Going into 2011 there were a lot of new faces, especially on the pitching side, and with that came expectations and questions. Who is our number one now that we have three elite pitchers? The debate slightly cooled after Greinke's injury, but was refueled in May when Greinke returned and Marcum/Gallardo had been really heating up after some April scuffles. Now all the talk has shifted to Greinke, posting 44 Ks and only 10 walks since the All-Star break. Through all this one thing has remained a constant, Randy Wolf. While a number 4 pitcher on a staff isn't looked at as the guy you can put out there and not worry about, Wolf has proven time and time again that his experience, and his knack for being backed by great defense, are invaluable to the Brewers as we head down the final stretch.
Before the break the only pitcher with a lower ERA than Wolf (3.65) was Marcum (3.39), and Wolf pitched almost 7 more innings than Marcum in that span. He also held opponents to a .259 average which was good for 3rd behind Greinke (.258). After the break Wolf has been following the same path with his 2.34 ERA good for second best among starters behind Greinke (1.56) and again has pitched more innings than any starter. All other stats are comparable as well, so I think we should see much of the same from Wolf going into late August.
A few areas are troubling when you look at his body of work, the first of which being FIP. FIP, for those that don't know, stands for Fielding Independent Pitching, so basically things that the pitcher is accountable for are the only things factored into this equation (HR, BB, K, IP). Randy Wolf has a club leading 3.30 ERA, but his FIP sits almost 100 points ahead of that at 4.25. Why the huge gap? Well to put it kindly some would say Randy Wolf is "lucky". I would disagree and say that Wolf is a product of what he does, and the supporting cast behind him. There will be fly balls, but his 8.3% HR/FB ratio is actually below the league average of 10.6%, so more often than not he will give the defense a shot at the ball before he let's one leave the park.
We know a couple things right away when talking about Wolf, number one is he is not going to surprise anyone with a 95 mph fastball, maybe a 55 mph curve, and number two is he has always been a contact pitcher. The sooner people realize these facts the better it will be for all of us. When you become blind to other stats and focus on ERA, like a lot of casual fans do, you miss the big picture that is Randy Wolf. He has given up more hits than any starter, and has the highest WHIP (1.25) since the break, which explains the large gap between his ERA and his FIP. His .281 BABIP isn't a very lucky number, actually the opposite, so Wolf does and always will need good defense behind him. Last night against the Dodgers was a prime example of this style of play. Wolf walked 5 and earned himself 4 double plays and a triple play for his efforts. This was an exaggerated version of what I am talking about, but the results are there if the defense shows up.
Wolf is what he is, a rare breed, an often looked for but seldom found product. Without a doubt I can honestly say that I would be hard pressed to find a better number 4 on a staff not named the Phillies, in the entire league. Wolf gives you veteran leadership who is active with players and media, a personality that positively effects the clubhouse, and 30-35 starts in a season that you don't have to worry about as a fan or manager if you give him a good defensive effort to back him up. His pitches aren't pretty and he may not have swagger, but Randy Wolf will always be there when you need him. I think it's time to revive the Wolf Pack in Milwaukee, who's with me!