just talking with Duncan and bullpen coach Marty Mason about what he felt was wrong. After he made some throws "at about 50 percent," they determined it was his balance. When he lifted his front leg, Wellemeyer was tilting toward third base.
The lack of balance foiled his command, and any attempt to gather his delivery threw him further out of whack.
"We narrowed it down to the most simple thing, the No. 1 thing for all pitchers, which is finding a balance point," Wellemeyer said. "Just one consistent delivery ... where every pitch is the same, every delivery is the same."
Someone better-acquainted than I with pitchf/x could (and should) probably make an interesting fanpost about whether or not this shows up in the data. But it's good to see that the Cardinals have some medium-term plan for this mystery spot in the rotation, even if it isn't, as I thought it should be last week, riding Well-e out of the rotation on a rail.