FanPost

Wandy Rodriguez Is A #2 Pitcher

I need to preach to the choir for just a moment (this is going to get kind of long, so if you want the short version, there’s a quick summary at the end of this post).  Everybody here seems to show Wandy "Eny Cabreja" Rodriguez the respect he has earned.  Elsewhere on the internet, however, people don’t seem to have updated their opinion of Wandy in the last three years. 

 

Sure, if we were talking about 2005 or 2006 Wandy, maybe the Chronicle’s Chip Bailey would be right in saying: 

Wandy is inconsistent, his demeanor on the mound is troubling at times and, yes, he hasn't lived up to the promise that many have predicted….As #4 or #5 starters, Wandy Rodriguez and Brandon Backe would fit into many rotations. But when the Astros management, media and fans begin to expect either to become a #2 or #3 starter, the high expectations don't meet the talent reality.

But he said this less than a month ago.  In 2009.  Lumping him in the same category as Backe.

I don’t mean to just beat up on Chip for this.  I’ve seen people undervaluing our late-blooming-lefty probably a couple dozen times this offseason.  The Wandy-doesn’t-have-what-it-takes myth has got to be dispelled, so let’s get to it. 

How would you like to judge him?  ERA?  He’s shown steady improvement in his earned run average since 2006:

ERA

2006

5.64

2007

4.58

2008

3.54


A 3.54 ERA is really solid.  Among all pitchers in the majors last year who threw more than 100 innings (essentially boiling the list down to starters), Wandy’s ERA was tied for 33rd place.  The good bloggers over at the Arizona Diamondbacks’s Snake Pit Blog did an analysis of the league this offseason to determine what makes a pitcher a #1, #2, #3, etc. starter.  Aces were in the range of 0.00-3.33 ERA.  A "number 2" pitcher would fall in the 3.33-3.96 ERA range, of which Wandy 3.54 ERA lands squarely in the middle.  Oh, I almost forgot, the other guy who also had a 3.54 ERA?  Our very own Roy Oswalt.

ERA isn’t a perfect stat, though, as many of you have probably thought to yourselves by now.  It can be skewed by the defenders behind you or just plain dumb luck.  So let’s look at Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP):

FIP

2005

5.12

2006

4.86

2007

4.18

2008

3.62

 

It looks like Wandy has shown some steady improvement there, too.  Now, AZ Snakepit didn’t do the #1/#2/#3/#4/#5 break down for FIP in the National League, but the Royals Review  did it for the American League in 2008 and found that #1 pitchers lived in the 0.00-3.75 FIP range, and #2 pitchers in the 3.80-4.16 range.  Now, we can’t directly slot him into that, but it gives you a pretty good picture of where Wandy stands among pitchers.

How about Wandy’s peripherals?

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

WHIP

2006

6.50

4.18

1.13

1.60

2007

7.78

3.05

1.08

1.32

2008

8.58

2.88

0.92

1.31

Again, he shows steady improvement.  In short, he strikes out more batters, walks fewer batters, doesn’t give up home runs as often, and doesn’t let batters reach base nearly as much.  As fangraphs recently pointed out , among pitchers who threw at least 130 innings, he ranked 13th in K/9 and 24th in K/BB.  Basically, they concluded, when he pitched, he pitched like an ace.    

And to what does Wandy owe these improved results?  Well, it’s probably a combination of things.  We hear a whole lot less these days about him mouthing off at umpires or losing his composure when things get rough.  So it’s a good bet he’s gotten a bit more disciplined on the mound.  But he’s also gotten more confident about using the curveball that Nolan Ryan once said could make him into a front-line starter:

Curveball Frequency

2006

21.4%

2007

24.5%

2008

29.9%


Basically, in 2008, he threw 8 or 9 more curveballs per game than he did back in 2006.  And given that everyone rates his curveball so highly, it’s probably contributed a lot to his newfound success.   

One critique I’ve seen of Wandy that actually holds a bit of weight is that he doesn’t pitch enough innings to qualify as a top of the rotation starter.  It’s true that Wandy has only had one season where he pitched enough innings to qualify for the ERA title (162 IP).  He’s pitched 135.2 innings (2006), 182.2 innings (2007), and 137.1 innings (2008).  Then again, 2008 was only his 3rd full season, and it was injury shortened.  In the last 3 seasons, Wandy’s pitched roughly 454 innings.  Ben Sheets, the guy a lot of people wanted to sign on as our #2 this offseason?  He’s only pitched about 447 innings in the last three years.   

Can we expect Wandy to hit 200 innings in 2009?  Probably not.  One of the few areas where Wandy hasn’t improved over the last few years is how deep into games he goes.  I lost the chart that I was working on, but the gist of it was that Wandy isn’t nearly as fast as Oswalt at getting out of an inning.  He’s a bit more of a strike-out pitcher than Roy is, so he ends up throwing more pitches per batter and thus more pitches per inning.  And given that Wandy tends to get pulled at around 95 pitches, it really limits how deep into a game he can go.  You can usually figure Wandy will put in 5-and-a-half innings on average.  That’s about the only major negative I can find.  And given how good our bullpen has the potential to be, it’s a negative I’m comfortable with. 

You can stop looking for a number two pitcher.  We’ve got Wandy.    

Executive Summary:  Wandy has dramatically improved in his time in the big leagues.  His ERA has improved by over two points since 2006 and his FIP has improved by a point and a half.  He gets 2 more strikeouts per nine innings and gives up 1.3 fewer walks per nine than he did in 2006.  This improvement probably comes from an increased confidence both on the mound and in his curveball.  He gets the results you’d want in a #2 pitcher, except that he doesn’t go as deep into games as you’d like.  Respect The Wandy.

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Bonus Moments In Wandy History:

Remember when Wandy racked up more strikeouts in a season than Roy?

Here's the CrawfishBoxes post from when Wandy pitched a complete game shutout.

Oh, and remember when the CrawfishBoxes ran a contest at the beginning of the 2007 season to see who could guess the date of Wandy's demotion?  A few people guessed that he'd go the whole season, but not everybody did!