Continuing a series of diary postings/polls centering on specific players and if the good folks here at RR believe the Royals should stick with them or relieve them/us of their/our misery.
The players I will focus on are those which the Royals can retain, but who can demand more than minimum salary.
Previous Entries and the consensus opinion of the RR management:
Runelvys Hernandez - RR management says: "Cut him loose"
Emil Brown - RR management says: "Short term commitment" Offer arbitration
Jimmy Gobble - RR management says: "We like him but not yet fully sold." Arbitration only.
Mark Redman - RR management says: "Close call, but probably not willing to pay what he will cost."
Decision Time: Todd Wellemeyer
On June 11th, 2006 Dayton More claimed Todd Wellemeyer off waivers from the Florida Marlins. At the time this seemed to be of little significance. Wellemeyer had already been given a good long look by the Cubs (57 appearances) and the Marlins (18 appearances) and had been cut loose by two clubs without particularly deep bullpens. Surprisingly, Wellemeyer performed very well for the Royals in frequent usage, so well in fact that he probably had established himself as the key right handed middle reliever by August.
A look at his numbers over the last three years shows why this emergence was so surprising.
Year, Club, Innings, ERA, (K/9, BB/9, HR/9), Whip
2004 - Cubs - 24.1, 5.92, (11.1, 7.4, 0.4), 1.93
2005 - Cubs - 32.1, 6.12, (8.9, 6.1, 2.0), 1.67
2006 - Fl, KC - 78.1 , 4.14, (6.9, 5.7, 0.7) 1.51
Year (BA / OBA / Slug / OPS)
2004 - (.287 / .405 / .362 / .757)
2005 - (.264 / .375 / .479 / .849)
2006 - (.241 / .357 / .379 / .733)
Before being picked up Wellemeyer walked 15% of the batters he faced (74 out of 484), a completely unacceptable number which more than negated his other positive areas (23% Strikeout rate and .254 Batting Average against). His wildness had caused him to have to throw an average of 19 pitches per inning, making him a poor choice for conversion to a starter, while at the same time making him a melt down candidate as a middle reliever. I expect what peaked the Royals interest was his Right/Lefty splits.
vs. L (138 PA) - .208 / .307 / .350 / .657
vs. R (194 PA) - .265 / .385 / .401 / .787
Maybe he couldn't start, maybe he couldn't be a reliable middle reliever, but he was very tough on left handers and he had a good K rate. Maybe he could find a role as a lefty and/or strikeout specialist coming out of the pen for short outings.
Somehow he became much more. And no, I have no idea why or how. The flaws in Wellemeyer's game that resulted in a career 6.05 ERA before he arrived in KC stayed with him while he was with the Royals, but somehow he managed to have a 3.63 ERA in KC while being used more extensively than he had ever before in his career.
His pre-KC Strikeout/Walk ratio was 23% vs. 15%. In KC it was 15% vs 15%. He was slightly less hittable in KC (career BA against is .254, in KC it was .235.) The same with his HR/9 numbers (career 1.05, in KC 0.8). These small improvements in areas of his game in which Wellemeyer already excelled seem insufficient in his overcoming his glaring shortcoming, his inability to consistently hit the strikezone. If there is a trend to be drawn from these numbers it is that Wellemeyer is striking out fewer batters in order to reduce his hits allowed; however, he is leaving unaddressed his key flaw, his control.
I think most of us know that the year to year variation in a middle relief pitcher's performance can often be huge and seemingly inexplicable. Since the middle men normally only have a fairly small number of innings under their belt (60-80 innings a year) the difference between a middle man having one bad outing in a year vs. three is often the difference between an ERA of three and five. After looking over Wellemeyer's numbers, and since I'm aware of no reason to think something fundamental has changed in his game (new pitch, surgery, professional revelation, etc.) I tend to believe Wellemeyer's solid KC numbers are as much a function of luck as they are in improved performance on his part. I just don't see any reason to expect him to be a very good pitcher in 2007. I think it is as likely that he will produce an ERA of six as that of three.
However, a decision must be made in Wellemeyer's case. He burned his control years pitching for the Cubs and Marlins and now the Royals have to decide if he is worth a MLB contract and a spot on the roster, or if he should be set aside. 2007 will be Wellemeyer's first arbitration eligible year, and I expect he will be looking for something in the $650 - $750K range. Let's just call it about $700K for the purposes of this exercise. If the Royals offer arbitration they will not only be committed to him in terms of money, but he will also take a spot on the 40 man roster. If the Royals decline to offer him arbitration they can bring in a collection of potential replacements (who will all earn the minimum of $380K) and have roster flexibility between now and opening day. Wellemeyer can then sign with whatever team he would like, or he can come back to the Royals on their terms (most likely a minor league contract with an invite to spring training and the possibility of making the team, perhaps with a sweetener based on making the club out of camp.) I would be a bit surprised if no other team picked up Wellemeyer if the Royals failed to offer arbitration, so I think if they choose not to do so they should expect to loose his services for next year.
On the positive side, Wellemeyer only has one serious problem with his game. His control. If he can correct this he should be an excellent pitcher. However, I see no reason to believe that he has tamed his control problem, and he is already 28 years old. Can a 28 year old pitcher still be considered a ?project?? How many pitchers find the strikezone finally at this point in their career? Can Wellemeyer be counted on to be a productive member of the team if he continues to struggle with location? In 2005 Sisco and Burgos both put together solid years, and then in 2006 both were miserable. Wellemeyer seems a perfectly reasonable candidate to follow this trend next year.
Was 2006 a lucky year for a seriously flawed pitcher, or was it an indication of a new career norm? Can a pitcher who walks six per nine really ever be more than a role player in an already deep bullpen? Did I simply overlook something very important in Wellemyer's latest campaign that explains his KC sucsess and indicates good things to come in 2007? I'll admit Wellemeyer is a mystery to me. He seems a bit too promising to just let walk, but also to be not progressing in such a way that I feel I can have any faith in his future sucsess. It will be interesting to see how the Royals handle this call.