For Better, For Wuertz
Today my A’s declined to pick up Michael Wuetz’s 2012 option. Rather than pay him 3.25 over the course of next year, Oakland decided to cut ties and pay the 250,000 buy-out. I can’t even say I’m surprised by this news. As good as Wuertz was back in 2009, his 2010 and 2011 campaigns have been a thunderstorm of sadness, with few sunny moments in between. Some amateurs may cite his rising BABIP* and write it off as bad luck. Jokes on them, as that is about the weakest type of “sabermetrics” thing you can do. Too often BABIP gets used as a magic wand explanation and an “End-all Be-all” to hitters and pitchers alike.
I prefer to dive a little deeper than that. But you already knew this. At least I hope you did. After being traded from the Cubs in the offseason of 2008-9 in the infamous Richie Robnett and Justin Sellers for Wuertz deal that made headlines all across America**, Wuertz had the best season of his career with this new club.
*Wuertz’s BABIP: .266 in 2009, .279 in 2010 and an awful .327 this season.
**I swear this happened. Maybe I dreamt about the coverage. Yeah, that’s it. I have to dream about my A’s getting media coverage. Sigh.
Observe the following.
|Year||IP||K Rate||BB Rate||HR/FB||WAR||WPA|
If that doesn’t shock and appal you then what are you doing reading this blog in the first place? Basically what we’re seeing here is that Wuertz was BELOW replacement value for his past 2 years of pitching for Oakland. When you combine an ugly FIP in less than 40 IP for two straight years, you can’t be shocked that your option isn’t exercised. According to Susan Slusser, he wasn’t. I will always fondly remember Wuertz in 2009 for having the grossest slider this side of Randy Johnson. His next two years are a bit more forgettable. As in, I’d really like to forget that we paid him so much for them.
This isn’t a post to rip on Wuertz, but to find an issue. After having a series of bouts with shoulder tendonitis, either by choice or by accident, Wuertz has changed his release. It’s possible that I’m just looking for something that isn’t there, and I never heard this or read it, but rather take a look at the these Pitch f/x release points from 2009, 2010 and 2011. They get progressively lower.
There is only a small drop in arm angle from 2009 to 2010, but the 2010 to 2011 change is shocking. It appears as though Wuertz has dropped around 6 inches of height on his pitches. As one can imagine, even a slight arm angle change can create dramatic differences. After re-classifying Wuertz’s listed 09 and 10 FA and FT we have the following table.
Important notes when reading the tables:
SL = Slider, FF = 4 Seam Fastball, CH = Changeup.
This movement is relative to the catcher.
H-move is Horizontal movement. A negative number represents the ball moved IN towards a right handed batter. The higher the positive number moves AWAY from righties. Relatively simple stuff right? Right.
V-move is Vertical movement. The Higher the v-move, the more the pitch RESISTED gravity. Any negative number (usually only curveballs) means that the ball fell faster than we should expect gravity alone to make it. An example: a Curveball may be -6 V-move. That means the curveball fell an additional 6 inches than gravity alone would force. The slower the pitch, the lower the V-move, as there is more time for gravity to effect it. Thus, fastballs tend have the least V-move (read: the highest positive number). Unless you’re Jamie Moyer.
With those notes in mind, review the tables again. In 2009, Wuertz has his fastest slider and the best movement away from righties. That would his explain his totally absurd Whiff rate on the pitch. As soon as the pitch started breaking away less, it began to get hammered. Clearly. Given that he relies on his Slider for over half of his career pitches, as soon as he lost it, things went downhill. Fast. He had to use his fading fastball more and more, and that got hammered even harder.
In addition to his new delivery over the past 2 years, his fastball has lost almost 3 miles per hour. Batters aren’t swinging at it anymore, and if they do, they whiff on it less than 1 time in 20 swings. Only his changeup seems relatively fine. If given the chance, I’d ask him to incorporate it more.
Assuming that every MLB team has this data plus data that would require me to hose myself down from excitement, I can’t see Wuertz signing a major league deal anywhere. Maybe the Rays or Twins take a flier on him with a minor league deal, but until he refines his release spot and rediscovers his fastball, he’s nothing more than an injury risk. I’m not one for correlation equates causation, but it seems a little more than pure coincidence that his fastball dropped as soon as his arm did. I hope he finds himself because I really did like the guy. Here’s hoping for the best, but sometimes you just gotta plan for the Wuertz.